DORNOCH, SCOTLAND | Every year, it gets harder for the out-and-out amateur to make his mark among today’s full-timers but Matt Clark, a 30-year-old bank official at Lloyds TSB, has just won his first Scotland cap. He will be representing his country in next week’s Home International matches at Glasgow Gailes.
To his endless credit, Clark earned himself an automatic slot on the team via a new Scottish Order of Merit, a system which was fine-tuned by an actuary. The Kilmacolm golfer worked his tail off to achieve his dream and lost three girlfriends in the process. But he has no hesitation in saying that it was worth it.
The selectors maintain they would have chosen Clark anyway after the year he has had. Clark believes them but says that it was huge for him to know that he did not have to rely on their opinions, that he was able to do it on his own.
“When you’re my age,” he explained, sounding 50 rather than 30, “you need to do something pretty substantial if you want to catch the selectors’ attention. I wasn’t much good in the junior game and I still wasn’t worth looking at when I was 26 or 27. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve been knocking at the door.
“If the old system had still been in place and if, say, the last place had been between me and some young thing, I wouldn’t have fancied my chances.
“You only have to look at things from the point of view of someone like Aberdeen Asset. They pour money into Scottish golf and, if there’s a young glamorous chap who’s likely to go on and have a great future as a professional, of course they would rather see him in the side ahead of someone like me.”
Though the new O.M. is throwing up some anomalies, people could not be happier for Clark.
“Considering he’s a full-time banker and most of them are full-time golfers or students-cum-golfers, what he’s done is fantastic,” said Dean Robertson, the head coach at Stirling University. “Though the system needs to be weighted more heavily in favour of winners, Matt is a winner – he’s won a couple of the O.M. events.”
Ian Rae, from the Scottish Golf Union, does not deny that it could do some of the young ones good to see what Clark has achieved for himself. Where, for instance, some of Scottish squad players were able to divide last winter between all-expenses-paid trips to South Africa and Abu Dhabi, Clark was either in the bank or on a wintry practice ground at Kilmacolm.
Again, where the squad contingent have access to free clothing, clubs and golf balls, Clark’s only perk is the batch of 12 dozen golf balls he gets each year from Titleist. When he needed a new 3-wood earlier this year, he bought it himself for £150. (None of the full-timers would dream of spending his own money on a club.)
“I don’t think some of these youngsters begin to know how lucky they are,” says Clark with a chuckle. “They remind me a bit of my sister when she was a good swimmer. Every morning, my mother would be up at 5.30 to take her to the baths. At the time, my sister never stopped to think how much everyone was doing for her – she just took it for granted.”
The sacrifices Clark makes have extended to his job where he has opted for a post offering more in the way of flexibility than seniority. He enjoys the work – and not least the team aspect.
“I am a people person,” he says. “I get on with everyone. If someone’s having a go at me for something, I’m the kind of guy who would rather they were having a go at me than someone else. I can take it.”
So what about those lost girlfriends?
It seems they could not cope with a boyfriend who was always rushing between work and golf. He acceded to the request of one young lady that he should take her on holiday for a week but the decision was not one he took lightly. And not one he was likely to repeat.
There was another girl who wanted to parade her new golfing boyfriend at a succession of her friends’ weddings but that little rush of social activity was not for him. “I was arriving late and wanting to leave early,” says Clark, a little sheepishly.
He seemed to have found the solution when he met a golfing lass but, since she was striving to make the Scottish women’s team while he was aiming at the men’s, so their paths crossed less and less. They still exchange ‘Good luck!’ and ‘Well done!’ texts but she is now engaged to another.
Might Clark change his priorities now that he has finally won his Scotland cap? It seems that what was once an end goal is no longer that.
“Once you achieve one thing,” he mused, “you start looking ahead.”
To the 2013 Walker Cup perhaps.