Ewen Ferguson: “When it’s time to turn pro, I will”January, 2016
In an exclusive interview, Karl Hansell discovers that the teenage star of the Walker Cup is an amateur only in name
The incredible spirit of the victorious Team GB&I at September’s Walker Cup was epitomised by none more than 19-year-old first reserve Ewen Ferguson, called in to the team at the last moment.
His enthusiasm had become a highlight of the weekend and when Ferguson chipped in during Sunday’s singles from off the 17th green, his enthusiastic fist pump and celebratory roar endeared him further to the watching crowds.
“I don’t even mean it,” he said. “I have always been passionate with everything throughout life, even playing a game of draughts.
“When Nigel Edwards is giving you tips and pep talks, you want to do it for him.
“The rest of the team are such good guys, I wanted to win for them. We all wanted it for each other so badly, so I thought ’let’s give it everything’.”
Ferguson hadn’t even expected to be part of the team, only gaining his place when Sam Horsfield dropped out, citing personal reasons.
Aged just 19, he was the youngest player at the Walker Cup, but didn’t let that hold him back. He secured a precious singles win over world amateur number two Maverick McNealy as Team GB&I marched to a record 16½-9½ victory.
It was a performance that led to Ferguson being nominated for the Scottish Young Sportsperson of the Year award, making him a recognised name in a home town that counts.
Hailing from the afï¬uent Glasgow suburb of Bearsden, Ferguson has been involved with the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Golf, which superseded it, since he was 12 years old.
In 2014 he became the first player ever to hold the British Boys title and the Scottish Boys Matchplay and Scottish Boys Strokeplay titles simultaneously.
But behind that emphatic fist pump, there is a composed – some say wise – golfer, refusing to get carried away by his own success and preparing himself for a career in the paid ranks.
“I am a professional amateur,” explained Ferguson. “I do everything. I treat it as a job. If I turned professional tomorrow, nothing would change. I am still trying to get the best out of myself.
“I feel like a professional. I try and act like a professional. I try and do everything right. Everything in my life is preparing to be a professional golfer on tour.”
“There’s so much more than just hitting a ball, there’s so much behind it.”
As such, while six of Team GB&I turned professional in the wake of their Walker Cup success, all three Scottish players opted to remain among the amateur ranks.
Ferguson’s performance drew admiration from around the globe — even Justin Rose is a fan" It was an enthusiastic vote of confidence for the Scottish development programme that three players who could so easily have instantly cashed in on their successes opted instead to remain within the amateur system.
Ferguson, the 35th-ranked amateur in the world, explained: “I just want to keep working hard and when it’s time to turn pro, I will.
“I have a process and a plan, but I want to keep doing what I’m doing and when I feel it’s time to go, I will go.
“The thing is, if I turned pro after the Walker Cup, I might have got a European Tour start at some point on the line. There you go, that’s one start. But then what do you do now?
“Because I’m an amateur I was in Texas for five weeks, now I’m going to Dubai for two months and then Australia, South Africa. I have so much going on, it just felt right to stay amateur for that bit longer so I can develop and learn more about myself.
“I have time on my hands. There’s not just one bus to catch to get on the European Tour and if you miss it you’re done.”
The desire not to turn professional yet certainly isn’t down to a lack of confidence in his abilities. Rather, it’s for the same reason he opted not to remain at college in America when he felt academic studies were interfering with his golf development.
“It’s a really personal thing, but once the school took over it put a lot of pressure on my golf,” he said. “Now I have got no pressure at all, no worries. I love playing golf and I get excited when I have a tournament coming up. I love the whole aspect of it, such as travelling and being away.
At such a young age, comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Matt Fitzpatrick, who played in the Walker Cup aged 19 and has since gone on to considerable success on the European Tour.
Fitzpatrick won the British Boys’ title the year before Ferguson, and the Scottish amateur doesn’t believe his game is too far away from that world-class level.
“I think when I am at my best I could make the cut in a tour event,” he said. “But it’s about being mature and all the little things which come with it which I have got work to do. When things aren’t going well, how to deal with it, dealing with faults. I have got to find my best more regularly.”
He has achieved that level through working closely with Ian Rae and Gregor Monks, the former national coach who spotted Ferguson’s talent at an introductory day when he was just 13, but who still works with him.
Scottish Golf coach Rae bears close similarities to Nigel Edwards, the Walker Cup captain, who places strong emphasis upon short game practice — which paid off when Ferguson holed out with that chip over the bunker on the final day of the Walker Cup.
“In the build up to the Walker Cup we were playing all these courses,” said Ferguson.
“We’d get to within three feet and we were picking our balls up. But Nigel told us to putt them out and the next thing you know, all of a sudden we are all grinding away over these three-footers.
“He’s a smart man with so much experience. It was so invaluable.”
Ferguson’s performance at the Walker Cup was remarkable not just due to his young age, but also by the fact he had not been named in the initial 10-man team.
When Horsfield dropped out with just over a week to go until the event, Ferguson was drafted in.
“Nigel had called me a few times, but he told me I was not in the team,” explained Ferguson. “He said I had played great all year, but it’s very hard to pick the 10 best players.
“I was thinking: that’s fine. I’m only 19, everyone is older and I can wait for the next one. To be the 11th best player in Great Britain and Ireland is still pretty cool. So it was no problem.”
With the closing of the regular season, self-confessed Justin Bieber fan Ferguson put down his clubs and opted to spend some time in the gym. It was while there that he learned his year hadn’t quite finished.
He explained: “I was in the gym when Nigel called me. It was not a very good signal and there were three missed calls and voicemail from him saying ’call me’.
“I sat in my car and called him, and he said ’If you want to play, you can play’. I said ’sure’, and that was it, it was so exciting.”
With his father, Mark, regularly visiting Lancashire on business, the pair had played host venue Royal Lytham & St Annes on a number of occasions.
This gave Ferguson a familiarity with the “hard, dominating” course that helped alleviate any pressure he may have felt about being brought into the team so late.
“There’s so many little parts of that course, that if you have not seen it before can really bite you in the backside,” said Ferguson, who came up against world amateur number two Maverick McNealy in his first match on Saturday afternoon.
“Maverick was such a nice guy,” he said. “I was on the putting green before it, warming up with my headphones in. He came up and said, ’Well Ewen, let’s just have a great game today. Let’s play great’.
“What a thing to say. He genuinely wanted to have a great game.
“We talked all the way around and in the clubhouse afterwards we were saying, ’That was great’. He helped make me not nervous.”
At the event, Ferguson was followed around the course by his family, who provided raucous support.
“Every time I hit a shot, they would be screaming. I knew exactly where they were stood,” he said. “Mum and dad are so supportive, they just say ’go out and have fun on the course’.
“They love coming to watch me and at the Walker Cup they were in their element.”
Ensuring the event was a complete family affair, Ferguson’s older brother, Lewis, could be found further down the fairway acting as ball spotter.
Although he was unable to defeat Beau Hossler in his match on Sunday, beaten by a birdie putt on the 18th green, Ferguson’s performance drew admiration from around the globe — he has received mail from as far away as Canada and even Justin Rose is a fan — having ’liked’ a video of the amateur’s swing online.
Ferguson also took the opportunity to inspire a young golfer, having received a similar gesture when he watched the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in 2007.
“I always try and give a ball away,” he said. “I went to the Walker Cup when I was 11 and one of the players gave me his ball.
“I thought, He gave me his ball — how cool is that?
“So at the Walker Cup I gave a little boy one of my golf balls and his dad sent me a letter saying ’Thank you, you inspired my son’.
“That was so cool.”