Will Martin Laird's Bay Hill win inspire?
ORLANDO, Fla. -- By most accounts, they invented the game in Scotland, and all these centuries later still boast about having some of the finest courses anywhere.
But when it comes to producing top players, the Scots have been woefully inept in recent times, with just two players ranked among the top 100 in the world.
That's why Sunday was such a big deal for a country that calls golf its own.
Scotsman Martin Laird won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on a day filled with carnage at the Bay Hill Club, capturing his second PGA Tour title despite a final-round 75.
Across the Atlantic, Scotsman Paul Lawrie won the Andalucian Open in Spain, the former British Open champion's first victory in nine years.
Among golf fans, that likely produced a celebration in Scottish pubs on Sunday night unseen since well, Saturday night.
"It's not secret that Scottish golf has been down for a few years after Monty's dominance," Laird said, referring to eight-time European Tour money winner Colin Montgomerie -- the captain of the victorious 2010 European Ryder Cup team.
"Now we have a lot of good players," Laird said. "We just need to get up there and get experience and to have two wins in one week is obviously huge."
Laird, 28, truth be told, is more American these days than Scottish -- although at least he chose a place that sounds similar: Scottsdale. A native of Glasgow, Laird played college golf at Colorado State and has lived in the United States for 11 years.
He met his fiancé, Meagan Franks, while in college and they have a wedding planned for this summer.
"He loves it here," Franks said. "This is home now."
Laird had a scholarship offer from Colorado State and took it sight unseen. He arrived in Fort Collins, Colo., just days before school started having never been to the United States. Prior to that, Laird came up the junior golf ranks in Scotland.
"Scottish golf, pretty much every year in amateur golf, is really good," he said. "We always do well in all of the big amateur tournaments. But for some reason, guys trying to make the transition from amateur golf to professional golf has just not been working.
"I was lucky enough that when I was over here and graduated Colorado State, I had a group of sponsors that gave me some money to play and I didn't have to worry about paying my bills and entry fees. I could just go work on my game and try and get better."
Laird made his way onto the Nationwide Tour in 2005 and was on the PGA Tour by 2008, holding on to the 125th and final fully exempt position.
Two years ago, Laird notched his first PGA Tour victory at the Justin Timberlake event in Las Vegas, and last year had several close calls, including a playoff loss to Matt Kuchar at the Barclays.
Arnold Palmer Invitational Leaderboard
1. Laird (-8)
2. Marino (-7)
T-3. Leishman (-6)
T-3. Rose (-6)
T-3. Toms (-6)
• More scores
He was ranked 40th in the world last week and will now move up to 21st, territory not seen since Montgomerie was trolling the top 10 as Scotland's most prolific winner.
Lawrie, 42, the beneficiary of Jean Van de Velde's epic collapse at the 1999 British Open, had not won since 2002. He was ranked 272nd in the world prior to his victory, one of just 10 Scotsmen ranked among the top 500 -- with Monty now anchoring the group at No. 413. Former U.S. Amateur champion Richie Ramsay is ranked 141st.
Laird is the only Scotsman to play full time on the PGA Tour and the dearth of top-ranked Scottish players remains a perplexing issue for many.
"My god, if you only knew how much we've spent on that question!" said John Huggan, a longtime Scottish golf writer who works for The Scotsman as well as Golf World magazine. "Our weather doesn't help. Nor do many of the [foolish] golf clubs we have over here see the R&A and their junior membership, which is holding steady at nil.
"And we're not very big. Only 5 million citizens. In other words lots of reasons."
Laird is one of only three Scotsman to win U.S. tour events, along with Sandy Lyle -- a two-time major winner -- and Ken Brown.
Golf's oldest governing body, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, is based at the world's oldest and most famous venue, St. Andrews. The country has five venues in the British Open rotation: St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Royal Troon. And it annually hosts three European Tour events: the Scottish Open, the Dunhill Links Championship and the Johnnie Walker Championship.
And just three years from now, Gleneagles will host the Ryder Cup.
"It's an alarming thought," Montgomerie said as long ago as the 2006 Ryder Cup. "We've got to get more Scots playing in this bloody thing. There are a lot of good Scottish players out there, but of late, they've not been reaching the Ryder Cup level.
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"I can't stress how much it will mean to have at least one Scot playing when the match is held in Scotland."
It looks like Laird could be the man. He plans to take up European membership so that he can be eligible for next year's Ryder Cup at Medinah outside of Chicago.
And given the fact he has put himself in a position to be eligible for major championships and World Golf Championship events, he has the opportunity to earn world ranking points when the qualifying process begins later this year.
Perhaps Laird will become an inspiration and show his countrymen a route to big-time golf.
"There's no doubt we have the talent in the country," he said. "It's just that transition. We need to get better."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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