Inspirational pep talks from Ryder Cup stars Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson helped Gary Boyd to continue his golfing rehabilitation to charge to the top of the first round leaderboard at the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts.
The Englishman carded an excellent seven under par 64 over the outstanding Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club in Aviemore to lead by one from Dutchman Maarten Lafeber, Portugal’s José Felipe Lima and Prom Meesawat of Thailand.
Eliot Saltman leads the home charge on five under, with the big Scotsman joining South African Dean Burmester and the English trio of Rob Coles, Ross McGowan and Jack Senior just two off the lead.
Bradley Neil, meanwhile, made a disappointing start to his professional career with a three over 74, but the year old, who travelled to Aviemore having played in the US Open last week as an amateur, was overwhelmingly positive about his first round in the paid ranks.
It was Boyd though, who rightly grabbed the headlines of day one of the €250,000 tournament – the fifth richest event on the Challenge Tour’s 2015 schedule.
The 28 year old began his round at the 11th hole and got his only bogey of the day out of the way early, after which he produced eight fine birdies to soar to the top of the leaderboard.
“It’s a very nice first round to get going this week,” said Boyd. “It’s a course I really like and have had some success on in the past. I finished sixth here in 2009 so I kind of knew I liked the course and it was obviously great to get off to such a good start today.”
Boyd was forced to withdraw from last week’s tournament in France with a calf strain but his two previous results – second in Switzerland and tied fifth in Belgium – mark a return to the kind of form that saw him win his European Tour card via the 2009 Challenge Tour Rankings.
He then enjoyed three seasons on Tour before a dramatic loss of form saw him fall down the Rankings and out of love with the game at which he excels.
The turning point came during a winter practice trip to Lake Nona in Florida, home to Poulter and his Ryder Cup team-mates McDowell and Stenson. Boyd took full advantage of his access to three of the game’s best players and picked the brains of all three superstars as he began to plot his way back to the highest level.
“Basically I had two-and-a-half years of playing rubbish after losing my card in 2012 and at the lowest point I was asking myself, ‘what am I going to do now?’” he said. “I never actually reached the stage of considering chucking it. But I was wondering, ‘is this really worth it?’ “I wasn’t enjoying playing golf anymore or practicing.
“There are more lows than highs in this game, but sometimes you have to look back at the good times because you don’t suddenly stop being a good player overnight.
“I got a lot of support from family and friends and Poulter has been good to me, staying in touch and asking what was going on because he had always known me as a good ball striker.
“He told me just to keep working hard and I also got good advice from Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson when I spent time with them at Lake Nona in the States. Henrik has experienced a couple of form slumps so it was good to speak to someone who had been there.
“We had a good chat and he said that he had evaluated everything in his game and his life and changed certain things and I’ve tried to do the same, including getting fitter and going to a new coach in January. We have been working on some good things and I am giving myself better chances.”