Liam Johnston started 2018 with a three-year plan. Nine months later, he has fulfilled every expectation on it.
The Dumfries golfer won the Kazakhstan Open on Sunday to collect a cheque for £64,000 and all but secure his spot on the European Tour next season.
With five Challenge Tour events left in the season, the Scot’s victory lifted him into fourth in the rankings, with the top 15 promoted to the main tour.
“I saw a tweet that said I’m now the fifth-highest Scot in the world rankings, which is completely surreal,” the 25-year-old told BBC Scotland. “I thought I could do it for sure, but not as soon as I have.”
Johnston turned professional at the end of 2017 and mapped out his three-year route to the top.
But he found himself well ahead of schedule after winning his maiden title, the Andalucia Costa del Sol match play event, beating fellow Scot Grant Forrest by one stroke to claim more than £28,000.
Even then, though, he started the week in Kazakhstan 40th in the rankings.
He said: “I’ve been going non-stop since the middle of January, where I was starting out with no status, to the middle of September knowing I have my European Tour card for next season.
“It’s totally exceeded my expectations because my main goal was getting my Challenge Tour card. But I ended up achieving that by May, so I then targeted getting my main tour card next year.
“But now I’ve achieved that as well so I need to sit down again and set some more goals for the rest of the year.”
Scotland’s golden generation?
While things are looking up for Johnston, this season has brought mixed fortunes for his established compatriots such as Marc Warren and Richie Ramsay.
Both sit outside the current European Tour cut off and could lose their playing privileges for 2019, as could Johnston’s childhood friend Connor Syme, who played alongside him at the European Championships.
With only one Scot – Russell Knox – inside the world’s top 100, questions have been asked about the state of the sport in this country.
But alongside Johnston, North Berwick’s Forrest, aged 25, and Aberdeen’s David Law, 27, are serious contenders to join him on the main tour.
“We’ve all known each other for ages and feed off the success each other has,” said Johnston, who got into golf when his mum saw an advert in the local paper for lessons and sent him along with his brothers.
“It’s not a surprise to me at all that a lot of us are doing well now and I don’t think I will be the only Scot advancing on to the European Tour this year and years to come.
“We don’t need to add pressure over the state of Scottish golf just now; we just want to be the best players we can be.”