Famous greens at Portrush get a woman’s touch
They have come from all corners of the globe to compete at Royal Portrush — but few will have played in conditions as difficult as those experienced on the North Coast yesterday.
As reports appeared of a tornado hitting Eglinton, some of the players in the Ladies British Amateur Championship must have felt as though it had passed through Portrush on the way.
With competitors from all over Europe as well as the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, experience of links golf for many of the players was limited.
Throw in gale-force winds and driving rain, and this was a whole new form of the game. But really good players can generally adapt to any conditions, and that was pretty much the case yesterday.
The local challenge was spearheaded by, among others, Royal County Down’s Danielle McVeigh and the Maguire twins, Lisa and Leona, from County Cavan.
For McVeigh, in particular, this tournament is a crucial stepping stone towards her dream of turning professional, via Tour School, later in the year.
The Kilkeel player is, at 22, the same age as Rory McIlroy and came through the Ireland representative ranks with the Holywood star who is now one of the world game’s leading men.
“When I won my first international cap, about seven years ago in Germany, Rory was on the boys team,” explained McVeigh.
“I tried to learn what I could from him. It was brilliant to be in his company.
“He was one of the best in Europe at that stage so I knew he was going to be good in the years ahead, though maybe not just quite as good as he has become.
“It’s easy to say someone is going to be good but for them to actually live up to it is a different thing altogether.
“He is such a natural and he works hard as well. You can see that he has obviously put in a lot of work in the gym.”
She continued: “I look to the men’s game to try and get a few steps ahead of my own opposition.
“It’s inspirational to see how well the likes of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are doing at the moment.
“For such a small country to be doing so well is absolutely brilliant.
“I think they all push each other on — if McIlroy does something, it spurs McDowell on and so on.
“I would love to follow in their footsteps and be successful as a professional.
“My ambition is to play fulltime on the Tour, hopefully in Europe for the first couple of years and then in the United States after that,” said McVeigh, who played college golf in the United States before returning home to attend university.
“I actually finished my course a couple of weeks ago so I can now concentrate on the golf without the added stress of studying. It makes things a lot easier,” added McVeigh, who is enjoying the challenges posed by Royal Portrush this week.
“This is such a well run tournament it must be what playing in the Open itself would actually be like. Links golf in these conditions is really tough though.
“I know the players from other countries find it especially tough.”
One of those players is Kate Scarpetta, all the way from Pennsylvania. Vince Scarpetta had flown in from the States to watch his daughter compete — and was highly impressed with the venue.
“I have been to Royal County Down before but I think Royal Portrush tops even that. It’s a fantastic golf course. The ocean plays a bigger role here but they are both phenomenal courses,” explained Mr Scarpetta.
“Royal Portrush is well known among the golfing fraternity in the US and I’ll be telling all my buddies about the trip when I get back — and I promise not to mention the weather!
“Being here this week has been a wonderful experience. The people have been great — we’ve been made very welcome.
“I’ve enjoyed it so much I hope to come back in the Fall with a few of my buddies to play some golf.”
And Mr Scarpetta was delighted that McDowell, the US Open champion — who defends his title next week — had taken time out to visit Royal Portrush on the opening day of the Ladies British Amateur Championship.
“Graeme McDowell is very popular in the States. I hope he does well in the US Open,” he said.
A total of 128 players started the tournament and now 64 are left in the knockout phase which starts today and concludes on Saturday.
The 64 have earned their place at the business end of the tournament the hard way, battling on as the dreams of many were blown away at this beautiful, but sometimes merciless, venue.
Fingers crossed for better weather over the final three days — and a lack of tornadoes would be greatly appreciated.