Grant sets sights on home Amateur Championship triumph
Olivia Mehaffey's unfortunate absence through injury means that the weight of home expectation has fallen on the experienced shoulders of Paula Grant this week at Royal County Down.
The 25-year-old optometrist will start today's Women's Amateur Championship as the highest-ranked Irish player in the field at 87th in the world.
Grant has enjoyed a solid season to date which includes a third-place finish in the Welsh Ladies Open Strokeplay Championship and, importantly, a win in the 36-hole Scratch Cup at Royal County Down back in April.
The GB&I Curtis Cup representative will line up at RCD alongside six other Irish hopefuls in Shannon Burke (Ballinrobe), Sara Byrne (Douglas), Beth Coulter (Kirkistown Castle), Aine Donegan (Woodstock), Anna Foster (Elm Park) and Mairead Martin (Kanturk).
They are all trying to follow in the footsteps of Leona Maguire, who won the tournament in 2017, and Stephanie Meadow, who triumphed in 2012, but they will have their work cut out as one of the strongest international fields in the 116-year history of the event has been drawn to RCD.
At close of entries, 12 players sat inside the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings with the 144-player field made up of competitors from 26 countries - including from as far afield as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the USA.
Leonie Harm returns as the defending champion having defeated Stephanie Lau of the United States 3&2 at Hillside last year, sealing the biggest win of her career and becoming the first winner from Germany.
Harm, the second highest-ranked player in the field at 14th in the world, is bidding to become the first player to win back-to-back titles since Sweden's Louise Stahle's victories in 2004 and 2005.
"I'm looking forward to defending my title at Royal County Down this year, which I understand is a fantastic course," said the 21-year-old Harm. "It was brilliant to win the Championship in 2018 and hopefully that experience can stand me in good stead. I've enjoyed competing in a number of events as champion.
"Being the first German player to win the Women's Amateur was a real honour last year and I feel like I'm playing well again in 2019 to give myself another chance."
The winner gains entry to this year's AIG Women's British Open at Woburn and the 2019 Evian Championship, as well as next year's US Women's Open and the Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship.
The first stage of the Championship involves all 144 players playing two rounds of stroke play today and tomorrow. The leading 64 players will then advance to the match play stage from Thursday to Saturday.