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Rising star Olivia has drive to reach very top


Down to a tee: Olivia Mehaffey relaxes at home

Down to a tee: Olivia Mehaffey relaxes at home

Olivia at her local course Tandargee

Olivia at her local course Tandargee

Olivia with some of the many trophies she has won

Olivia with some of the many trophies she has won

Down to a tee: Olivia Mehaffey relaxes at home

It was a wonderful compliment from one of the most respected men in golf, Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open champion.

The Ulster great felt 18-year-old Olivia Mehaffey - world number 12 in the amateur rankings - should strike while the iron is hot by turning professional instead of taking up the offer of a golf scholarship in the US.

"Darren told me I was winning a lot of tournaments so was clearly good enough to turn professional," explained Olivia.

"But I have always wanted to go to university in the States and I knew that if I didn't do that, I would end up regretting it.

"I had a few options and I whittled it down to three or four. Coming to a decision is a tough process, pretty stressful.

"I visited Arizona State University and straight away my heart was set on going there. I had a good feeling about it.

"The facilities and coaching are superb. They have always produced good players and the climate in Arizona is perfect for golf.

"If I turned professional now I would miss out on that and I know I would regret it," added the Banbridge girl, who will study for a degree in Business, Sport and Media on a four-year scholarship.

"They are subjects I have always been interested in," explained Olivia, currently studying sports science at college in Newry.

"The plan is to turn professional after university and play on the LPGA Tour over there. I would love to give it a real go in the US. I would like to play in Europe as well."

Olivia aims to follow Rory McIlroy in becoming world number one and has very definite ideas about what will be required.

"My dream is to be world number one and I intend to give it my best shot," said the former Banbridge High pupil, who sees physical fitness as a crucial part of her plan.

Tiger Woods was among the first golfers to place a big emphasis on physical fitness, something that has been followed by the likes of Ulsterman McIlroy.

Olivia said: "I think people will look back in years to come and ask why golf didn't embrace a fitness regime sooner.

"You need to develop your endurance, your ability to keep it going round after round. Obviously technique is crucial as well and something you work on day in, day out."

And Olivia is quick to point out that Clarke's input has been vital to her incredible progress.

"What Darren does for golf is amazing, the way he always has time for young players like myself," she said. "For someone who is so successful he is really down to earth and is on hand as often as possible to offer tips and advice.

"It's amazing what Darren, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have achieved and that a little country like Northern Ireland has produced players of that quality.

"Graeme went on a scholarship to the States and it has worked really well for him and I'm sure it will suit me as well.

"It works for some people - I think a lot of it comes down to personality. It helps if you are an outgoing sort of person.

"The courses are a lot more difficult out there and that will be a good challenge for me," said Olivia who started playing at her local club, Tandragee, when she was five and is also a regular at Royal County Down, venue for last year's Irish Open and widely regarded as one of the world's finest courses.

She was introduced to the game by her dad Philip.

"Dad played at Tandragee and used to take me along with him and I just really enjoyed it. He has been a great support to me and, when I was growing up, drove me to tournaments all over Ireland," said Olivia, whose 19-year-old brother Luke is also a keen golfer while mum Evelyn has been a huge support. Philip Mehaffey takes up the story.

"Olivia just took to the game, she didn't need much encouragement. I was her unpaid driver! She would have been playing in tournaments nearly every weekend," he explained. "She started out at Tandragee but has been playing Royal County Down since she was about nine.

"Obviously myself and Evelyn will miss her terribly when she goes to Arizona later this year but I think it will be the best thing for her career.

"I would certainly prefer Olivia to get more experience before turning professional," added Philip, who regularly caddies for his daughter.

Olivia is on a fine run of form - last season's victories include a third successive Irish Girls' Strokeplay Championship, the Scottish Amateur Open and Welsh Amateur Open - and jets off to Peru this weekend for the South American Amateur Championship.

"The last year has exceeded all my expectations," she said.

And the biennial Curtis Cup - GB and Ireland are taking on the United States at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club from June 10 to 12, with the team selected in late April - should be a personal highlight for Olivia before she jets off to Arizona.

"The Curtis Cup will be incredible - the home support will be amazing. It would be a huge thing for me and I'm confident I'm playing well enough to be selected," said Olivia.

Add in partnering Paul McGinley in the BMW PGA pro-am at Wentworth and a guaranteed place in the British Open at Woburn, and it is clear a huge year lies ahead.

But despite her busy golfing schedule, Olivia still finds time for the life of a typical teen.

"My friends are great and I love spending time with them. We go out for food, go to the cinema. I lead a pretty normal life," she said.

That will all change if Olivia achieves her goal of reaching golf's summit.

But Olivia has her feet firmly on the ground and education beckons ahead of the professional game.

First Arizona, then the world.

Belfast Telegraph