The plans for the event were announced just a few months ago but today the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women presented by Modest! Golf came to fruition.
Home to play at her first event in Northern Ireland as a professional, Stephanie Meadow found it difficult to explain her feelings as she warmed up for her opening round.
“I don’t think nervous is the right word but it was definitely more emotional than usual. I want to play well and put on a show for everyone who’s come to support me.”
The 27-year-old has been balancing catch-ups with friends and family while preparing for this event but admits that has made the week even more special.
“It was great to see some old faces. One Royal Portrush member, she was Lady Captain when I joined, and I was her Junior Captain’s Prize winner. She brought the picture with her and was showing me on the first tee. I think I was ten. The thought that goes into that, to find it to bring it here, it’s lovely.”
Meadow posted just one bogey in her round of 70, leaving her firmly in contention, three shots behind round one leader Eleanor Givens (ENG).
“There’re a lot of birdie chances out here and a lot of reachable par-5’s. I think a seven or eight under is definitely out there and I think we’ll see it for sure.”
As play began at Galgorm and Massereene at 07:30am, Irish Women’s Close Champion Annabel Wilson patiently waited for the arrival of her A Level exam results from the driving range.
“I was hoping my tee time would allow me to get the results before I played today,” she said after her opening round 71. “I got a B in Maths and in Geography so I’m delighted. I had to get a certain result to secure my place in UCLA. I wasn’t overly worried about them but it’s nice to have it off my shoulders now. I can look forward to heading there in three weeks.”
Wilson’s play leaves her tied for 8th place alongside fellow amateur Lauren Walsh (Castlewarden) but despite it being her first Professional event, there were no signs of nerves before her round.
“That’s one thing I noticed this morning, I wasn’t nervous at all. I stayed in the moment and I suppose nerves come with thinking about the outcome, I’m just loving it. I’m pretty chilled out all the time, nothing much fazes me but that’s something I’ve had to learn.”
A double-bogey on the 18th at Galgorm Castle put Wilson over par for her opening nine but four birdies on her way home meant lunch tasted that little bit sweeter.
“I felt like I didn’t do much wrong all day. One bad shot on 18 cost me but I knew there were opportunities on the front nine, my back. I wanted to stay patient, I got a nice run of three birdies in a row and obviously the chip-in on 6 helped. I stuck to the game plan and didn’t let it bother me.”
Unfazed by the hype of the event, which is the first of its kind in Europe where Men and Women will play for equal pay, Wilson found just one difference.
“It’s a bit of a change with the yardage book. My instinct is to keep reaching for the Bushnell,” she laughed. “I actually got one yardage very wrong because I was looking at the wrong spot on the fairway. It’s different but I’m learning as I go and the event is brilliant so far.”
In the men’s event, Craig Ross (SCO) is the early leader following his 6-under par 64 at Massereene. Ardglass native Cormac Sharvin and John Hickey of Cork lie tied for 20th on 2-under and are best of the contingent from Ireland.
For Hickey, a double bogey at Galgorm Castle to finish wouldn’t dampen his spirits as any sign of form is a positive in his book, given his results of late.
“This is comfortably the biggest event I’ve played in since turning Professional,” he explained. “I hit it really well, had some good chances and held some good putts. From bad tee shots on 17 and 6, I got up and down for par. Those were huge to keep any momentum going. I held some good mid-range putts for birdie so the whole thing was pretty tidy.”
Sharvin brings confidence into this event as he currently sits 9th on the Challenge Tour rankings. A top-20 finish at the DDF Irish Open at Lahinch earlier this year should also bring good memories of playing on home soil.
“I played really nicely tee to green,” he said. “It was probably as bad a score as it could have been. It was playing tricky, a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be so I’m pretty happy with two-under.”
So, what for the new format?
“I enjoy being with the men, it’s fun,” said Meadow. “We do the same thing week-in-week-out 25 weeks a year so to have something different this week is good. Even the sound on the driving range when the guys are hitting is a little strange to hear, but it is nice.”
Men’s Scoring HERE
Women’s Scoring HERE