International Women’s Day – Ireland’s elite in America

by | Mar 8, 2020 | 0 comments

Olivia Mehaffey (Getty Images)

Carla Reynolds

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Today, March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting our Irish Women and Girls’ successes on both a national and international stage.

No less than nine college golf scholars currently study and compete in the USA, a system which has produced names such as Stacy Lewis, Azahara Muñoz and even Annika Sörenstam. A further seven players have decided to study at home in Ireland, choosing programmes at the likes of Maynooth University, University of Ulster, Trinity College and University College Cork.

The idea of young golfing stars packing their bags to begin college life on a golf scholarship in America is nothing new. However in recent years, the standard of players leaving Ireland to join top ranked programmes has notably increased.

In the mid noughties there were sixteen female players from Ireland studying and playing abroad. Only a handful however, were competing at the top level of the NCAA circuit including Danielle McVeigh at Texas A&M and Karen and Tara Delaney at Kent State.

Stephanie Meadow followed suit in 2011 becoming the University of Alabama’s first four-time first-team All-American. She left Alabama as the career record holder in almost every category, winning nine career tournaments, three times more than anyone else in the school’s history.

Next up was Leona and Lisa Maguire who attended Duke University where Leona’s achievements, including finishing with the best scoring average (70.93) in Division 1 women’s golf history, have been well documented.

Fast forward to 2020 and Ireland has four players competing in the top 25 colleges in the US with many more on the periphery. What is the allure for these players in making the jump across the pond?

Olivia Mehaffey is now a Senior at Arizona State University (ASU) and from a young age, Professional golf was the goal.

“I see myself on the LPGA Tour and that’s my goal,’ she confirms. ‘The opportunity to play at the highest amateur level, have access to great facilities, weather and events played a big part in my decision to first come over here.”

The ASU programme, which is currently ranked third in the country, boasts alumni such as Phil Mickelson, Anna Nordqvist and John Rahm. Mehaffey has four college career wins to date and twenty top 10 finishes which she hopes to add to before graduating this year. She is a three-time All-American and has the chance to become just the third person in ASU history to achieve the award for a fourth time should she receive a distinction in the classroom this season.

Mehaffey was confirmed earlier this week as a Committee Selection for the 2020 Arnold Palmer Cup at Lahinch, this will be her second time playing the event. The matches will see an International mixed team compete against their USA counterparts in a Ryder Cup style format from July 3 – 5.

Lauren Walsh began her Freshman Year at Wake Forest (ranked #7) in September 2019 and currently sits just outside the top 100 individually on the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

“Making the decision to move here for college has definitely been one of the best I’ve made,” said Walsh. “It’s given me the opportunity to train at the most incredible facilities and to compete against some of the best players in the world.”

Wake Forest’s most notable graduate in recent years is Jennifer Kupcho, who won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019 and now competes on the LPGA Tour.

Before making the trip to North Carolina, Walsh showed wisdom beyond her years finishing tied for 8th at the ISPS Handa World Invitational with rounds of 70, 72, 71 and 71. Although she admits adapting to her new routine has not been plain sailing.

“One of the most difficult things to adjust to has been time management,” she explains. “We are full time students and full time golfers so making sure we give enough time to all aspects can be difficult.”

The Castlewarden member will be one to watch as she completes her studies over the next three years.

“Playing in this environment is definitely a great stepping stone to professional golf if that’s what I decide to do in the future,” she concludes.

The 2019 Irish Women’s Close Champion, Annabel Wilson, flew to the sun kissed campus of UCLA to join their golf programme (ranked #14) last autumn. The University boasts its own on-campus practice facility while players enjoy access to various courses including Bel-Air Country Club and Brentwood Country Club, both less than 10 minutes away. Wilson is a two-time Irish Girls’ Close Champion and has represented Ireland at girls’ and women’s level since 2014.

Swords golfer Julie McCarthy recently broke into the World Amateur Golf Ranking top 25 and has played a key role for Auburn since enrolling in January 2018. McCarthy was selected to represent GB&I in the 2019 Curtis Cup and also qualified to play for the International team in the Arnold Palmer Cup the same year. Number 19 in the Golfstat rankings, the Auburn Women’s Golf programme will welcome another Ireland player, Anna Foster, in 2020.

Other teams who sit on the outskirts of the top 25 are the University of Louisville (#35) which includes Killarney’s Mairead Martin and Indiana University (#75) where Valerie Clancy attends and Aine Donegan will soon join. Sara Byrne has also committed to the University of Miami who are ranked #37.

Until this year, there has never been two players from Ireland competing on the LPGA Tour. Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire have given us something to cheer for and by the sounds of it, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to wait much longer for a third.

*rankings as per Golfstat on 05 March 2020

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