All eyes from the world of amateur golf will be on Ireland in 2024, and Kate Lanigan hopes to be centre stage when the Women’s Amateur Championship comes to Portmarnock Golf Club in June.
The Hermitage Golf Club star has been one of Ireland’s most consistent amateur players over the last couple of seasons and she finally saw that consistency rewarded with a win at the R&A Student Tour Series event in Italy.
Heading into 2024, Lanigan has her eyes set on more silverware with her main target set on making a splash at the Women’s Amateur Championship.
The state of the Irish women’s amateur game has rarely if ever been stronger than at present. Sara Byrne and Áine Donegan have both enjoyed fantastic seasons while Beth Coulter has been a serial winner of Irish Championships in recent years.
Lanigan is certainly pushing hard to break into that triangle of players and reach the next level of amateur golf, but Irish players overall seem well placed to contend for honours at the Women’s Amateur Championship in Portmarnock after Byrne, Donegan and Coulter all made the knockout stages this year at Princes Golf Club in Kent, with Coulter reaching the quarter-final.
Holding university membership in Portmarnock, Lanigan would love to be the one who entertains the home fans during the latter stages of the championship and produce another James Sugrue moment.
“That’s the one everyone has highlighted and put in bold. I’m very lucky to be a member of Portmarnock for a few years and having spoken to the members in the club, and Niall Rock and Elaine McBride, the club is taking a very serious approach and there’s posters up everywhere,” Lanigan explains.
“The course has gone to mats for the winter which they never do so preparations are already underway to get it in perfect condition. The members have been saying they would love an Irish winner! Especially after James Sugrue won in 2019. All the girls know Portmarnock really well and it’s a super venue.”
Women’s amateur golf is certainly on the rise and Lanigan is excited to be part of what should be a brilliant tournament with a very high standard of golf.
“The goal is to play good golf and get some people out to watch,” she said. “Even playing the last few Amateur Championships a lot of supporters have come out to watch which is lovely to see.
“Some of us are hopefully poised for a semi-final or final appearance. They’ve added a tented village recently, a media centre, physio rooms and it really feels like a professional event.”
On top of a packed playing schedule, 2023 was a year of change for Lanigan who graduated from Trinity College and has begun a Masters in finance in Maynooth University. Naturally, she wants to further her academic potential but the move to the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship, headed by International Palmer Cup Head Coach, Barry Fennelly, is certainly focused on improving her golf as she looks to reach the next level.
Lanigan is familiar with the surroundings having played Senior Cup for Carton House and she feels the golf programme is fit to rival what goes on Stateside.
“I’m really enjoying Maynooth so far, it was a difficult decision when I was doing my leaving cert because you are weighing up offers from America and Ireland, so I was delighted to do my undergraduate in Trinity and I feel this is a great move,” says the 22-year-old.
“The facilities and schedule here are second to none. Having spoken to some of the girls in America they were shocked at the schedule we have. S&C, psychology, physio, and some great coaches. It’s super intense but it’s a great programme to have in Ireland and it would be great to see some more girls here.
“A big addition has been the Student Tour Series; all our schedule is built around that. Our coaches are obsessed with what grass we will be going to play on, even for Italy. I won but we were there three days before any other team. I played 36 holes and got to work with Noel Fox and Johnny, so if Maynooth didn’t give me the help I wouldn’t have won that week.
“We’ve got almost too many golf courses to choose from! We’ve had some qualifiers for our trips, so the golf is intense over 18 holes in Carton, Killeen Castle, Portmarnock and Royal Dublin as well, so we are spoiled for choice.”
The Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship currently contains more men than women, but Lanigan certainly keeps pace with the lads on the panel and she hopes more girls will consider Maynooth University in the future.
“It’s a lot easier for me this year where Maynooth have a schedule for you Monday to Friday,” she explained.
“The big thing is getting on the course with Donal Scott to transfer practice and keep it competitive. The lads are always up for a chipping competition for ten euro so that will sharpen your focus! That sort of thing is huge and helps me a lot.
“We all sat down and wanted to add an element to our practice to make it as stressful as competition, so the reason guys put up scores is if you do poorly in a chipping competition you have to post it on social media and show everyone what you shot. You need tough skin with the lads, but they are great craic and [it’s a] great environment.”
2024 promises to be another big year for Lanigan and she knows she can’t afford to fall behind on the golf course or in the classroom!
“I learned how to balance my time in my undergraduate, so it benefits me having the academic pressure and then the golf is seen as a break almost. It’s a really good balance for me because I had my best year in my final year in Trinity so it works for me, but it might not work for everybody.”
She has hit the ground running early at Maynooth University, notching her first win at that R&A Student Tour Series event in Italy, where she mounted a stirring final round comeback to whittle down a five-shot deficit.
A successful junior golfer, this was Lanigan’s first senior win and first piece of silverware since the 2018 Irish Girls Close Championship. “We had only played one event prior in Spain where I was fourth, so it was nice to get off the mark,” she recalled. “It was all down to the preparation before. I had everything I needed, and I just had to go out and play the golf which I did on the last day. I ended up getting into a matchplay situation going down the stretch and it came down to the last hole and all the lads in Maynooth and Barry came out to support so that was lovely and meant a lot.”
Lanigan was extremely consistent last season, threatening to win a host of winter scratch cups before racking up four top-10s including a runner-up finish at the Ulster Strokeplay, but she managed to learn from those near misses and finally get the win she feels she deserved.
“It’s funny I wasn’t overly nervous, that being said I did leave a 20-footer three-feet short, so I wasn’t too happy with that. I had come close a lot this year, had some second places in scratch cups which are huge events and they do mean a lot and then I had some close calls in bigger events which I learned from. I felt like I handled different things better, I got up and down from trouble so things like that and the experiences throughout the year helped me going down the last hole.”
Winning on the Student Tour Series can open a number of doors to the future, in particular the Arnold Palmer Cup which conveniently is coming to Lahinch in 2024.
Ballybofey and Stranorlar star Ryan Griffin played his way onto the International team this year after he won the Student Series Order of Merit while fellow Maynooth teammates David Kitt and Allan Hill have also represented the International side.
Lanigan is currently second in the Order of Merit but will have her work cut out to overtake Swedish star Elice Fredriksson and serial winner Lorna McClymont.
Maynooth Golf Manager Barry Fennelly will co-coach the International side in Clare so she will have a front-row chance to impress. Could that link help the stars align for her?
“That shows where the Student Series is going, it would be a huge honour to be selected on the team,” Lanigan smiles. “There’s great competition between us and anyone can win so it gets you ready for some of the events during the year. The Palmer Cup being in Ireland is an added bonus and it’s a huge goal to make the team, but I won’t focus on it too much just let the results do the talking.”
The Palmer Cup may be towards the front of her mind at present, but a Curtis Cup call for Great Britain and Ireland is on the radar as well. “Very much at the very back of my mind,” she admits.
“I am a good bit away from that yet. It’s one of those that you don’t want to let dictate your season so again it’s similar to any team if you look after your goals and play well in tournaments you could be rewarded. It would be the ultimate achievement in amateur golf.”
One of Ireland’s leading amateurs, Lanigan has taken inspiration from the exploits of Byrne (winner of two collegiate events, Irish Women’s Close, low amateur at the Women’s Irish Open) and Donegan (played all four rounds at the US Women’s Open on her major debut) and feels that women’s golf in Ireland is in a great place as more players try to join Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow on the LPGA Tour.
“They’ve had unbelievable seasons, and we would all be very close and wishing each other well. I even struggle to keep up with them shooting 66s or even 60s if you’re Sara Byrne! It’s nice when they come back to Ireland because it pushes you on. Four of us got to the weekend at the Women’s Irish Open and me and Sara were doing our post round putting drills at a LET event, so it was very cool. Irish women’s golf is in a strong place,” explains Lanigan.
“The strength of the women’s game comes from having so many underage panels. We have so much support from Golf Ireland and a lot of girls have gone to the US where the system is unbelievable. You can go, take to it and skyrocket like the girls have and when it works out you can get a lot from it. The girls at home have also improved a lot so you can stay home and reach the next level as well so it’s nice to be able to do both.”
Lanigan has also enjoyed success at international level, winning the 2022 Home Internationals tournament with Ireland on home soil in Ballyliffin.
“It’s very, very cool. It doesn’t get old. No matter how many you play, you always feel those first tee nerves and it’s a great way to get together with the girls. Sometimes you are seeing each other for the first time in a few months and we have great fun at the events so that’s another reason why you want to make the teams to have that bit of craic so it never gets old.”
A fierce competitor, Lanigan admits she can be hard on herself when in competition. A missed cut at the 2022 KPMG Women’s Irish Open in Dromoland Castle left her close to tears after getting overwhelmed by the occasion of making her debut amongst the elite of the LET. However, she is also a resilient character and she arrived at Dromoland last September eager and determined to right the wrongs of twelve months ago. And she did. Finishing T50 and impressing the crowds who followed.
“I remember that feeling last year and I said if I ever got the chance again, I would handle things differently, so that was one of the reasons why I played so well and had such a good time because I knew what to expect,” she reflects.
“Small things like where the range is, the players’ lounge, so I understood how that worked and just play golf. The experience last year was disappointing, but it helped me this year even though I was two or three over early on in my first round I knew I could stay calm, so I enjoyed it a lot more.
“It’s a week later when you sit down and reply to the messages and look at the camera roll with the unbelievable videos, you realise how lucky you are. I may never get to experience that again but to be there with my family and the girls from the Interpro team it was the best week I have had in golf.”
It was the Late Late Lanigan Show in Dromoland as she played the last five holes in a cumulative nine-under-par for the four days. “I have to credit my caddie – my boyfriend Luke – he had to put up with a lot!” she laughs.
“But he calmed me down the last few holes and I was four-under for the last four one day, so I enjoyed the last few holes. “Hopefully I can play in Carton House next year when it’s held there. I’ve been part of the Carton House Senior Cup team for the last few years, and I live close to it so it’s a great facility. The O’Meara course is beautiful so it should be a great venue.”
After reflecting on another great year and claiming her first senior win, Lanigan is hungry for more and is targeting Ireland and Europe as her hunting ground in 2024. And who knows, she might even land one of the big ones!