Last week I found myself in the car pounding down the A49 which runs down the Welsh/English border on my way to a course and a club that has figured quite a lot in my golfing life, namely St Pierre in Chepstow. I played Curtis Cup golf there and dipped my toe into the swirling cauldron of golf broadcasting there, sitting alongside the inimitable Tony Adamson, then the golf correspondent for BBC Radio.
The occasion this time was the Monmouthshire Ladies’ County Golf Association’s lunch where I was the guest speaker. (Thanks to John Cavaciuti for the following two photographs.)
It was a chance to reconnect with old pals, namely the president, Liz Edwards, who had been for decades one of the main shakers and movers in Welsh golf at a time when I was the coach to the girls’ and women’s international teams. Liz was there at Royal Dornoch in 1999, arguably my proudest coaching moment, when Wales won the home international matches for the first time in their history, matching the efforts of the girls’ team a few weeks earlier. We shared many nailbiting moments over the years, as well as a lot of laughs.
The lunch was also an opportunity to make new friendships and I spent a delightful evening beforehand with Annette Brimble, the captain of the county and her husband, Ian. Their hospitality was second to none and yet again it struck me how easy it is to drop into someone else’s life when the common denominator is golf. Aren’t we lucky?
Monmouthshire is the smallest of the Welsh county organisations with a mere 21 clubs, yet they pack a powerful punch as evidenced by their recent successes, particularly at junior level. Their success does stretch back a number of years, however and they proudly lay claim to being the home county of Becky Morgan, in my opinion the most successful Welsh female ever to play the game. So, there was a nice symmetry to the fact that a handful of days after the lunch I once again found myself in the car, this time pounding northwards to Kingsbarns to commentate at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. I was thrilled to learn that Becky had been successful in procuring the final exempt spot for the Open by being one of the top three LET (Ladies European Tour) members at the Scottish Open not previously qualified.
Becky took up the game when she was twelve, instantly excelling at a sport that did not capture the imagination of her twin sister Rachel. Becky attended university in the States, winning ten collegiate tournaments and played on two Curtis Cup teams before joining the paid ranks in 2000. She secured her cards for both the LPGA tour in America and LET in 2001, choosing to live stateside so she could “jump in at the deep end” and play mostly on the LPGA. She feared that playing and finding her feet in Europe first would work against her with the subsequent jump in standard to the American tour being possibly overwhelming. So, it was in for a penny in for a pound, or in this case, dollar. And what a smart decision that turned out to be!
Here we are almost 17 years on and the low-key, unflashy Welshwoman is still keeping her bank manager happy despite the change in the game, particularly over the last decade. The courses have been lengthened considerably in a futile defence against the vast distances the players now hit the ball, therefore favouring those very players very heavily. As Becky says without rancour, “You can’t compete against players who are always hitting wedges into the greens, even though it is often from the rough. I may be in the fairway but I’ll have a 5-iron in. There isn’t the same premium now on hitting fairways as there was ten years ago.”
Luck is needed in any walk of life and being largely injury-free has certainly contributed to her longevity but at 42 years of age and with a new home recently acquired south of Portland, Oregon, thoughts of slimming down the schedule are in her mind. The constant travel and living out of a suitcase wear you down eventually and a new-found role of helping out with the Oregon State University golf team is something she really enjoys.
So, how does she reflect on her own career? “If you’d told me before I turned pro that I would do what I’ve done, I would hardly have believed you. But then after two very good years in 2003 and 2004 I am disappointed not to have won a tournament. I still feel I can win but my best opportunity now would be in Europe.”
So, perhaps, as she reduces her playing schedule in the US over the coming few years we may see more of her in Europe in search of that elusive victory. Her career deserves a couple of wins, in my opinion and it would be the icing on the cake. Mind you, the cake’s pretty tasty already, with north of £3.5 million in winnings.
To me, the greatest compliment you can pay anyone is to say they fulfilled their potential. And Becky Morgan, pride of Monmouthshire, has certainly done that.