With the autumn chills having seemingly, all of a sudden, arrived in a rush I settled down last weekend by our first log fire of the winter to watch Mel Reid in the Shoprite LPGA Classic, hoping with all my heart that she would win her first LPGA title. And she did – with great style and class, ultimately acknowledging the accomplishment of this long-held ambition as a “life-changing event”. To the golf follower from this side of the pond there will undoubtedly be pleasure at learning Mel is the second consecutive English winner on the LPGA tour, following hard on the heels of Georgia Hall’s own maiden victory in America. This feat has only been achieved on one other occasion – by Trish Johnson and Caroline Pierce, way back in 1996, when Mel was a slip of a nine-year old.There has always been something about Mel that made us all think she was destined for superstardom and a shiny amateur career did nothing to dispel that notion. She joined the paid ranks at the end of 2007, with a host of successes bolstering a naturally positive outlook on life and normal service continued in 2008 when she won Rookie of the Year honours on the Ladies’ European Tour. I saw a lot of Mel’s play in the years either side of her departure to the paid ranks – firstly when she was representing England on the European stage and then her first confident strides into the professional arena. The sky was the limit.
Every successful person in life has an army of support as they plough their furrow to the top and it seemed that Mel was particularly blessed in this regard. She was chosen by Sir Clive Woodward to be part of a project that put athletes at the centre of their own development, with a dedicated team of specialists built around them. All very common nowadays, but 15 years or so ago the athlete, or in this case, the golfer, tended to follow the lead of the national body or whoever was funding the programme. There would be one dedicated team of experts to whom dozens of athletes would plug in. Sir Clive’s idea was to turn this model on its head in golf and put the player at the heart of everything.
With her customary joie de vivre Mel threw herself into what was then largely an experiment. She had access to some brilliant people, two of whom immediately spring to mind. She worked on her full swing with Lawrence Farmer, one of the finest coaches around, who was then based at Moor Park golf club in Hertfordshire. In the putting department she was introduced to another expert, Dr Sherylle Calder, the eye and vision specialist who had worked with Clive’s winning England rugby team in the World Cup win. Sherllye also worked extensively with her compatriot Ernie Els in the lead up to his second Open Championship win at Royal Lytham. This was groundbreaking stuff in the world of golf but an awful lot for a young player to absorb, with information coming at her from all angles. That was when I truly started to appreciate how resilient Mel was.
The expected wins on the LET tour arrived, along with a first Solheim Cup cap before tragedy struck Mel’s family with the death of her Mum, Joy, in a car crash in Germany where she was watching her daughter compete. It is well documented how one month later Mel won her fourth title in her first tournament back and the world marvelled. Understandably, this superhuman effort signalled the start of a decline that permeated her professional and private life. She admitted she was lost.
There’s an old proverb, Chinese I believe, that says, “When the student is ready, the master appears.” And so it was that in 2014, Mel’s great friend and fellow professional Breanne Loucks was responsible for arguably the most important intervention in Mel’s career. Breanne phoned Mel up, told her it was time to get back on track and suggested she have a fresh start with Scottish coach Kevin Craggs. That phone call may just have saved Mel’s golf career as she took her pal’s advice and spent the next while working with Kevin who became her coach, friend, counsellor and mentor.Re-dedicating herself to the routined grind of an athlete helped Mel regain her natural self-confidence and along with more Solheim Cup appearances and LET wins, she became more outspoken on subjects close to her heart, namely equality within the game of golf itself and sport in general. In the last few years she has come out as gay and dealt with the adverse social media comments with a deft touch. Then, in 2018, still seeking success in the States on the LPGA, she uprooted herself from Britain to live in Florida. I’m sure some of her fierce money games with Brooks Koepka in the last year have helped her on her journey…..and yes, she has taken money off him!
One of the final, and most important, pieces of her jigsaw would appear to be when she started working with sports psychologist Howard Falco a couple of months back. With him she has addressed any latent demons and the resultant inner serenity and peace I see in her is showing in the quality of her play. Long may it continue for one of the most popular players in our game.This is your time in the sunshine, Mel, so step out and soak it all up, as ever with Joy in your heart.