I think a lot about golf and, perhaps not surprisingly, I think a lot about women’s golf. I was amazed to see that it’s been four years since the talented Irish Maguire twins first went to study at Duke University in the States and now here they are graduating. While their last four years have been a very predictable diet of study and collegiate golf it will be interesting to see how things pan out now for them both. Leona, who spent oodles of weeks in the last couple of years as the number one amateur in the world has the credentials and status to dive straight into professional golf on the Symetra Tour, the secondary tour to the LPGA in America. It is confidently expected she will cruise straight onto said LPGA – I hope she does, but it’s not a given.Lisa’s golfing graph has enjoyed more ups and downs than her sister’s and they may well be nearing the first time in their lives that they will start spending significant time apart. For close sisters that’s difficult; for close twins that could be very difficult. There’s so much more to success in professional sport than mere talent and it is not easy coping with living out of a suitcase, endless travelling and, often, loneliness and isolation from the people you love. Success demands that you develop these coping skills as well as knowing how much spin to put on your pitch shots.
I had the pleasure of spending time on tour with the talented Head twins, Sam and Jo, who were as difficult to tell apart as the Maguires. I could tell the difference only by their eyes and being short-sighted it meant I couldn’t hail them from afar and call them by name. Rather, I had to lumber over to them, get up close and inspect their eyes – rather unnerving for them, I think. Only then could I be sure which one I was talking to. They ultimately took different paths with their golf, Sam heading out east and becoming a member of the Japanese Tour after several years in Europe. The separation from travelling on tour with her twin was hard – it was anything but a soft option – and I was full of admiration for her. Jo went stateside and has only recently returned to England with husband Terry Mundy, (who caddied for Ian Poulter) and is totally involved with house restoration and her own Grand Design projects.There have been a few trailblazing sister acts in the past. Think Sweden, think Sorenstam, think Annika and Charlotta. Annika, many people’s choice as the GOAT (greatest of all time) won 89 times around the world including 10 majors. Her sister Charlotta recorded a couple of wins as a professional, including one in America. One of their collective proudest moments, however, was when they were teammates on the 1998 European Solheim Cup side.
At the moment the best sisters in the golfing world are the Jutanugarns, from Thailand. Both Moriya and Ariya are ranked inside the world’s top 10 and both have won in the last month, Moriya finally breaking through to join her younger sibling in the winner’s circle. They are incredibly close and travel and stay together on tour, each citing the other as their greatest support. When Moriya was closing in on her first victory Ariya was more nervous and emotional than at any time during her own wins which now tally eight, including a victory last week, and one major, the 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open.They are the second set of twins to play on the main tours of the world following the now 32-year olds Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, who have a Korean father and Thai mother. The Wongluekiets started attracting serious media attention at the age of 13 when they became the youngest players to tee it up in a major, the 2000 Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club. Big Sis Patricia was out in the States covering all the majors at that time and I well remember her efforts to get her head around the unfamiliar name. She still hasn’t forgiven their Dad who took it into his head to change their surname to plain ordinary Song, just as she had mastered the more exotic Wongluekiet! Unfortunately, both twins had their playing careers cut short for health reasons but both still remain in the golf industry, one as an assistant collegiate coach in the US, the other in Thailand helping develop young players.
In the week that the Maguires leave their college golf behind them I bumped into two of Wales’ best female professional players, Amy Boulden from Maesdu and Chloe Williams from Wrexham. They are certainly not twins – not even sisters – but, along with many others, they share an uphill battle in finding enough tournaments to play in to hone their games, never mind make a living. Amy has her full European Tour card and was Rookie of the Year in 2014 but with a 2018 schedule totalling a paltry eight (yes, eight!) 72-hole tournaments and three 54-hole ones it is not hard to see that professional golf in Europe is not a viable option without some serious sponsorship or backing. Consider that four of the aforementioned tournaments are in Australia and one in South Africa and you realise the cost of even making it to the 1st tee is quite considerable.Chloe, however, despite not having a full card, fares slightly better in terms of the number of events she can play. There are a dozen on the LETAS or secondary tour. Playing in those is all about improving your game and your course craft because the purses are small. It is supposed to be a stepping stone to the next level but at the moment it isn’t working like that at all. You can gain a full card but what good does that do you? You still can’t make a living. Both Amy and Chloe nearly fell over when I told them that in the late 1980s we had a schedule of 27 tournaments and nearly all of them were in the UK, Ireland and continental Europe, not Oz and South Africa. I have much admiration for today’s young female professional golfers in Europe. The majority are dedicated, athletic, skilful, beautifully dressed and interact well with fans and media alike. They work hard on and off the course and I’m confident the product the Tour has to sell is top quality. The problem is not the players; it is the governance of the Tour which has lurched from one poor decision to another over the past decades. A tour that 30 years ago had a strong pulse and a good heart has been on life support for too long.
So, as we watch with interest as Leona Maguire steps onto the professional stage in America, let’s not forget those whose only option is Europe. Leona has only to worry about the state of her own game, safe in the knowledge there are opportunities and tournaments aplenty for her if she proves good enough. The Ladies’ European Tour players are depending more and more on the metaphorical cavalry riding over the hill to provide more playing opportunities and make significant advances in building a viable tour. I played on tour from 1986 – 1998 at a time when the schedule was vibrant and I loved it. I wasn’t as good as many of today’s players but I had opportunity. And I had two other things on my side – impeccable timing and luck. Today’s female European tour players need a large dose of both.