Date: February 15, 2019
Author: John Huggan

HUGGAN: English golf to the fore

Look out golf. The English are not only coming, they have arrived. Like it or not, on both sides of the gender divide the flag of St. George is flying proudly at almost every level of the game. Take last year. On the Ladies European Tour, 14 Englishwomen ranked inside the top-100 money-winners. Which sounds pretty good until a quick scan of the equivalent European Tour list reveals 26 Englishmen inside the leading 100 on the “Race to Dubai.”

The current world-rankings tell a similar story. There are four Englishwomen inside the top-61 players on the planet – and ten men. It is a remarkable volume of success that has already been echoed in this ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at The Grange. Midway through the second round, the lowest scores of the tournament had both been shot by Englishwomen – Jodi Ewart-Shadoff’s first-day 65 and the 66 (matched by Nelly Korda, who is a mixture of Czech and American, but definitely not English) with which Charley Hull followed her opening 75.  

At least partly responsible for all of the above is former Walker Cup captain, Nigel Edwards. Since 2011 the Welshman has been England Golf’s Director of Coaching.

“We have a really focused program, especially when they get to national level,” he says. “We send players all over the world and use our funds very diligently. But that is just the end product of what we do. From the bottom up, we try to create something that is both inspirational and aspirational. For example, we have something called the ‘A-squad,’ which sits between the developmental squads and the national squads. Because there are so many players coming through the clubs and the counties, it would otherwise be easy to miss some of them. The A-squad plugs a gap.”

It’s not all about the amateur game though. Support is also given to fledgling tour players of both sexes through the ‘England Golf Give-back Agreement.’ Last year, money went to the English Challenge Tour event – the Bridgestone Challenge. In return Englishmen received seven starts on the Challenge Tour and amateurs played in the Bridgestone. The Ladies European Tour Access Series also received a cash boost. Through that players got invitations to LET events and Access events. “In that way, we try to bridge the gap between the amateurs and pro games,” says Edwards. 

The end result is that, by their late teens, English players are increasingly mature in a golfing sense. Because they have been prepared so well in amateur golf, their period of adjustment to the professional game is shorter.

“English golf as a whole is in a really strong place right now,” agrees two-time English Women’s Amateur champion Bronte Law. “Which is no surprise. England Golf has a really good system going. So it was just a matter of time before that generation came through. And it will continue. It’s really cool to see some of the girls I grew up with coming through and starting to do well as professionals.”

Indeed, one who has made steady progress as a professional is Law herself. After earning her LPGA card at the 2016 qualifying school, the now 23-year old from Stockport – one close observer of the women’s game calls her “the second coming of Suzann Pettersen” – missed only three cuts in 17 starts en route to finished 93rd on the money-list. Last year those numbers improved. Law was 41st best-earner on the LPGA, where she recorded five top-tens, won over $500,000 and missed only three cuts in 25 starts.

The early signs are that those stats will see further improvement in 2019. While her Friday 72 failed to match the fireworks of an opening 67, Law was far from discouraged at the end of a day when the birdie putts that fell in round on turned into a series of tap-ins for par 24 hours later. 

“It was a bit frustrating,” she admitted. “I never really got going. I did make some good birdies, but there were some tough pins out there. And I had a couple of three-putts. So there were some unforced errors. But I probably played as well, if not better than yesterday. But we all have days like that. And when they happen it’s all about staying in the round and in the tournament. I’m still up there and I’m hopeful I can build on that over the weekend.”

Hull was even more upbeat after a bogey-free 66 highlighted by six birdies. 

“It was a good score out there,” she felt. “And I didn't hole a great deal of putts either. I just hit it close and holed the ones I had to make. Which was unlike yesterday, when I missed a bunch of putts. That was the difference. I just didn't miss the silly little ones today.”

That will have to continue over the weekend. And not just for Hull. The English may have arrived in the broadest sense, but they have some chasing to do over the next few days – five are under par – if the Patricia Bridges Bowl is to make the long trip to Blighty.