Determination rewarded as MacRae gets off to flyer

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IT’S something the Tartan Tour regulars are well aware of. “I’m a determined kind of person,” declared Heather MacRae, who, after cutting her professional teeth playing against her male PGA counterparts on the Scottish circuit, is beginning to make headway on a European stage in the women’s game.

In May, the 29-year-old from Dunblane recorded her maiden win on the LET’s Access Series – she triumphed in a play-off to claim victory in an event in Ahus hosted by Nick Faldo’s long-time caddie, Fanny Sunesson – and now she’s off to a promising start in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open.

A two-under-par 70, crafted in the more favourable morning conditions on a changeable day at Archerfield, secured a share of fifth spot, two behind leader Cassandra Kirkland, at the end of an opening round in which some of the later starters finished as sheets of rain swept over the Fidra Links.

Starting at the tenth in the company of compatriot Vikki Laing, MacRae, who, in 2009, became the first woman in 76 years to play in the Scottish PGA Championship, hit 16 greens in regulation as she signed for two birdies on each nine.

Feeding off that win on the development circuit – “it still feels like a couple of weeks ago,” she claimed – MacRae is playing in her first LET event of the season, having decided to devote her attention to the Access Series in a bid to earn a step up to the main Tour that way.

“I’m eighth at the moment and got five events to get into the top five,” said the Scot, who made her professional debut in this event at The Carrick in 2007 – two years after she won the British Ladies Stroke-Play Championship at Nairn. “Knowing you have 13 events means you don’t feel the same pressure when you have a season to play rather than just one or two events. Last year, I played three LET, four Access and by the time mid-summer came I hadn’t played well in any of them and spent a fortune.”

MacRae’s battle plan for this season was formulated – financed, too – with the help of Stewart Spence, the Aberdeen hotelier who has been a big influence on Paul Lawrie’s career since he also started out on the Tartan Tour.

“Stuart has backed me and he said ‘if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right’. He knows what it takes, having helped Paul a lot, so I took that on board,” she added. Illustrating that determination, she continued: “The week before my win in Sweden was the first time I’d thought, ‘are you banging your head against a wall?’

“It was nice to go out and know that you can win and know you’re not wasting your time.”

Sporting her Solheim Cup shoes and the only member of Europe’s history-making team in Denver in action this week, Catriona Matthew, the winner by ten shots here two years ago, was equally pleased with her 71, especially as it came in the tougher afternoon conditions.

“It was probably a three-club wind out there,” reported the North Berwick woman, picking out a 4-iron she needed for her second from 160 yards at the 15th and a 3-wood at the par-3 17th to illustrate her point.

Apart from the seventh, where she caught a tree with her second, the world No 10 felt she didn’t do too much wrong. “I thought I played really well, so I’m happy with that start,” she added.

On a day when defending champion Carly Booth had to settle for a 73, Kirkland, a 28-year-old from Paris, produced a flawless effort – she leads by one from compatriot Anne-Lise Caudal, South African Lee-Anne Pace and England’s Trish Johnson – before revealing she has Scottish ancestry.

“My father’s American and we have Scottish roots – my great-grandfather was Scottish but I’ve no idea from where – hence the name,” said the leader, who ended a six-year wait for her first victory in the paid ranks when landing the Sanya Ladies Open in China last autumn.

Fastest off the grid here, Kirkland has strong motor-racing connections. Her uncle, Eddie Cheever, was a Formula One driver before winning the Indy 500 in 1998. “My family is really into racing,” she confessed. “My cousin, Richard Antonucci, was also an Indycar driver just a couple of years ago. I don’t race cars, but I’m a good driver!”

In a golfing sense, no-one seemed to be driving better yesterday than Andy Nicol, the former Scotland rugby captain. The 11-handicapper carded a gross 75 – one better than playing partner Valentine Derrey, from France – as they claimed the lead in the team event with a 13-under-par 59. “The round of my life,” beamed Nicol.

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