SHE may already have played in three majors but Sally Watson is having to start at the bottom rung of the ladder in her bid to secure a foothold in the women’s professional game.
The two-times Curtis Cup member is among seven Scots setting out in Morocco tomorrow in the final two pre-qualifiers for next week’s Ladies European Tour Qualifying School.
Watson’s presence in Rabat is something of a surprise on its own, given the 22-year-old from Elie seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of Janie Moodie and Mahiri McKay by cutting her professional teeth in the US.
She spent three years in Florida based at the IMG Academy at Bradenton before heading to California, where, with the help of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the former Scottish Girls’ champion graduated in June as a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. The stars looked as though they were aligning nicely when Watson won a qualifier to secure a spot in this year’s US Women’s Open, but, like so many others before her – both in the men’s and women’s game – the two-times Junior Solheim Cup player is discovering that life is by no means easy in the paid ranks.
Since returning home to Scotland in the summer, she’s been playing on the LET’s Access Series, a development circuit, and hasn’t exactly set the heather on fire there. But, in fairness, Watson always knew turning professional wouldn’t be a walk in the park and is prepared to put in the hard graft required to achieve her new career goals.
“I am really enjoying finally being able to focus all of my time and energy on my golf without the pressures and commitments of school, albeit it has been an adjustment moving back to Scotland,” she told The Scotsman. “However, I am very fortunate living in Elie as the facilities are good and Ian Muir at Elie has been helping me with my game, which has been helpful and obviously convenient.
“Although my performances since turning professional in June have been mixed, I have learned a lot, which is ultimately what this year is all about. I’m learning about the travelling, daily practice/playing routines, the pressures of Q-School and playing for a living. There has been a lot to learn and so I am grateful for all of the experiences which I have accumulated this summer.”
Watson’s first experience of playing in a major came in the Women’s British Open at St Andrews in 2007, when she finished 50th after qualifying, a feat she also achieved for the 2010 US Women’s Open and missed the cut in that by just one shot.
Her spell at Stanford, Tiger Woods’ alma mater, harvested a whole host of playing honours and, in addition to having Professor Rice, one of the two women members admitted by Augusta National last year, as her academic advisor, it has also led to Watson becoming the first touring professional to fly the flag for Castle Stuart. “Mark Parsinen, the course designer and part owner of Castle Stuart, is a Stanford graduate which is how the connection, something that is a great privilege, was made and how the support that they are providing me came about,” she revealed.
“I really enjoyed my time at Stanford. Being part of a team for four years was an incredible experience, especially when I got to practice, play and travel with my best friends. Having Professor Condoleezza Rice as my academic advisor was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Having the chance to learn from such an accomplished and influential individual was very special. I think the biggest adjustment in moving back home to Scotland has been that I have gone from living on a busy campus environment – both at the IMG Academy and at Stanford – and now I am living in a small village, where, as I’m sure you can imagine, there is not quite the same hustle and bustle.”
Q-Schools are all hustle and bustle. Joining Watson in a 72-hole test on the Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam are four compatriots – Kelly Brotherton, Kay McNicoll, Laura Murray and Michelle Thomson – while Heather Stirling and Jane Turner are in a separate pre-qualifier taking place concurrently on the adjoining Blue Course at the Rabat venue.
“I feel like my game is shaping up very well and I have been working hard all year so hopefully these next few weeks everything comes together and I am able to enjoy the whole experience,” said Watson. “My ultimate ambition is to play on the LPGA Tour and so right now I am simply focused on improving my game and trying to get the best competition I can find to prepare me for hopefully playing in the US again.”
Three Scots – Heather MacRae, Pamela Feggans and Kelsey Macdonald – are exempt into next week’s final stage, which takes place in Marrakech.