IF SALLY Watson fails in her bid to leapfrog Amy Boulden at the death to become this season’s Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year, then it certainly won’t be down to a lack of positivity.
Heading into the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, which gets under way today over the splendid Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club, the stage is set for an exciting shootout between the talented British duo.
Boulden, the 21-year-old Welshwoman who helped Great Britain & Ireland win the Curtis Cup at Nairn in 2012, sits in top spot after hitting a rich vein of form in the second half of the season.
But, with a gap of just over £6,000 between the pair and the season-ending UAE event carrying a prize fund of close to £400,000, Watson has a chance to claim the coveted crown.
Organisers have put the pair in the same group for the opening two rounds, as they’ve also done with English teenager Charley Hull and Gwladys Nocera, from France, as they battle it out for the money-list title. “I think playing together will be good for us both,” said Boulden, who, in one of her final outings as an amateur, was in the Wales side that won the Women’s Home Internationals at Scotscraig last September. “I think we can bring out the best in each other.”
Playing in front of her home fans brought out the best in Watson when she finished third behind the experienced Trish Johnson in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Archerfield Links in August.
She’d also claimed third spot in Slovakia prior to that and now the 23-year-old is delighted that one of the goals she set when thrashing balls at home in Elie last winter is still achievable heading into the final four rounds of the year.
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“Overall, I am happy with how my rookie season has gone,” said Watson, who looked to be a star in the making from an early age but has a degree in International Relations to fall back on – it was gained at Stanford University in California, where she had former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as her academic advisor – if her career in professional golf comes unstuck.
“I have been very fortunate to receive backing from the Scottish Golf Support Ltd fund, as well as Castle Stuart Golf Club, and have no doubt that this support has allowed me to make the most of my rookie season,” she added.
“At the start of the season, I really didn’t know what to expect but, nonetheless, I set myself some clear goals to push myself to stay focused on competing and not simply just keeping my card. I believe that you should set yourself high goals. Coming from a country like Scotland, that’s the only thing that is going to motivate you in the winter time. You might not achieve them, but it is only going to push you to consistently get better.
“If you are focused on just making the cut or just keeping your card, I think that’s probably where you will find yourself at the end of the year.”
No matter what happens over the next four days, come Saturday night the end-of-season report card for Scottish players on the LET this season will be positive.
With two wins under her belt, Kylie Walker is sitting 14th on the main money-list and will be aiming for one big final push after spending the past week or so working with her coach, Kevin Craggs, in Abu Dhabi.
Watson is 28th, Vikki Laing 31st and Pamela Pretswell 40th, the only real disappointment probably being that Carly Booth, who was riding on the crest of a wave two years ago after a double triumph, is outside the top 100 with earnings of less than £7,500 from 18 events.
For Watson, this week is as much about trying to win one of the circuit’s biggest events than doing enough – a top-13 finish would do the trick if Boulden missed the cut – to become Rookie of the Year.
“I have managed to achieve most of my goals and still have one event left to try and achieve them all,” said the two-times Curtis Cup player. “I feel like my game is in good shape to finish the season strongly in Dubai so I am looking forward to the week ahead and the opportunity in front of me.
“Whatever happens, however, this year has been a huge learning curve, both in terms of life on Tour – I never travelled nearly as much as an amateur – and what it will take for me to be contending on a regular basis.
“I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the final group at the Slovak Open where I went into the last round tied for the lead. Even though I didn’t win, it was a great experience to play with Camilla Lennarth [the eventual champion] to see how she handled the pressure and approached the round.
“I gained a huge amount of confidence from that experience and as I showed myself that I have the game to win on the LET. Now it is just a matter of putting myself in contention as often as possible and staying patient.”
Having made a dash from Florida, where she secured a conditional card for next year’s LPGA Tour, Hull, last season’s Rookie of the Year, leads Nocera, the 2008 Ladies Scottish Open champion, by just under £18,000 as she bids to become the circuit’s youngest money-list winner.
Also in the field is Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, who is in buoyant mood after securing her card for the 2015 LPGA Tour in Daytona Beach on Sunday.
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