HEATHER MacRae, one of three Scots about to embark on their first full season on the Ladies European Tour, has been told she wasn’t being considered for support from a Government-backed pot as it is “unlikely” she can become a winner on the circuit.
The demoralising verdict came from Steve Paulding, Scottish Golf’s performance manager, after MacRae applied for backing from Scottish Golf Support Ltd, the body set up to help players make the transition from the amateur to professional ranks.
MacRae, who is preparing for the start of the 2015 LET season in Australia next week, said she’d been left “pretty shocked” by the nature of the knockback that saw her miss out on support worth £23,000.
“After returning from Tour School [in December], I knew I had met the criteria, as posted on the SLGA/SGU websites, of holding a full LET card to be eligible for SGSL funding,” said MacRae, who is attached to Gleneagles Hotel.
“I emailed Steve Paulding and asked him for me to be considered for the funding for 2015. I got a lengthy email back, but the following quote from the Scottish Golf performance manager left me pretty shocked: [Paulding wrote:] ‘My feeling is the board would think it is unlikely you will go on to win on Tour with your performance record to date therefore [do] not support your application for funding’.”
While still to be confirmed, The Scotsman understands that Kelsey Macdonald and Laura Murray, the two other Scots to secure LET cards for this year through the Qualifying School and both national champions in the last five years, will also not be receiving SGSL support.
The oldest of the trio at 31, MacRae acknowledges that her age well have worked against her but, nonetheless, she is upset to have had her confidence knocked by a message that she sarcastically described as “very encouraging”.
A winner on the LET Access Series as she climbed up the ladder, MacRae added: “Having just got my full card and hoping to play around 20 events all over the world and some SPGA events, the costs are huge.
“To do it properly without cutting too many corners – flights, accommodation and having a caddie – it is a lot of money and, at present, I probably have about a quarter of what I need. I was hoping to get support from SGSL as I now have a full card but, after the very discouraging email from Steve Paulding, I knew my chances were slim and, as expected, they chose not not help me.
“That would have been £23,000 which would have taken a large part of the stress away from a full season. As it is, I am continuing to try to find new sponsors.”
MacRae has taken a different route from the likes of Scottish No 1 Catriona Matthew. While Matthew went straight from top-class amateur events to top-class professional events, MacRae has followed Paul Lawrie down the PGA route.
In 2009, she became the first woman to play in the Scottish PGA Championship for 76 years and, through subsequent appearances against her male counterparts, received lots of encouragement and support.
Aberdeen hotelier Stewart Spence, Farmfoods owner Eric Herd and also Lawrie, through his backing on the Ladies’ Tartan Tour, have all played a part in MacRae making it to the LET, where she’ll be among a record eight Scottish regulars – nine when Matthew is playing – this season.
“Without Stewart and Eric, I would be a teaching professional somewhere,” she said. “They have allowed me to continue playing and pursuing a playing career in golf. For that, I can’t thank them enough. It’s all well and good to have my determination and desire to succeed but, without financial help, it is impossible to travel to these events and compete.
“Paul Lawrie is a great supporter of up-and-coming Scottish professionals and the Scottish Ladies’ Tour, which is also supported by Stewart Spence and [Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive] Martin Gilbert, has been great. The more events you can compete In the more you will put yourself in good positions and, hopefully, learn from and take to the bigger events.”
As MacRae prepares for next week’s RACV Ladies’ Masters, compatriot Sally Watson has already got her 2015 campaign off to a flying start by grabbing the lead in the Oates Victorian Women’s Open in Australia.
Feeling at home in the windy conditions, Watson, pipped in the race to be the LET’s Rookie of the Year last season, carded a flawless four-under-par 69 at 13th Beach Links.
It earned her a one-shot lead over Australian Stephanie Na, American Beth Allen and Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord.
“Bogey-free round to start the year – it’s kinda nice,” said Edinburgh-born Watson, who is flying the Castle Stuart flag again this year.
“I really didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t played that golf course before,” she added. “I just arrived on Monday night from Scotland, played 7.45 pro-am on Tuesday which was a nice little start with like four hours sleep!”
The two-times Curtis Cup player birdied the second, seventh, 17th and 18th. Kylie Walker and Michele Thomson, the two other Scots in the field, shot 75 and 76 respectively.