THE 99th final of the Scottish Ladies’ Championship started to the sound of bottles crashing into a recycling bin at the back of the Longniddry clubhouse.
On a miserable morning on the East Lothian coast, it ended with Alyson McKechin, a 19-year-old from Paisley, keeping her bottle to claim the coveted title in the face of a spirited fightback from North Berwick’s Clara Young.
With three-time champion Catriona Matthew amongst the onlookers, Young’s bid to become the event’s youngest winner at just 16 was unhinged by unerring accuracy from her Elderslie opponent early on, McKechin hitting almost every shot exactly as she’d wanted to have in covering the front nine in two-under-par to stand five up. As the weather, which had been idyllic 24 hours earlier, started to turn nasty, McKechin’s game became a bit frayed at the edges, allowing her younger opponent to get back to just two down with four to play, but a solid par at the short 16th sealed a 3 and 2 success.
“Ever since I started playing at the age of 12, this is the title I’ve said I wanted to win so it’s a big one for me,” said McKechin, the first female to put her Renfrewshire club on the map, though Stephen McAllister cut his golfing teeth there before going on to taste victory on the European Tour.
A product of the SLGA’s development programme, McKechin had underlined her potential when finishing joint runner-up in last month’s Helen Holm Trophy at Troon. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence from that,” added the new champion. “I wasn’t playing at my best at the start of this week, but I got better as the event went on.” The omens had pointed to a Young victory. On top of the North Berwick connection, she had the same caddie – Torquil McInroy – as Matthew for the last of her triumphs at Gullane in 1994. But she simply ran into an immovable force on the day, the pressure McKechin constantly applied on the front nine being typified by the tee shot she stuck in to four feet at the sixth.
“She put a lot of pressure on me at the start and it wasn’t until near the end that I started hitting it better,” said Young, who refused to blame a migraine for her defeat and was still smiling afterwards.
“Unfortunately, I had too much to try and claw back, but it’s still been a good week for me and I’ll certainly be trying to go one better next year at Prestwick.”
Matthew’s presence was appreciated by both finalists. “It was great to see Catriona out there and, while I’ve got no immediate plans to turn professional, hopefully I can follow in her footsteps in a few years’ time,” said McKechin before heading off for a celebratory curry. “That might warm me up as well,” joked the wet winner.