TRISH Johnson, the defending champion, has talked up the home contingent in the countdown to the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open being held at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire for the first time next month.
The combination of an increased prize fund of £370,000 – double last year’s pot – and a new slot preceding the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry has helped bolster the field for an event that was popular among the rank-and -file Ladies European Tour players during a five-year stint at Archerfield Links, but failed to attract the elite of the ladies’ game other than Catriona Matthew.
Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, who cemented her place as the world No 5 with a 15th LPGA Tour victory in the Manulife LPGA Classic last weekend, is heading for the Kyle Phillips-designed course near Irvine, as are American Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, and talented English teenager Charley Hull.
More big names could well be added to the cast list in the next few weeks, possibly even world No 1 Lydia Ko, but, according to experienced campaigner Johnson, hopes will be high of the spoils going to a Scot on 24-26 July, as was the case when Matthew won in 2011 and 2013, between which the title was also landed by Carly Booth.
“I just want to say one final thing, especially as I am talking to the Scottish press,” said the 49-year-old, who earned a place in the record books by becoming the LET’s oldest winner with her victory in East Lothian last year. “I think it’s exciting that there are, in my opinion, a lot of very good Scottish players.”
She wasn’t just referring, either, to Matthew, the long-time women’s No 1 in the home of golf who recently chalked up her 100th top 10 on the LPGA Tour in the Kingsmill Championship.
Kylie Walker was a double winner on the LET last year, a feat achieved by Booth in 2012, while a glance at that circuit’s money-list shows Pretswell, on the back of four top 10s, riding high in seventh, Sally Watson sitting 17th and Walker occupying 23rd position.
“I know Kylie has played very well, Sally is doing well and Pamela,” added Johnson. “I think it’s going to take one player to break through and it will be tremendous for Scottish golf. There is the talent there. There are a lot of players that are just there on the periphery, but one win could spark something very, very exciting for Scottish women’s golf… hopefully, that’s a second place here by the way (meaning to her at Dundonald Links).”
While Johnson, who is still recovering from a back injury sustained as she was warming up for a Paul Lawrie Ladies Tartan Tour event at Montrose Links earlier in the year, was unable to join them, Booth, Pretswell and Walker all enjoyed the opportunity to get an outing on Loch Lomond’s sister course yesterday and were in agreement on two things.
First, it’s in immaculate condition, with one local caddie claiming the “greens are the best in the area”, and, second, it will be a great test, though one that will demand extra preparation due to the topography of the layout, particularly its putting surfaces. “Obviously Archerfield is close to my heart as it’s where I had my first win,” said Booth. “But the course at Dundonald is fantastic. It’s challenging, but at the same time it’s scoreable. It just depends on the weather.
“Having a few extra practice rounds is going to make a big difference. There are a lot of mounds and greens sloping in different directions. You need to know where to hit it. Course management will be key.”
Johnson, who has 19 European Tour wins and three LPGA Tour victories to her name, is relishing the test as she prepares to return to the country where she has been on two winning Solheim Cup sides – at Dalmahoy in 1992 and Loch Lomond eight years later.
“Scotland has always been my favourite place to play golf,” she confessed. “St Andrews would be my favourite course of all. But I fell in love with Archerfield when the Scottish Open was there. I played well every time it was there and I felt that tournament owed me something. I threw away a couple of titles there in previous years.
“Dundonald looks magnificent. And it looks tough as well. I was brought up on links golf at Royal North Devon and I’ve looked at Dundonald and to say it’s exposed would be an understatement. It obviously depends on the weather. If it’s good it will be scoreable but if typically windy and wet it will be extremely tough. I can’t wait to be honest.”