It was a difficult decision. After back-to-back wins, including an historic success in the first professional women’s event to be staged at Royal St George’s, Gemma Dryburgh was sorely tempted to stay in the UK to try to remain at the top of the Rose Ladies Series order of merit over the next few weeks.
The 27-year-old could have been based at home playing in four events leading up to a grand final at Wentworth and, in the process, not really be worrying too much about the world’s ongoing fight with the coronavirus. Instead, she jumped on a plane to the US earlier in the week and is now under a two-week quarantine in a country where the pandemic is really spiking.
Dryburgh has crossed the Atlantic for the LPGA Tour’s restart with two events in Ohio, the Drive On Championship taking place in Toledo from 31 July-2 August then the Marathon Classic in Sylvania on 6-9 August. They are being followed by a ‘Scottish Swing’ involving the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the AIG Women’s British Open at The Renaissance Club and Royal Troon respectively.
“They were heavily trying to persuade me to stay and play in the rest of the events and I did think about it,” admitted Dryburgh of her brilliant double triumph in the new Rose Ladies Series, set up by Olympic champion Justin Rose and his wife, Kate, to give professionals an opportunity to get some competitive action at a time when their circuits are being badly hit by the impact of Covid-19. “But, after sleeping on it, I decided to stick with my plan to head over to the States.
“I think I had to. It’s my bread and butter. I need to try and improve my ranking and get into the rest of the majors for the year. That’s my priority. It’s not a case of being disrespectful to anyone. Not at all. It’s been an amazing thing to play in the Rose Ladies Series and I wish I could have stayed.
“If I didn’t have to quarantine, I’d definitely have played the next two events. But it’s an awkward situation. Just one of those things.”
Like compatriot Marc Warren with his welcome win on the European Tour last weekend, Dryburgh certainly hit the ground running after coming out of lockdown.
Up against the likes of Georgia Hall, Charley Hull and Laura Davies on both occasions, she played some sparkling golf to come out on top in those one-day events at The Buckinghamshire and Royal St George’s. As a consequence, her confidence is sky high and her profile has also been raised considerably.
“I couldn’t have asked for much more from these events as the fields were really strong and it was especially pleasing to win at Royal St George’s as it is such a prestigious course, so that was pretty special,” she said.
“Initially, I was just thinking about getting back into competition when I entered these events. Getting a card back in my hand and seeing where the game was at.
“It became a bit more than that, though. It’s had really good coverage with Justin and Kate behind it, which it might not have done if it had been a smaller series. Obviously in the current circumstances with golf just starting up again, it’s been great to be involved.”
Dryburgh, who was born in Aberdeen but now lives in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, is now hoping to transfer her winning form on to the LPGA Tour. In her rookie season two years ago, she struggled to find her feet, making just three cuts in 18 events, before starting to make a little bid of headway last season, even though she was unable to hold on to her full card.
“In my rookie year, I just didn’t feel comfortable out there,” admitted Dryburgh, a former Curtis Cup player. “I guess I didn’t feel I belonged almost. But now I definitely do and I think that’s down to a combination of a lot of things. Every part of my game has improved a lot since my rookie year.
“That’s definitely down to Lawrence Farmer, my coach since I was 12, while I have also been working for a couple of years now with Nick Soto on my putting. That’s come on leaps and bounds. I started AimPoint at the start of the year and that seems to have helped me a lot on the greens as well.
“I am definitely making more putts than I used to. It’s all building in the right direction and I definitely feel like I can do some good things on the LPGA Tour.”
The first leg of the Ohio double-header is being played at Inverness Golf Club, where Catriona Matthew will lead Europe’s Solheim Cup defence next September. “There is a little bit of trepidation about it,” said Dryburgh of her trip. “Things in the US are not exactly going in the right direction, shall we say, with the virus.
“I’m staying with a family just outside Detroit. It’s not far from where we are playing, so I can drive from there and hopefully that will reduce the risk a little bit.
“Mike Whan, the commissioner, and the whole of the LPGA team have done an amazing job, really. I don’t think he wanted to rush into anything, which was good. It was almost nice for the PGA Tour to go back before us and test the water. Hopefully we can learn from them. Hopefully no-one gets the virus at these events, but you can’t guarantee that.”
Thanks to a strong start to her season in Australia before the shutdown, Dryburgh is exempt for the AIG Women’s British Open, which is being played at Royal Troon for the first time. She is also hoping to secure a sponsor’s invitation for the ASI Ladies Scottish Open, which will mark the return of world-class sport to Scotland on the East Lothian coast the previous week, 13-16 August.
“I think a lot of people will be tuned into both those events, which will be really good for women’s golf and golf in Britain as well,” said Dryburgh. “I was always optimistic that they’d go ahead as I felt the R&A, AIG and Aberdeen Standard Investments were doing their utmost to make it happen and they have done that. It’s amazing they are going ahead, so we all have to say a big thanks to them and also the Scottish Government as well.”
It almost went unnoticed, but Dryburgh is now the highest-placed Scot in the Rolex Rankings. Sitting 221st and still searching for a first win on either the LPGA or LET Tours, she still has work on her plate to be the first player from the home of golf to really step out of Matthew’s shadow, but that is certainly the aim over the next few years.
“It would be nice to fill those shoes,” admitted Dryburgh. “Obviously I’ve got a lot to do to catch up on Catriona, but I would love to be the next Scottish name out there. It would be an honour to follow in her footsteps.” As would playing for the North Berwick woman in that Solheim Cup defence next year.
“I don’t see why not,” she replied to being asked if that was a realistic target. “I think my game is going in the right direction. Obviously playing with Georgia and Charley last week gives me a lot of confidence and, with the Solheim Cup just over a year away, I don’t see why I can’t qualify for it.
“It’s a case of keeping the results coming and seeing what happens.”
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