Golf: Clara Young on Catriona Matthew’s trail

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PETITE as they come, Clara Young looks more cut out for a pommel horse than pummeling away with a golf club but today, in her native East Lothian, the 16-year-old will bid to follow in the spikemarks of Scotland’s greatest lady golfer.

Ninteen years after Catriona Matthew landed the last of her three title triumphs in the Scottish Ladies’ Championship at Gullane, Young, the latest talented female player to roll off the conveyor belt in North Berwick, is one win away from becoming the event’s youngest winner at 16.

In this morning’s 18-hole final at Longniddry, Young faces Elderslie’s Alyson McKechin, and victory for the local girl will see her land the SLGA’s flagship event two years earlier than another East Lothian product, Jane Connachan, did at Royal Troon in 1982.

“I’m a bit surprised to be in the final, but I’ve been hitting it good this week and also managing to hole my fair share of putts,” said Young after securing her spot in the title showdown with a 4 and 3 semi-final victory over Peterculter’s Rachel Polson.

After single-putting nine out of 16 holes in her morning win over Kilmacolm’s Eilidh Briggs, Young’s putter was still hot in the afternoon. At the short sixth, for instance, Polson hit her tee shot to a foot only to be denied a win as her opponent rolled in a 45-footer from off the green.

“That was one of those putts you sometimes have a good feeling standing over,” admitted Young, who went two up when Polson lost a ball with her tee shot at the next and never let the 20-year-old Florida Tech player get any closer to one hole thereafter.

On an idyllic day on the East Lothian coast, Polson’s putting ultimately let her down, missing from three feet after her opponent had rolled in an eight-footer at the 14th then seeing another short one stay above ground as Young clinched her victory at the next.

“I’ve recently gone back to a conventional putting grip from cack-handed while some drills I’ve been doing since I was away with the SLGA squad over the winter are also paying off,” said Young, who is heading in the right direction in her bid to follow in Matthew’s footsteps.

“She is certainly someone to look up to,” admitted the North Berwick High School pupil, who is staying on for sixth year before starting a scholarship at the University of Missouri next August.

“I’ve played with Catriona once before and have also had the chance to practise on a new putting green she’s had installed in her garden, though I’ve not actually had all that much time to practise at all recently due to studying for my exams.”

According to SLGA national coach Kevin Craggs, who works with both finalists, the recently-crowned East Lothian Women’s champion is a classic example of how looks can be deceptive. “Clara’s swing speed is 94mph, which is the LPGA Tour average,” he said of a player who is also receiving some direction from North Berwick professional Martyn Huish,.

McKechin, who ended a brave bid by Megan Briggs, Eilidh’s older sister, to regain the title she won at Southerness four years ago with a 2 and 1 win in the other semi-final, certainly won’t be treating Young lightly.

“Having been on winter training with Clara and also played in a lot of tournaments with her, I know that she’s not one to underestimate tomorrow,” said the 19-year-old from Paisley.

Helped by reeling off three birdies in a row from the 11th, McKechin accounted for Grantown-on-Spey’s Hannah McCook in her quarter-final before dousing a possible late fightback from Briggs in the afternoon by following her opponent’s eagle-3 at the 15th by hitting an 8-iron to 12 feet for a birdie at the next.

McKechin, who has worked with Craggs for the last three years, admitted her joint runner-up finish in the Helen Holm Trophy at Royal Troon at the end of last month had been a timely boost.

“I’ve gained a lot of confidence from that as it proved I can compete at the top level,” she said. “My long game has always been fairly good but I’ve been working on my short game and that has paid off.”