In the final weeks of the LPGA Tour season, the 29-year-old hit a life-changing run of form and, as was the case with Catriona Matthew for so long, Scottish golf suddenly has a new role model in the women’s game.
“I think everyone, men and women, in Scotland will have been inspired by her,” declared Louise Duncan, who is just starting out in her professional career, of Dryburgh bursting out to become a new star on the US-based circuit.
The Aberdeen-born player had already shown she now feels at home among the best female golfers in the game by producing a string of consistent performances this season, but talk about turning it into something special.
She landed a breakthrough win by four shots in the TOTO Japan Classic, followed that with a top-15 finish in the Pelican Women’s Championship then claimed a share of seventh spot behind Lydia Ko in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last weekend.
The late salvo earned her around $435,000, which represented close to half her career earnings, and saw her finish 34th in the Race to CME Globe Standings, joining Leona Maguire (tenth), Charley Hull (21st), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (22nd) and Georgia Hall (26th) in making it a successful campaign for British and Irish players.
In the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, Dryburgh has climbed to 75th, having been outside the top 200 heading into the final few weeks of the season. In short, the Saltire is flying proud again at the highest level in the women’s game and, rightly so, that has been widely acknowledged.
“It was great to see Gemma winning in Japan,” said Matthew, the long-time Scottish No 1, having triumphed four times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2009 Women’s British Open, and played in nine Solheim Cups before becoming a two-time winning captain for Europe in the biennial bout.
“I played a practice round with her at the British (AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield) and was impressed with how she's come on. I think she's really settled into the LPGA after a few years. She’s obviously in a very good place. Any time you win, you know you are obviously playing well. She's confident and hopefully she can build on the last few weeks and come out strong for the start of next year.”
That 2023 campaign now looks very exciting. She’s exempt for all five majors, has earned a spot in the Tournament of Champions that tees off the new season next month and will be set for a happy homecoming when the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open is held at Dundonald Links for the second year in a row.
She should now be set for life from a financial perspective, having initially wondered if that would ever be the case when she first set out in the paid ranks and then needing time to find her feet on the LPGA Tour after a tough rookie year.
“Yes, definitely,” replied Dryburgh to being asked if she’d felt stressed about her career. “When I first played on LET, I think I had one sponsor, and then that kind of fell away. Had some help at the beginning from Scottish Golf and then that kind of stopped as well. So I didn't have any sponsors at one point.”
She’s now supported by American burger chain Five Guys and St Andrews Brewing Company, having received welcome backing from her home club, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, before feeling that she was making headway.
“Some members set up a trust fund for me, which really helped,” revealed Dryburgh, who has played there since she was 12, having moved to the town north of London a couple of years before that. “They've been so supportive and my parents, too. I never wanted to rely on them. Kind of wanted to make my own way. But sponsorship is not easy out here.”
From nowhere, really, the Scot has catapulted herself into contention for next year’s Solheim Cup, which takes place at Finca Cortesin on the Costa del Sol in September, when Suzann Pettersen will be holding the European reins
“Just to keep doing what she's doing,” replied Matthew, the Norwegian’s predecessor, to being asked what advice she’d have for Dryburgh in that particular quest. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to your golf and how you're playing. It's just trying to relax next year and let her clubs do the talking. It would be great to see. She's a lovely person.”
Matthew inspired a new generation of Scottish golfers and now Dryburgh has become the perfect role model at a time when the likes of Duncan, Hannah Darling, Lorna McClymont, Grace Crawford and Freya Russell are all part of a talented group of young players.
“It’s looking really promising for the future,” said Duncan, who is heading to the Ladies European Tour Qualifying School in Spain next month. “It’s the same with the men, there’s loads of young guys coming through and I think the women’s game will be the same in the coming years. It should be good.”
The ever-improving McClymont had already been inspired by Dryburgh when, along Crawford and Russell, they played in this year’s Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open Pro-Am. “She has shown that hard work really does pay off and that is something that is extremely important,” said the Milngavie woman. “She has a great work ethic and is so dedicated and that is what I really look up to.
“I was really impressed with the way that she handles herself in such a professional manner, yet she looks like she is having a great time. It was really good to watch her win in Japan on TV as you could see she was staying in the moment and enjoying every minute, which is very inspiring.”