Failing to get a single player in the Great Britain & Ireland sides for both the Curtis Cup and the Vagliano Trophy over the past year has suggested talent is in short supply at the moment in women’s amateur golf in the sport’s cradle. Perhaps not, though.
In Connie Jaffrey of Troon Ladies and North Berwick’s Clara Young, the 103rd Scottish Women’s Championship at Royal Aberdeen has thrown up two finalists who look capable of ensuring that such embarrassing selection snubs won’t be repeated in top team events.
Jaffrey, in fact, had been on the GB&I radar for that Curtis Cup in Ireland when she played under the current captain, Elaine Farquharson-Black, in the Astor Trophy in Australia at the beginning of 2015 before suffering an untimely dip in form. “Everyone has ups and downs – that’s the way golf is,” said the 20-year-old of that.
Her talent was evident when she finished runner-up in the 2104 Helen Holm Trophy at Royal Troon, where she turned spectator last summer to watch Henrik Stenson become Open champion. “His 63 [in the last round] was unbelievable,” said Jaffrey, clearly a fan of the personable Swede.
Her own effort in the semi-finals over the superb Balgownie Links was pretty impressive, too. Bidding to go one better in this event than losing to Craigielaw’s Gabrielle Macdonald in the 2014 final at Prestwick, Jaffrey was five-under in beating Jillian Farrell (Cardross) 3&2. Earlier, Jaffrey had accounted for Grantown-on-Spey’s Hannah McCook, winning that clash 2&1.
“I actually had low expectations coming into this week because I’ve made some swing changes with my coach, George Boswell, and didn’t really expect to be in the final,” admitted Jaffrey, who is three-quarters of the way through a four-year psychology degree at Kansas State University.
That could come in handy if she goes on to pursue a career in the paid ranks. She was certainly unfazed by falling behind early on to Farrell, who saw her title bid ended by an impressive burst of three birdies in four holes at the finish.
“I was a bit shaky at the start, but, after scrambling when I had to, including holing a ten-foot par putt at the third, I found my game and now I’m looking forward to facing Clara in the final,” added Jaffrey.
Her opponent in the 18-hole title showdown has been here twice before. Watched by Catriona Matthew in the rain at Longniddry, Young lost to Alyson McKechin in the 2013 final before bouncing back to claim the title two years later at Monifieth.
Also 20 and three years into an accounting degree at the University of Missouri, Young probably heads into this final as the slight favourite. She’s riding on the crest of a wave, after all, following last week’s superb success in the St Rule Trophy in St Andrews and won’t want to miss out on a golden chance to join Matthew, her fellow North Berwick native, as a multiple winner in this event.
“That’s the goal,” said Young after recovering, helped by an eagle-3 at fourth, from being two down after three to beat Muckhart’s Jennifer Saxton 4&3 in the other last-four clash. “The experience of winning before should hopefully be helpful, but it will be a different match from two years ago because this course is more challenging than Monifieth.”
At Young’s side will be her mother, Dawn. She is now on caddying duties after playing in the qualifying stages of the event herself earlier in the week.
“I don’t treat her any differently out there than I do when we are in the house at home,” said Young, smiling. “She’s good fun on the course and helps keep me relaxed.”
Yes, there’s talent there, no doubt, and that also includes Anna McKay. The 13-year-old from Crail did brilliantly to reach the last eight this week, having become the Fife Women’s champion last month, and had no reason whatsoever to be disappointed about bowing out to Young. McKay, who watched her opponent produce six-under-par figures in that contest, certainly looks like a player to look out for over the next few years.