Mehaffey set for major debut

Olivia Mehaffey is all set for the biggest tournament in women's golf. Pic by Matt Browne/Sportsfile.
Olivia Mehaffey is all set for the biggest tournament in women's golf. Pic by Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Could this be the week that Olivia Mehaffey announces herself to the golfing world?

The Scarva girl has for many years been tipped as a golfing superstar of the future.

And these days, that future seems to be creeping closer by the day.

Mehaffey is now in Buckinghamshire for this weekend’s RICOH Women’s British Open at Woburn - and she arrives as a European medal winner.She picked up a bronze in last week’s European Ladies’ Amateur Championships, a big Brucey bonus in the build-up to a career highlight.

This weekend, she will rub shoulders with the real cream of the crop of the professional game at the biggest individual tournament in the world.

As an 18 year-old amateur, that’s pretty special.

“It’s a completely new experience,” she said.

“This is what I want to do when I’m older so getting the opportunity to experience it now is just amazing.”

The +5 handicapper still has the language of a young girl waiting for adult life to begin.

As Irish golfers have found out in the past, one major championship can certainly speed up the process.

Rory McIlroy and more recently Paul Dunne have discovered that teeing it up as an amateur at the Open can win fans worldwide.

Dunne even famously led the championship after three rounds just a year ago.

In the ladies’ game, Stephanie Meadow finished third in the US Open, which just happened to be her professional debut.

And now, in the British Open, Olivia has the opportunity to match their overnight fame.

She’s well inside the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and she’s capable of springing a few surprises, although just making it to the Open is a massive achievement in itself.

“Yeah, I mean, you think about what Paul and Stephanie did for sure,” Olivia said. “It’s amazing what they both did in huge events. But I’m just going to try to play my best and take it one shot at a time and make sure I take everything in.

“It will be cool to be surrounded by the best pros and to get mingling with them. Any chance I get to learn from them, I will certainly take.”

In an ever lengthening list of achievements, Olivia has won the Irish, Welsh and Scottish Championships while also playing for Team GB&I in the Curtis Cup.

None of that comes close to playing in the British Open, although Olivia’s going to try as much as possible to make it a ‘normal’ tournament.

“I’m just going to play like it’s the same event as last week,” she explained. “I’m excited and of course I am going to take in the atmosphere but I am there to do my own thing and treat it like any other event.

“I tried to expect what I would feel like when I was preparing to play in the Curtis Cup and it was so much more than I expected.

“My coaches want me to enjoy it and gain experience. To be playing in a major at the age of 18 as an amateur is incredible.”

Some things, though, just won’t be normal. For a start, no matter how big the amateur game can get, the likes of World Number One Lydia Ko aren’t going to be milling about. Secondly, Olivia will get to tee it up in front of some of the biggest crowds in women’s golf.

“I’m looking forward to teeing off at the first or playing up the 18th,” she pondered. “I think the atmosphere will be cool and playing with stands and tv towers. I am well used to playing in front of crowds and I love it so that’s exciting.

“There are a good few people coming over from my two clubs, Tandragee and Royal County Down, and of course my family will be there as well so it will be nice to have some familiar faces in the crowd.

“I really am looking forward to getting going now - to travel from the biggest amateur event to the biggest pro event is a great buzz.”

Olivia is one of only five amateurs in the field, with Slieve Russell girl Leona Maguire also set to compete.

And whatever happens, no doubt this will be the first of many major championships.