Sunday 23 July 2017

Galway girl tees up shot at Americans

Alison Walshe hopes to play for Europe in next year's Solheim Cup Photo: Getty Images
Alison Walshe hopes to play for Europe in next year's Solheim Cup Photo: Getty Images

ALISON Walshe is a Galway girl looking to take a stroll down the fairways of the Ladies European Tour, with an eye on the Solheim Cup in 2011 at Killeen Castle.

The 24-year-old, whose family emigrated to Boston when she was five, has a host of Irish relatives and spent many summers on holiday in Ireland when she was growing up.

Last weekend we revealed that she was declaring for Europe and hoping to challenge for a place on Alison Nicholas' team to play the USA at Killeen Castle next year.

But Walshe, who played for the USA in their Curtis Cup victory over Great Britain and Ireland in 2008, is honest enough to admit: "If an opportunity comes it would be weird -- pleasantly weird -- playing for Europe, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to play against the USA if it arose.

"My parents are gung-ho about the possibility, because they're full-out Irish.

"For me it's kind of different because I grew up in America, but because I wasn't born there, I can't get into their Solheim team.

"Definitely it's a challenge just to try and play well on the Ladies European Tour this year, so I'm not going to put pressure on myself about the Solheim Cup. That's still a long way off. I know I have to play good golf and that's my first priority."

There is no question of Walshe thinking she can just walk into the European side, and there's not a trace of arrogance about her.

A professional who played her rookie year on the Duramed Futures Tour in America in 2009, she knows she is just learning her trade.

The whole issue of her candidacy arose when she played for the USA at St Andrews in 2008, and was unbeaten in her matches as she helped the Americans win the Curtis Cup.

Roddy Carr of Twenty Eleven, promoters of the Solheim Cup in Ireland, discovered that Walshe had been born in Ireland.

He, more than anyone, appreciates that having an Irish player competing at Killeen Castle next year would be attractive for the home crowds.

What was her status regarding the Solheim Cup if and when she turned pro? A number of elements combined to bring Walshe's name to the fore.

First, she did turn professional, and last December she won her playing rights on the Ladies European Tour for 2010.

She also has a conditional card for the LPGA this year, due to her finishing ninth on the 2009 Futures Tour in America.

enquiries

Then, when serious enquiries were made, it was discovered that the LPGA does not permit non-US-born players to represent their Tour in the Soheim Cup.

As Walshe is a qualified LET player, and is Irish-born, she can clearly have a shot at making the team.

This would be a big thrill for her father John Walshe from Gort, and mother Mary (nee Munnelly) who hails from Crossmolina, Mayo, and her many other Irish relatives -- including uncle George Munnelly, who played for St Patrick's Athletic in the 1980 FAI Cup final.

In fact, Munnelly travelled to La Manga to support his niece in the LET qualifying-school before Christmas, and was delighted to be asked to caddy for her in the last round.

I spoke to Alison on Monday evening. She is spending a few weeks practising for the season at the Greyhawk Country Club in sun-splashed Arizona, and I asked her about her memories of Ireland.

"I love Ireland. I remember living in Tuam and Clonmel before the family moved to Boston where I grew up," she said.

"We used to go back every summer on vacation until my later years in high school.

"I only started golf when I was 10 and I didn't play much in Ireland, but I remember playing Ballybunion, Connemara, Enniscrone and The Island, where my uncle George is a member," she said.

Walshe graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in marketing and is considered the best female player to emerge from the college since reigning world No 1 Lorena Ochoa -- whose predecessor at the top of the rankings, Annika Sorenstam, is another former student.

The accolades are nice, but Walshe knows she has to build her professional career from here after a rookie season on the Futures Tour.

"That was definitely a learning experience, to say the least," she said.

"In college and amateur golf you are kind of spoiled. Everything is organised for you by the coaches and all you have to do is turn up and play golf.

"On the Futures Tour, it's go, go, go, with minimal weeks off.

"In college and amateur golf I was used to having down weeks where I could work on my swing, but I'm glad my first year as a professional was on the Futures Tour.

"I learned a lot about myself and about scheduling and about looking after myself, which I hope will stand to me this year.

proud

"I finished ninth on the Futures Tour Money List, which I was proud of for my first year, and I earned about $35,000 (E24,000).

"It did cover my expenses because I drove to every tournament and stayed in motels all the way, but I wasn't left with much at the end of the year."

Also practising with Walshe at Greyhawk are Swedish pros Anna Nordqvist, Louise Stahl and Amanda Blumenherst.

Walshe will open her campaign in Australia and New Zealand on the LET next month and has an outline schedule to include the AIB Ladies Irish Open in August.

There are no guarantees in golf, but Ireland's chances of having at least one player in the Soheim Cup in 2011 are increased by Walshe's status.

She joins Rebecca Coakley, Tara Delaney, and Hazel Kavanagh as Irish contenders on the LET.

Irish Independent

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