Thursday 8 December 2016

Hazel is a hit

Hazel Kavanagh played for 10 years on the Ladies European Tour. Now she is a PGA professional and loving every minute of it

Brian Keogh

Published 04/08/2016 | 02:30

Hazel will compete in the Irish Professional Championships. Photo: Sportsfile
Hazel will compete in the Irish Professional Championships. Photo: Sportsfile

They say it's impossible to have your cake and eat it, but for Hazel Kavanagh, getting out on tour before becoming a fully qualified PGA professional has turned out to be the best move of her career.

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Irish Ladies Strokeplay champion in 1994 and 1998, she represented Ireland at amateur level from 1998 to 2001 and earned Vagliano Trophy selection for Great Britain and Ireland in 1995.

She got her Ladies European Tour card at the first attempt at the age of 29 for the 2002 season and played on the LET circuit for 10 years, where she earned more than €62,000 in prize money and claimed two Top-10 finishes before turning her attention to teaching full-time.

With that kind of pedigree, it's no surprise that the Dubliner is arguably the most in-demand PGA pro out there.

When clubs are requesting professionals for their teams when a PGA Pro-Am comes to town, Hazel is near the top of every list.

"I could have sold teams with Hazel 10 times over," said Mullingar professional James Quinlivan of plans for the August 15 Pro-Am at the club.

It's easy to see why Hazel's a hit.

"I just love it," Hazel said during a break between lessons at the Carr Golf Centre at Spawell in Templeogue, just off the M50 at Junction 11.

"People can request a particular pro and I have clients who'd like to play with me if they had a team because they feel comfortable.

"I am sure there are ladies who can learn from a woman professional too because there is more of an affinity. Honestly, I love them. And I really look after the amateurs well.

"It also helps with lessons. Teaching is very tiring and draining because I do it five or six days a week and I get very emotionally involved with the student.

"But if I play in a Pro-Am with a student, it's a great chance to see how they go about things on the course. It's invaluable that way."

While she turned professional in 2001 and played on the Ladies European Tour on and off for a decade, Kavanagh didn't start her PGA training until in 2012, graduating with flying colours last year.

Competition is now limited to her appearances in the Irish Region of the PGA, but she's still a competitive animal and will be trying to make history again this year by trying to become the first woman to win the Irish Professional Championships when it is staged over the Twin Oaks Championship course at Moyvalley Golf and Country Club in Co. Kildare from September 22 to 25.

"Thankfully I can still play competitively on the PGA circuit and keep my eye in," she said. "Otherwise I'd only be playing social golf."

She wishes more of Ireland's women professionals would tee it up more regularly in PGA events, but many are scared away because the courses are set up too tough for players who entered the profession straight from the amateur game.

While there are concessions to the women professionals, holes that are normally par-fives for ladies are par-fours for men and it's tough to compete on a par-70 track that might in reality be a par 73 or 75 for a woman.

Whatever about that gripe, distance certainly didn't appear to bother Hazel in 2014 when she shot rounds of 73 and 64 at Arklow Golf Links to win the PGA Irish Club Professional Tournament, becoming the first woman in the British Isles to win a PGA event. Nobody has matched her yet and it appears that only her teaching career will stop her trying to win again.

The Ladies European Tour (LET) still struggles to attract sponsorship, but Hazel has no regrets about her time on tour and remains grateful that she had the sense to build up a clientele of students while still on the road.

"My best finish was third in Austria and my cheque was for €13,500, which says it all about the money that is available compared to men's golf. Timing-wise it was perfect for me to come off the LET and get my degree and playing experience behind me. I've got the best of both worlds.

"It's still a surprise for some people to see a woman teeing it up with the men, but discrimination against women golfers, though still prevalent, is diminishing."

When she phoned a club to organise a practice round for the Irish PGA a few years ago, the girl who answered the phone told her: "I think you've got the wrong dates."

Hazel explained: "I assured her that I hadn't and she said, 'no, I think you have it all wrong because this is a men's tournament'.

"She was taken aback, or maybe she was thinking I was trying to wangle a free round of golf, but I get a great reaction from clients.

"I have a great mix of clients and many of them are men who have been coming to me for years and they tell their friends, so a lot of it is word of mouth. I do a lot of work with ladies and schools as well and I really enjoy that."

With a raft of top Irish women playing brilliantly on the amateur circuit, a new wave of women professionals will help transform the game.

"I would encourage more women to go into the professional game though the tour is hard because you are leaving the Irish Ladies Golf Union, where you are looked after so well, and then you are left to your own devices," she explained.

"You think you are great as an amateur and then you get out there and it is a big shock to the system.

"Everyone says I should have done my PGA training years ago, but as a colleague said to me, you are better off having your playing experience under your belt. A lot of guys turn professional and qualify, but don't have the same experience of playing. I am so glad I am doing it now because I always wanted to play."

And with that she was gone, called away by a student hoping she'll part with some of those valuable secrets she picked up during all those years on tour.

Carr Golf Centre, Spawell, Dublin

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