Sunday 17 December 2017

Go girl! Julie's on course for the big time

McCarthy has bounced back from injury to secure a string of victories in magical run

McCarthy celebrating victory in the Irish Girls Close Championship at Kilkenny Golf Club.
McCarthy celebrating victory in the Irish Girls Close Championship at Kilkenny Golf Club.
Julie McCarthy before the tournament in France.

Brian Keogh

Beware the injured golfer! It's a phrase we've heard many times, but for Julie McCarthy, the 17-year-old from Forrest Little and The Island, 'beware the rehabbed golfer' is probably more apt.

In March this year, the talented Dubliner jarred her wrist hitting off a mat during her warm-up for the second round of the French Ladies Amateur in St Cloud.

She sustained such a serious wrist injury that she ended up sidelined for 12 weeks - six weeks of pure rest followed by a long, six-week recovery programme when her rivals were hitting the fairways.

It was a hugely frustrating period, but fast-forward six months and Julie is the proud holder of the Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Irish Girls' titles.

Not only that, she disappointed a string of pretenders and accepted a golf scholarship to tee it up for Auburn University in Alabama once she completes her Leaving Certificate next year.

"It's been incredible, especially after the injury," she says.

"I had never had any trouble with my wrist before. I hit one shot off a mat on the range and by the time I walked from the range to the clubhouse, I couldn't move my wrist.

"I had worked quite hard over the winter with my coach Shane O'Grady and with my physio Fiona Healy from Kilcock Physiotherapy and it just came together."

Time out of the game meant missing the Helen Holm Scottish Stroke Play, the Welsh and Irish Ladies Opens as well as the Munster and the Irish Girls Open Championships.

What happened next must go down as one of the most extraordinarily successful seasons in the history of Irish amateur golf.

Even for her coach Shane O'Grady - a man used to massive success as he also looks after world No.1 Leona Maguire and her twin sister Lisa - it was something very special indeed.

She returned to competitive action for the Ulster Girls' Championship at the end of June, leading the qualifiers before going on to win the championship.

Next up was the Leinster Girls' Championship, where Julie was the leading stroke play qualifier before winning again.

She was selected as the playing captain for the Irish Team at the European Girls' Team Championships in Oslo and Ireland won Flight B.

On her return she played in the Irish Girls' Close Championship in Kilkenny, a title she won in 2013.

And she captured it again, beating fellow international Niamh McSherry in what was described as a classic final, so impressive was the golf.

The pair made eight birdies and three eagles in regulation play before McCarthy prevailed at the 20th.

The Connacht Championship was the last remaining provincial championship before the Home International Matches and Julie clinched that with a stunning score of eight-under.

Ireland have been trying to win the Girls' Home Internationals since the matches were first played 47 years ago and it was fourth time lucky for the young Dubliner at Conwy in Wales, as the girls in green claimed the trophy for the first time.

Julie is already back at school and when she finishes her Leaving Certificate next June, she will embark on another hectic season before packing her bags for a collegiate golf scholarship in the US.

Many colleges came calling, but after just one visit to the Auburn University in Alabama, she fell in love with the facilities - such as the championship course at the Auburn University Club and the Jack Key Facility - and signed for the Tigers from 2017-18.

Set to bring an incredible season to an end in The Duke of York Young Champions Trophy at Royal Birkdale next week, she has time now to reflect on a roller coaster year.

Inspired by the likes of world No.1 Leona Maguire and No.5 Olivia Mehaffey, she can't wait to get to Auburn to begin her college career and follow in the footsteps of her fellow squad members and start climbing the world rankings.

"We got emails from around 11 colleges and when we went over to Auburn for an official visit, I just loved the place the minute I saw it," Julie says.

"I'd love to study something in the business world and get a qualification behind me. I like maths and accounting so I'll go down that route."

Getting the numbers right in the World Amateur Golf Ranking is another goal.

"Leona and Olivia and Stephanie Meadow are definitely girls I look up to and I'd love to go on and achieve what they have achieved," Julie says.

"My focus this year has been on improving my world ranking and I have come down from around 600 to 207th this week.

"My aim will be to get into the Top 100 by the time I go to Auburn and then try to go from there. One of the big reasons for going to America was being able to play with great players at great facilities and still have a degree to fall back on later."

None of what she has achieved would been possible without the support of her coach, her family, the ILGU's High Performance programme and her clubs Forrest Little and The Island.

"It's been a great summer and none of it would have been possible without my coaches and my family," Julie acknowledges.

"It's all just been a really great adventure."

The next chapter promises to be even more thrilling.

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