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Lauren walks tall at Wake Forest

Kildare woman is laying foundation for LPGA future

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Touch of class: Wake Forest offered Lauren the perfect mix of academics and golf. Photo: Golffile | Thos Caffrey

Touch of class: Wake Forest offered Lauren the perfect mix of academics and golf. Photo: Golffile | Thos Caffrey

Touch of class: Wake Forest offered Lauren the perfect mix of academics and golf. Photo: Golffile | Thos Caffrey

Irish golf has found a true gem in Kildare star Lauren Walsh who's learnt from pals Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey that walking the walk is half the battle if you want to make the grade in world golf.

The Kill native celebrates her 20th birthday tomorrow and having experienced a meteoric rise to 56th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings over the past four years, earning her a precious scholarship to Wake Forest University, she knows that body language is key as she makes her mark on the US circuit and lays the foundation of what could one day become an LPGA Tour career.

Possessed of that same competitive spirit that made her a demon gaelic footballer and camogie player for Kill, the pride of Castlewarden Golf Club turned down an offer to study Pharmacy at home to follow her golfing dream to North Carolina.

The Demons Deacons, as Wake Forest are known, have played host to many Irish greats over the years and while Darren Clarke's sojourn there was brief, The Island's Paul McBride was an outstanding graduate, making the Walker Cup team, and has since been followed by Kilkenny's Mark Power, a recent semi-finalist in the Amateur Championship.

Power has opted to remain in Ireland for this Covid-19 hit semester and do his classes online, but Lauren flew back to the US on August 10 and is now back at her books and working hard on her golf game ahead of her second year as she seeks Curtis Cup honours.

"It's crazy that I even got into golf," she said between online classes this week. "I was so obsessive with football and camogie, but I took up golf and I couldn't get enough of that.

"I was playing GAA for Kill and even in school I put my hand to basketball and did a little bit of swimming, so that's why I went up with my sister Clodagh to play golf at Castlewarden. We were always very competitive in camogie and football, and that continued into golf."

After taking lessons from the club professional Brian O'Brian, Lauren's handicap tumbled quickly and she made ILGU squads, progressing rapidly through the ranks before helping Ireland win the Girls' Home Internationals for the first time at Conwy in 2016, clinching the winning point.

A former Leinster and Connacht Girls champion, she was Connacht women's champion in 2018, going on to represent Ireland in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires and the last two women's Home Internationals.

She had an outstanding first year with Division I side Wake Forest, racking up four top 10s in seven starts before finishing a brilliant joint eighth on her debut in a professional event at last year's ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, only one shot behind Leona Maguire.

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Coached by Leona's coach Shane O'Grady, that performance gave her the belief that she too can make the grade as a professional.

That's not wishful thinking but a cold analysis of the facts from a golfer who is surrounded by high achievers who have dreamt of college golf and an LPGA career their entire lives.

"When I am mixing with my team over here, a lot of them grew up knowing they wanted to come and play golf and they grew up fighting for a scholarship," Lauren explained. "But for me it was something that was sprung on me out of nowhere.

"I had just played my first Girls Home Internationals and I saw Transition Year as a great opportunity to give everything to golf and see how it worked out. It was just that next summer, a lot of the college coaches had seen me play in the Europeans and British Girls and come September, I had all these emails from coaches from different universities."

She'd toyed with the idea of studying Medicine but by the time she did her Leaving Certificate, securing a place in Pharmacy, the golfing bug had bitten hard.

"I am always going to be passionate about school, but I decided to go for golf," she explained. "That was a huge part of my decision to come to Wake Forest as well. They are renowned academically, and the golf programme has done well over the years. For me, it was picking a university that had the right balance of both.

"Whatever happens, if I turn pro and golf doesn't work out, I will have a degree."

She thoroughly enjoyed playing with Leona in the recent Flogas Irish Scratch Series at Seapoint and with Olivia, who will turn professional next year, in the Woodbrook Scratch Cup.

"As golfers, they have such incredible amateur careers," Lauren said. "I've been lucky to play with Olivia on Irish teams in recent years but I think it goes down to how they carry themselves so professionally.

"That professionalism you carry yourself with in your training is something that's important to me, and I try to incorporate that into my routine. Body language and how you carry yourself on the course is so important."

If she continues to do what she's doing at Wake Forest, a Curtis Cup cap looks guaranteed in 2021. Conwy, after all, is where she truly began her love affair with top level competition.

"The whole thing came down to my match, and I got it done on 17 with all the girls standing by the side of the green and erupting," she said of clinching the winning point in the 2016 Girls Home Internationals there.

"I have had some other great memories since, but that is always the one I go back to."


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