By Lewine Mair
Had Amy Boulden just spent a few thousand pounds at some plush spa in the Swiss Alps, she could not have looked more relaxed and radiant than she did at the end of her 90 gruelling holes at La Manga.
The explanation, here, is that those ninety gruelling holes saw her winning the LET's Final Qualifying School (it was held at the start of this season) and qualifying her for all 24 of the tournaments on the LET’s 2020 circuit.
Immediately after the school, Amy, who is being sponsored by Saudi Golf, was out in Saudi with three friends - Camilla Lennarth, Isabella Deliert and Rachel Drummond - to fit in some warm weather practice before the start of the new schedule.
In the past, LET players might have shied away from spending a week at a men’s tournament; they would have felt like the poor relations, what with their own tour being a relatively barren affair compared to the men’s and their prize-money accordingly paltry. That, week, though, they were walking tall and fielding any number of good wishes from male players who recognised that things needed to be more equal. As Francesco Molinari said when he won the Open, “It simply isn’t fair that things aren’t better for the women.”
Bouldon and her companions would explain that the news of their improved lot had not really sunk in until they saw their new schedule on a good old-fashioned piece of paper. Lennarth and Deilert, the two Swedes in the Saudi group, pointed to the two Swedish events on the calendar. “This is a great time for us,” they agreed. “We’re so proud.”
Nothing, apparently, had appealed to the four of them more than how the 2020 arrangements - these were worked out by Mike Whan from the LPGA Tour, and Marta Figueras-Dotti and Alex Armas from the LET - offered a pathway to the LPGA. Whan himself had deemed this crucial on the grounds that the LPGA’s Symetra Tour, was far from the ideal stepping-stone for those from far afield. “I have often thought that the overseas girls would be better off playing closer to home at that stage of their development,” he said. Boulden could identify with that.
This daughter of Simon Boulden, who served as the professional at Maesdu GC in Wales for thirty years and more, had the best of amateur credentials. She had played in the junior Ryder and Solheim Cup besides being a member of the winning GB&I Curtis Cup side of 2012 at Nairn. Going on from there, she turned professional in 2013 and, after finishing second in her inaugural outing, she went on to win the LET’s 2014 Rookie of the Year award.
But at a time when she could not have been more impatient to forge ahead, so she found herself faced with an LET circuit which was shrinking by the minute. Things reaching a nadir in 2017 when Georgia Hall had six non-competitive weeks in a row before turning out for Europe in the Solheim Cup at Des Moines.
To no-one’s great surprise, the above situation led to the LET parting company with Ivan Khodabakhsh, their then CEO. The hope was that the next incumbent, the endlessly conscientious Mark Lichtenhein, would put things to rights, which he did to no small extent. He was talking to all the right people, with particular reference to countries such as Sweden who had been slow to play their part in contributing to the European scene other than to use it as a place where their players could hone their skills.
Lichtenhein was making progress, only it was not quick enough for girls like Boulden who were worried at how little competitive golf they were fitting in as against their sister players on the LPGA Tour. Nor was it just that. They were also having to take on second jobs in order to stay financially afloat.
Boulden, for her part, was able to divide her spare time between working in the clubhouse at Maesdu and helping out in the professional’s shop, while she also signed on for as many company days as she could and did the odd stint as a Sky commentator. (The latter is something she is hoping to keep up in tandem with her golf.)
Amid her growing desperation, this talented soul repaired to the 2019 Symetra Tour and it was here, at the end of one concentrated eight-week stay in which she had nothing to show for her efforts, that was on the point of throwing in the towel. “I’d had enough, I remember ringing my mum. She wanted me to come home and I wanted to be back with the family and back playing on the European Tour.”
She returned in time to catch the end of the 2019 LET season where, probably predictably in view of the attendant pressures, she failed to collect the two top-ten finishes she needed to hang fast to her LET card. All of which meant she had to attend the LET’s Final Qualifying School at the start of this year. “I tried not to let anyone know I was going because it was such a dire situation,” she said.
By way of preparation for the school, Amy followed some excellent advice as to how she should fill her worn-out self with positive thoughts: “I talked to myself all the time - and the quality of what I was saying brought out the best in my game.” (She had a closing 68 to win Final Qualifying by three shots from Magdelena Simmermacher and Alison Muirhead.
After that there was the fun of making plans for the months ahead - plans which, you have to hope, have not been overly affected by the coronavirus.
For once, she was able to get properly organised. “Before,” she explained, “there were just too many TBAs [To Be Announced] on the schedule. Some of them happened, but seldom in time to be able to get affordable flights.”
Her first trip was to Australia for the Australian Ladies’ Classic and the New South Wales championship. It was not exactly a flying start in the golfing sense but a top-twenty finish in New South Wales, where the aforementioned Lennarth, who like herself is sponsored by Saudi Golf, was promising enough.
One way and another, Boulden’s original dream of competing on the LPGA Tour has come back to life, while it goes without saying that she will have more than half an eye on becoming only the first Welsh player - Becky Brewerton was the first - to represent Europe in the 2021 Solheim Cup.
Shona Malcolm, the Chief Executive of the old Ladies Golf Association, remembers Amy well from her Curtis Cup performance of ’14. “Amy’s a great kid. Tegwen Matthew, the captain nicknamed her “the Welsh Dragon” - and that about sums her up. She’s a great competitor and a great team player.”
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