THIS IS ME

Meet Lauren Walsh: The girl who tagged along is now blossoming on the world stage

by Ronan MacNamara

The only way is up for women’s golf in Ireland. After Leona Maguire’s record-breaking performance as a rookie in the Solheim Cup, Stephanie Meadow kept her LPGA Tour card and Olivia Mehaffey turned pro while Victoria Craig earned conditional status on next season’s Ladies European Tour, Lauren Walsh has also had a year to remember on the golf course.

The Kildare native is widely tipped to be the next female tour pro from Ireland, but golf was not her first love, nor was it very popular in the Walsh household. In fact, Walsh had set her sights on playing at the highest level in Gaelic football and camogie as a child.

It wasn’t until a broken arm on the GAA pitch did she consider joining Castlewarden Golf Club where her older sister Clodagh was a member. Now one of the top amateurs in the world, the Walsh family are a renowned golfing household, even her five-year-old younger brother Edward has caught the golfing bug.

Walsh has never forgotten her GAA roots and despite no longer playing Gaelic or camogie, she still applies the values she learned playing as a child to her golf.

“I grew up in a very non-golfing household, my mam or dad didn’t play golf when I was growing up,” said the Curtis Cup star. “Dad [James] played the odd time with his friends he was a much better footballer and hurler so I grew up wanting to play those sports, playing with the school and the club here in Kill.

“When my sister [Clodagh] was around thirteen, I was ten we joined the golf club with a few of her friends and play three holes and it all started from there then. We got more involved with the club, played a few competitions and got involved with some Leinster training with the ILGU and at that stage Dad played a bit more.

“We joined Casltewarden and played there for two or three years and Clodagh was Junior Captain and the three of us play now. I have a younger brother who is five and he has started to pick up the game. I’m just home and he has been dying to go to the driving range so he loves having a go on my trackman so he loves it and it’s fun to see him get as much enjoyment out of it as I did at the beginning.

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lauren Walsh by Golffile

“I think through and through we will always be more of a GAA household and it’s great to have that involvement in a team sport and that has certainly helped me. The skills you learn are great to bring into golf and the skills in golf are great for life in general so I think it was important for me to have that mix growing up.

“Golf is so individual, but I’ve played events like the Interpros, the Home Internationals, the Palmer Cup, Curtis Cup and college golf so I’m in a lot of team environments so it is important to bring up some of the things I learned from quite a young age playing camogie,” she added.

Having begun her fledgling golf career tagging along with her sister, just playing three or four holes in Castlewarden, it wasn’t until a chance meeting with renowned coach Shane O’Grady that the touch paper was really lit for her.

O’Grady of Blackbush Golf Club has quite the stable, having been the lifelong coach of Leona Maguire and now he has another starlet in Walsh who has played a pivotal role in the rapid progression of her career.

“Clodagh was off eleven at the time and she went down for a lesson with Shane and Dad mentioned she had a younger sister who was thirteen at the time and Shane was asking why wasn’t I here? So three weeks later I tagged along and haven’t looked back since I have worked with him for the last seven years and it’s been brilliant he knows my game better than anyone and he has coached a lot of great players in the past and has really brought me on and understands where I want to go and the type of person and player that I am.”

Walsh has also crossed paths with Maguire, even pipping the Cavan native to the course record at Seapoint which is no mean feat!

“Over lockdown when the Irish Scratch Series were running weekly scratch cups in Seapoint and the K Club I got to play with her in Seapoint. It was great, I broke the course record she had shot two weeks before.

“I bogeyed the last for seven-under around Seapoint. I was eight-under going down the 18th thinking I could get to nine!

“I played well that day and played nine holes with her at the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie so it was good to see a familiar face in a setting that was very new to me. It was nice to see her in a different setting.”

Walsh whose mother Miriam is a teacher, went to Piper’s College in Naas where she won an All-Ireland golf title in transition year and wanted to pursue medicine at University level.

Offers were pouring in from American colleges and she soon settled on Mathematical Business and a minor in Statistics at Wake Forest who won the Atlantic Division Championship this year, where she became a devout Deac.

In similar circumstances to her golf career, Walsh ‘tagged along’ in her freshman year to the American football games before being exposed so much that she found herself enjoying it and learning the rules.

“I think this year was the first year I properly understood what was going on when I was at the football games. They just make a massive deal out of sports in America and growing up kids are all fighting for college scholarships.

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Lauren Walsh by Golffile

“American football is definitely the biggest one, there’s professional American football but a lot of people prefer to follow the colleges and they are very loyal to the college they went to. It’s a huge selling point for the college depending on how good their football team are.

“In my freshman year I just got dragged along and cheered when other people cheered because I hadn’t a clue what was going on. They make a huge deal out of it, football and basketball are the two biggest sports. All the students go to the games and I saw that more this year and our football team had a good year.

“That creates a great atmosphere around the campus, everyone is in good spirits when the football team is winning.

“I went from cheering when everyone else cheered to understanding most of the rules and the main points to follow a game at least.”

Now in her junior year, Walsh has been remarkably consistent during her time in North Carolina, picking up a brace of victories in four starts in a Covid impacted season before registering four top-10s including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2021.

Named WGCA Second Team All-American, 2021 has been a sensational year for Walsh in general and with the Covid situation spiralling out of control in Ireland at the start of the year, as it seems to be now, she returned early to Wake Forest where she ground away on her game alone and she feels it has paid dividends.

“The golf programme is phenomenal. We have the best facilities in the country. We have two coaches, Kim Lewellen and Ryan Potter, they really are the best of the best. They want to make us better as people and players.

“We have the best technology, two trackman’s, SamLab puttview, indoor and outdoor driving ranges, two putting greens, two Bermuda greens, two bent greens, acres of range to hit on, it’s really phenomenal.

“It helps when you have a great team of girls, there’s always someone out there to push you on. That’s been huge for me being in that team environment. We play a great schedule of tournaments, against the best teams in the country before Christmas and seven or eight times after Christmas.

“We don’t get much of an offseason but it’s worth it when you see the results.

“2021 has been a great year. I decided last Christmas to head back to America quite early to get ready for my first couple of events. I went back on the 5th of January and the team wasn’t back so I trained by myself for two or three weeks. College started back and when we travelled to our first event those three weeks really helped because I was ready to go for our first two events. I got two runner-up finishes in two very good fields so it was nice to get good results straight away and carry that consistency throughout the college season,” she added.

Having embarked on a successful amateur career in Ireland, winning Leinster and Connacht Girls championships, a Connacht Women’s Championship before representing Ireland at the 2018 Youth Olympics, Walsh has started to show what she can do on a more global scale, with excellent performances at the Palmer Cup, the Curtis Cup and at the AIG Women’s Open Championship.

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Lauren Walsh by Golffile

Walsh won 1.5 points out of three at the Palmer Cup in Illinois before claiming a point at the Curtis Cup at Conwy in the summer as GB&I fell to America in Wales.

The Curtis Cup was special for Walsh having been part of a winning Home International side in 2016.

“The Palmer Cup was an incredible experience,” she said. “We got to play with the guys which was great. They play a different type of game but it was fun to see that in a competitive environment. I paired up with Alex Fitzpatrick which was great.

“The Curtis Cup was a special week it was something I have been building towards for a couple of years. When it was in Dun Laoghaire in 2016 I was up and coming and I said to myself that making that team was the next goal. I have played well and made my way onto the side.

“All my family were there, I had friends from the golf club at home and a bunch of the members came over to Wales to support us and it was really cool.

“You step on to that first tee and you can hear a pin drop. It’s just so exciting, especially for me going back to Conwy where I won the Girls Home Internationals in 2016 with the winning point so to come full circle going back there was extra special.

“I paired up with Kaley McGinty and Louise Duncan and we had a lot of fun out there and it was a stacked American team. We fought well to be tied going into the singles. I had a great singles match against two in the world Rachel Heck, we went back and forth with birdies all day and there was one hole where we stitched it to three feet and fist-bumped and walked to the next tee it was a great quality of golf.

“It was exciting to see my family and friends cheering and supporting for the singles. We had a great captain in Elaine who did a great job in bringing us together as a team, we all felt as a team we got on well and it was a great experience, we had a lot of fun in the team room. I’ll have a lot of fond memories,” she added.

While Leona Maguire was bidding for a maiden major title at the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, Walsh also made the headlines back home, making the cut and ultimately finishing in a share of 42nd place on one-over after a final round of two-under 70.

She was reacquainted with Maguire once more while she also got to play a practice round with superstar Lexi Thompson.

With her entire family and some close friends in attendance as well as her sister Clodagh on the bag it was one of those unforgettable weeks that the Open Championship in both the men’s and women’s game just seems to produce every year.

“To get the call up to the Open was pretty special.

“It was an unexpected thing I thought I was going to be in a qualifier but got a text to say I was in the field. It was a bit of a shock in the beginning, I didn’t know who would caddy for me whether I would have to get a local caddie or not but Shane said to me I play well with Clodagh on the bag so I called her over ‘come on let’s go have some fun in Carnoustie.’

“In my second practice I played with Lexi Thompson in a two-ball which was absolutely phenomenal. I have a photo with her when I was eleven, watching her in Killeen Castle so to get a practice round with her in the actual AIG Women’s Open was crazy. That was so much fun, she hits it a long way so I enjoyed trying to keep up with her for a practice round.

“The actual tournament was incredible, I don’t think I have ever been so nervous on the first tee in all my life with a grandstand around it. I had a few friends and my family were over as well. My little brother got a lot of attention from the TV crews, he was dressed head to toe in AIG Women’s Open gear between the sunglasses and the shirt and all.

“I said to Clodagh walking down the first fairway, my hands were shaking and she reassured me and I made my way through the first few holes, settled down and started playing well,” she added.

While being in the field was unexpected, the Kill native lit up the second day with a sensational back nine of 32 which included back-to-back birdies to finish and make the cut at a canter.

“I played OK the first day and got some momentum going on Friday. I birdied three out of my last four holes to make the cut. 17 and 18 are two of the toughest holes in golf I think. I hit three wood, hybrid into 17 and driver 5-iron into 18 and to hole a 15 footer and a 9 footer which I thought was to make the cut.

“It was really special to walk over the bridge on 18 with all my family and hopefully I can play a few more majors in the future. To play one as an amateur and get that experience was unbelievable.”

Now back at home for Christmas, Lauren Walsh has more than played her part in what was a tremendous year for women’s golf in Ireland and she is tipped to be the next breakthrough star from a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of young talent.

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