THIS IS ME

Meet Aideen Walsh: Doing the Banner county proud on the course and in the classroom

by Ronan MacNamara

From the classroom to the fairways, Clare woman Aideen Walsh lives a very busy life which is important these days as it can provide some white noise to block out all the negativity surrounding society at the moment.

The Ennis native has had quite the year, winning two national titles while balancing a full time primary teaching job and a part time Masters degree in leadership and inclusion in education in UCD.

Walsh first took up golf when she was twelve years of age. Her father Martin plays pitch and putt while her brother Cormac is a very good player in his own right with a handicap of three. Her mother Marian is yet to take to the fairways while her two older brothers don’t play golf.

Walsh joined Woodstock Golf Club just outside Ennis at a time when she was the only girl in the junior section.

Rather than shy away or feel intimidated, the 23-year-old feels playing alongside the boys gave her the competitiveness she needed to progress her game and enjoy her golf at an early age.

A sporting childhood shaped by rubbing shoulders with the lads both on the golf course and the football pitch, Walsh more than held her own against some of the top boys in the club.

“The junior set up in Woodstock is really good,” she said. “There’s a man called James Mee that was over it. When I started it was just summer competitions on a Tuesday and Thursday, it was great craic.

“I was the only girl for a while, so I played with all the boys, then there was Áine Donegan as well then it was the two of us for a good while.

“I think playing with the boys helped us both because they were more competitive. But now they have more juniors playing in the girl’s section.

“I played a lot of GAA and football with the boys growing up so I was kind of used to it,” she added.

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Aideen Walsh by Golffile

Never a standout junior by her own admission, Walsh joined the prestigious Lahinch when she was seventeen after beginning her primary teaching degree in Mary Immaculate College. It’s proven to be a pivotal decision on both fronts. The Ulster stroke play champion graduated with flying colours in 2019 while also seeing her golf game come on leaps and bounds as she tested herself against some elite amateurs in Lahinch on a regular basis.

“I got to like a five handicap when I was 17 and moved to Lahinch. I wasn’t an unbelievable junior and then I got into Lahinch. I had just started college in Mary I, and joining Lahinch really brought my game forward because we had such good players like Sarah Cunningham and Sinead Sexton who has turned pro and Chloe Ryan, so the players are very good. Of course, having access to the facilities really brought me on too, they’re up there with the best in the country.”

Now living in Celbridge while she commutes to Holly Park Boys School in Foxrock, Walsh faces the challenge of balancing her job and off-season practice as well as her Masters degree. The Leinster Women’s Open Champion feels lucky to be able to return home at the weekend to practice in Lahinch and Dromoland. No shortage of world class facilities!

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Aideen Walsh by Golffile

“I practice away in Carton House after work and I live in Celbridge too so it’s only fifteen minutes away, it’s ideal.

“I have my Masters course on a Monday and Tuesday evening so I usually go to Carton on a Wednesday and Thursday and then head home at the weekend to practice in Dromoland and Lahinch so I am very lucky to have these places available to me.

“The people in Dromoland are fantastic, the Director of Golf Eamonn O’Donnell is one of the best around. The driving range there is really nice, and the course is great so I’m lucky to be able to play and practice there.”

Primary Schools are a hot topic of debate around Covid at the moment with children in third class and above required to wear face masks.

The government are unwilling to shut down schools for a period with the return to online learning seemingly not an option.

Walsh certainly won’t want to go through the zoom lessons again having been thrown into the deep end when she started her new job at the beginning of the year.

“It’s been weird the last few days seeing kids wearing the masks, but they’ll get used to it, kids always seem to bounce back and get on with it. Schools aren’t the same as normal and obviously the cases are very high in schools because children aren’t vaccinated.

“I started a new job in January and I had never met the children in person before so I started teaching them online and I had to introduce myself through a screen so that was really strange.

“It’s so hard to build up a relationship over a screen, I absolutely hated being online, hated it.”

Still, Walsh managed to put aside her angst over the online teaching and focus on her golf season.

It’s often when you expect little or nothing of yourself that you surprise yourself the most. Under promise, over deliver.

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Aideen Walsh by Golffile

She had barely picked up a golf club before teeing it up at Royal County Down for the Ulster Stroke Play Championship in June, yet she came away with the title after she romped to an eight-stroke victory.

The following month she continued her winning run at the Leinster Women’s Championship in Mullingar after she dispatched Elm Park’s Rachel McDonnell in the final, despite not firing on all cylinders.

“The Ulster Stroke Play was the first tournament of the year after lockdown so with golf courses being closed I hadn’t any expectations after not playing in so long.

“I actually played really well because I had that attitude. Played really well the first day and on the second day, I was two-under so it was my first time being in the position of leading a tournament and I was delighted I still played very well in the final round.

“Winning it was really good I still can’t really believe it and then the added bonus of getting to play in the ISPS in Galgorm. I didn’t realise it was up for grabs until they told me after I won, so that was class.

“In the Leinster, I wasn’t as happy with my game that week. I think I proved to myself you don’t have to be 100% all the time to win. Once you can stick to the process you can grind it out. I had a great week there and it was match play.

“I would be known as a match player from my two Senior Cup wins with Lahinch and playing Interpros. All my experience is in match play, so it was nice to get a win in a tournament like that,” she added.

It was a quick turnaround for Walsh after victory in Mullingar as she was on her way to Galgorm Castle for the ISPS Handa World Invitational which was being televised by Sky Sports.

Although she missed the cut, she enjoyed the week immensely and the experience of rubbing shoulders with the professionals was both intimidating and eye-opening, as she got a taste of the stresses and strains of Tour life from her playing partners who were visibly frustrated at missing the cut and perhaps being outplayed by the amateur.

“That was unreal. I won Leinster on the Sunday, stayed in Dublin and then went up to Galgorm to practice on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was the pro-am and then the tournament Thursday.

“It was really intimidating. I felt a little bit out of place. On the Monday I played with Olivia Mehaffey and Dave Kearney while Rob (Kearney) walked with us and that put me at ease. I wasn’t as nervous or intimidated after that.

“On the men’s side they had a few amateurs whereas I was the only amateur in the women’s field. But playing with Olivia and Dermot McElroy put me at ease. On Tuesday I played with a pro from France so that was also great experience.

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Aideen Walsh by Golffile

“I was lucky that my coach Ian Kearney came up on the Wednesday and he caddied for me Thursday and Friday so that helped a lot.

“I played OK. The first day I was two-over in Massereene and looking back on the scores there wasn’t too many scores better than that.

“Unfortunately, in Galgorm I was three-over, and I missed the cut but the whole experience overall was unreal, just to see how professionals live. It seems like it’s all glamour, but they literally go back to the hotel and stay there.

“I was playing with two girls, and I ended up having a better score than them and I was thinking they’re after missing the cut and get no money and have to go another country next week to try and make money. That must be so hard for them. I learned how hard professional golf is that week.

“They were getting quite frustrated that week and you can only imagine how many cuts they had missed before that, yeah it’s tough out there as a pro,” she added.

One of the highlights of the tournament was that it was a tri-sanctioned event involving the European Tour, Ladies European Tour and LPGA Tour which saw equal prize money distributed between the men and women.

Golf has made big strides in terms of equality this year, but it still has a long way to go. The men and women played in the same Golf Ireland events both individually and as teams, although not in the same fields while Walsh got to represent Ireland in the Carey Cup which saw women included for the first time this year.

The name Megha Ganne might ring a bell to the diehards. The 17-year-old was in the final group heading into Sunday at the US Open as an amateur, before fading a little, finishing in a share of 14th. Walsh played alongside the teenager in a fourball session and in the singles at Carton House in October.

“I think the equal prize money and the inclusion is unbelievable. Even at the Golf Ireland tournaments this year we were playing alongside the men. I think it’s good to integrate both, it really benefits the females because it would give more publicity to female golf which we probably haven’t been getting.

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Aideen Walsh and Robert Moran by Golffile

“The concept of equal prize money in Galgorm was unbelievable for the females especially.

“I had never represented Ireland before. I really enjoyed the Carey Cup. It was an unbelievable experience. I played with Megha Ganne who was in contention at the US Open. Just to see the standard of golf was great especially because I hope to play more golf internationally next year, so it was good to compare my game to somebody who is top-20 in the world.

“It was very beneficial for me to see what I need to improve on. But the week overall, was great fun, great craic and it was great to hang out with the guys as well.”

Walsh was coy on whether she would try her hand in the professional ranks, confirming she will stick to the classrooms and interactive whiteboards for now, but her ceiling seems very high and perhaps the acid test will come in 2022 when she tests herself on the international stage. At just 23, the door hasn’t closed on professional golf, but she is carving out a successful teaching career for herself presently.

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