Click here to read in the Glasgow Herald by Nick Rodger 15th January 2022
Those of you who keep an eye on the amateur golf scene may recall the name Pia Babnik. She was the Slovenian 15-year-old who romped to victory in the 2019 Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open at Royal Troon and left the rest of the field so far behind, they may as well have been playing in the 2018 edition of the championship.
Babnik subsequently turned pro and, at just 17, won on the Ladies European Tour last season as she enjoyed the kind of explosive rise you’d get from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
For Troon rookie Hazel MacGarvie, the exploits of Babnik, and all those other youthful talents who have made big impressions on the women’s circuit, have been particularly eye-opening.
MacGarvie is the latest Scot to join the Ladies European Tour, having earned her card at December’s qualifying school. Far from being intimidated by the daunting standards set by the likes of Babnik, however, the 22-year old is inspired.
“There are so many young girls coming through and winning and it shows what is possible,” said MacGarvie. “It’s not players who have been on tour for 10 years. It’s girls coming straight from the amateur game, going out there and really making a name for themselves. It’s great to see.”
MacGarvie, who burnished her own impressive amateur career by joining decorated names such as
Catriona Matthew and Annika Sorenstam on the St Rule Trophy, decided to make the pro plunge a few weeks before the q-school process got underway.
Some may have viewed that as a bit of a gamble. She could, after all, have entered q-school as an amateur to see how she fared but MacGarvie was eager to start a new chapter.
“I’d played amateur golf for a long time and I wanted a fresh challenge, whether that was pro golf or some other job” said MacGarvie, who was given a taste of the professional life with a couple of outings on
Paul Lawrie’s Tartan Pro Tour.
“I’d played some of Paul’s events and thought, ‘you know what, I may as well do it and try to give myself a chance to earn some money’. Getting my card at q-school justifies the decision.”
Negotiating nine rounds of the qualifying school rigmarole is not for the faint-hearted but, amid an anguish-laden atmosphere that just about leaves the debris of nibbled fingernails scattered on the greens, MacGarvie stood firm. Well, apart from a late shoogle.
“I double-bogeyed my final hole and walked off thinking ‘I’ve just bottled this coming down the 18th’,” she said of a slip that, mercifully, didn’t prove costly in the final analysis. “I had no idea at the time I could make a double bogey and still be safe.”
With that prized card tucked safely in her pocket, MacGarvie is now facing up to the reality of being a tour player. “I don’t have a management company or any sponsors just now so it’s a bit of a do-it-myself approach at the moment,” she said. “It’s quite eye-opening. Going from the amateur game, where you are well supported, suddenly you are on your own. The early season events on the tour are in Asia and Africa and I think they may be difficult for me financially. I’m going to wait until the European swing and kick on from there.”
A graduate of Stirling University, MacGarvie’s golfing education began as an eager four-year-old. As a teenager, meanwhile, she got the opportunity to play alongside Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters over her home course of Royal Troon prior to that year’s Open. There was a slight hitch.
“It was on the same day as my school maths exam so it was perhaps not my best decision to play golf,” said the former Vagliano Trophy player with a reflective chuckle.
“But we played early in the morning. And I passed my exam by the skin of my teeth.”
Having made the grade in the stern q-school examination, MacGarvie is now relishing the prospect of a 2022 campaign full of new opportunities and experiences on the tour.
“It’s a combination of nerves and anticipation,” she said. “I don’t feel any different to when I was an amateur golfer at the moment but I’m sure it will kick in when I get to my first event and think, ‘wait a minute, this is my job now’.”