Keeping up with golf’s new hot shot

Clara Young tees off

Clara Young tees off

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tHE rain falls almost incessantly and by the ninth hole water begins to spill over from the sodden fairway into our shoes.

Not that the wet and wind puts Clara Young off her stride – or her stroke.

Clara and Bill line up their putts

Clara and Bill line up their putts

Indeed, the 14-year-old North Berwick High pupil, who broke the record at her golf club when she won the ladies championship at the age of 12 – just eight years after she picked up her first plastic golf club – seems to revel in the poor weather.

As I squelch along beside her, it seems certain the rain would be nothing to the hosing I was about to take when daring to tangle with the girl who is well on the way to becoming Scottish golf’s next superstar.

Clara Young may be just 5ft in height and seven-and-a-half stone, but she is made of the kind of sporting potential that is already putting her on the same spike-marked path to glory as Catriona Matthew, winner of 2009’s British Ladies Open, and one of the leading players in the world. Like Clara, she’s from the North Berwick West Club too.

Already Clara’s golfing handicap is a mere 1.7. And while she’s current ladies champion on her home course – for the third year running – her golfing conquests extend well beyond East Lothian.

Clara and Lauren Whyte celebrate at Bill's expense

Clara and Lauren Whyte celebrate at Bill's expense

County success earned her an invitation as the only Scot in the Great Britain and Ireland under-16 team for an inaugural match against the cream of Europe for the Vagliano Trophy at Royal Porthcawl in June.

From there, Clara travelled to Hungary to represent Scotland in the European Young Masters before returning home to tee up in junior home internationals and the British Girls Championship just up the road in Gullane.

There has even been a visit to the hallowed links of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield – that bastion of male- orientated golf.

“Muirfield is the best course I’ve played,” enthuses Clara, adding: “It’s full of challenges which I enjoyed taking on.”

The opportunity to pass through the gates of Muirfield arose through an East Lothian Junior Order of Merit competition where both Clara and another local girl, 16-year-old Lesley Atkins, proved so competitive against boys they were invited to the finals.

“I was just happy to be at Muirfield and focusing on my golf even though juniors aren’t allowed in the clubhouse,” she smiles, bunkering any possibility of debate on that thorny topic of single-sex club memberships.

What is particularly impressive about Clara – apart from booming drives and a sure touch on the putting greens – is that success has apparently come without ego. This is a girl who has wrapped a keen desire to succeed within a smiling, laid-back approach that is a credit to her golfing parents, Alan and Dawn, who introduced her to the game on North Berwick’s children’s course, aged five.

Clearly, golf has such a hold that when talk turns in the clubhouse afterwards to musical tastes, Clara takes delight in highlighting a rap song being performed on YouTube by star American players Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, collectively known as the “Golf Boys”.

Not without good reason has it been said that Clara’s definition of clubbing means driver, irons and putter and as for other interests she lists “badminton and hockey”, while admitting: “Something will probably have to give in order to prioritise golf but as for where I go when leaving high school, all options are open.

“Perhaps attending an American university on a golf scholarship would be attractive but there is still plenty of time to decide.

“I’d certainly like to try and follow Catriona Matthew on to the professional tour. Catriona is an inspiration.”

Her parents, keen amateur golfers themselves, were obviously the inspiration which got her started. She apparently had a plastic golf club aged four.

Then during her primary school years her talent was supported through the clubgolf programme – run by Sportscotland’s Active Schools Network – and she was given the chance to be involved in a structured coaching programme. By 2009 she had progressed to the Scottish Golf Academy at the Braids – and her first title.

Indeed, the day she picked up her first ever club championship trophy, her mother Dawn caddied for her as she herself had gone out in the semi-finals. She has attempted to win the title on several occasions, but the silverware always eluded her.

Clara recalls: “It was the first time I played in the championship and I was hoping to get to the semi-finals. When I got to the final I decided to go for it. I was really excited to win and I’m pleased to be the youngest winner.”

For our game, Clara invites along fellow Scotland girls’ internationalist and two-handicap pal Lauren Whyte, from St Andrews, who nods vigorously in agreement at the mention of Catriona Matthew. Indeed, Matthew had, a few days earlier, taken time out of a busy schedule to offer them advice and encouragement at nearby Archerfield Golf Links.

Also joining us is Torquil McInroy, a two-handicapper who has previously served as captain of the North Berwick club.

Beneath the girls’ happy-go-lucky exteriors beat hearts of steel. They take cognizance of my 15 handicap, ignore the disparity with theirs, and promptly award me a “mere” six shots when partnering Torquil.

However, with Torquil showing the form that has previously taken him into the Scottish men’s amateur championship, it proves their only tactical misjudgement. While I contribute precisely zilch, by the 16th hole we have triumphed thanks entirely to him.

I, however, am in such a bemused state at being constantly out-driven by up to 50 yards by both girls that inadvertently I haul my caddy car (electric golf cart) across the putting green.

Cue girlish giggling from Clara, for whom nothing appears too serious. Indeed, while you might think the road to sporting stardom is filled with angst, frustration and the odd moment of triumphalism – even allowing for the fact that a competitive head is scarcely required for the circumstances we found ourselves in – the most demonstrative gesture from Clara was the occasional fist pump if her putt was holed.

Despite her talent, she is like most 14-year-olds; shy and slightly inarticulate when it comes to talking about anything other than golf. It’s obvious where her mind is.

And it is on the 16th hole, scene of my accidental misdemeanour, that I come closest to discovering Clara’s competitive streak. A testing 360-yard stretch, the hole is intersected by a stream some 200 yards up the fairway.

“We’ll hit from the back tee,” declares Clara, “because it makes it more testing to try to carry the ball over the water!”

She duly succeeds and an inquiry on the 18th tee as to whether she has yet driven as far as the green some 269 yards distant is met with a disdainful “I’ve been through the back”.

This is indeed a golfing tigress – albeit one with a cuddly toy mascot tied to the bag she insists on humphing round on her shoulder. Maybe that is down to the weight training programme she’s currently undergoing.

Her mum Dawn tells me: “As well as golf coaching, Clara has been given help by an East Lothian Council programme that includes some weight training but it is all very carefully planned. So far everything is going well and it is always easier when you are being selected for teams and winning competitions.

“Golf is the type of game where you could find yourself around at exactly the same time as somebody who strikes exceptional form and suddenly you are left out. But Clara is enjoying the game and always has.

“Really, it’s amazing to think how far she has come in the last year alone from winning a junior competition for which she was eligible on the children’s course to holding the East Lothian senior title in the same year. I doubt that’s been done before.”

Exiting the North Berwick club means passing photographs of Catriona Matthew accompanied by a list of her achievements – exhibited in several display cabinets. It is not impossible that Clara Young could be there one day.

blothian@edinburghnews.com