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WATC: Ireland bullish ahead of Espirito Santo

​​Ireland ladies finalise preparations for World Amateur Team Championship at Carton House​

  • 28 August 2018

Picture: Ireland's Paula Grant, Olivia Mehaffey & Annabel Wilson | Cashman Photography


Although they've all been here before, none of them know what it's like to play a world championship in their native land.
 
In golf, the chance to play for your country at the World Amateur Team Championship only comes around every two years. Representing Ireland when the GUI and ILGU jointly stage this event for the first time feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
 
"Playing for Ireland is just the best feeling," said team member Paula Grant. "I love playing for my country and it just adds a little bit of extra something to the week especially when it's in Ireland as well."
 
Captain Danielle McVeigh has twice played for Ireland at the Espirito Santo Trophy - Australia in 2008 and Argentina in 2010 - and this week she will lead her country into competition at Carton House.
 
"It's a great honour for us to represent Ireland, especially on home soil," said McVeigh ahead of yesterday's first official practice day. "It's a fantastic event and it's run incredibly professionally so we're just really excited about it."
 
McVeigh was a 21-year-old prodigy when she first played at the worlds a decade ago. At this stage she knows the score but, as hosts, Ireland have to learn a new role.
 
"They've [players] been at this tournament before so I'm really telling them nothing they don't know already," McVeigh insisted. "It's more about removing all of the obstacles and hopefully making their life as easy as possible so they can literally just go and play golf."
 
At 24, Lisburn's Paula Grant is the senior member of the side.
 
"She [Grant] kind of has the mummy role, a bit low-key," said Olivia Mehaffey, her 20-year-old teammate. "She doesn't think she does but she does."
 
Mehaffey and Annabel Wilson, the youngest at 17, won bronze with Ireland two years ago in Mexico. It is four years since Grant played at the 2014 championship in Japan but her resurgence in form has come at just the right time.
 
"Paula has done incredibly well the last three or four years, shown incredible resilience and mental toughness to just keep going, especially working as well," said captain McVeigh. "She's been very focused and really, really determined."
 
Over the last 18 months, Grant has taken a step back from her professional career as an optometrist to refocus her efforts in golf.
 
"I stopped my full-time job a year and a half ago so that's when I started to put the real work in and had the time to do it," Grant explained. "I've just noticed small improvements in everything and that's just allowed my confidence to grow and as soon as that starts to improve, you can just commit to things and trust your swing."
 
Her results over that period of time have taken Grant inside the world's top 100 and earned her selection for both the Patsy Hankins Trophy and the Curtis Cup. Mehaffey has claimed all those honours and more during a prodigious rise through the ranks.
 
Since winning the first of three successive Irish U18 Open titles in 2014, Mehaffey has established herself as a dominant force, at home and abroad, and has taken over the mantle as Ireland's number one.
 
"She's [Mehaffey] been up there on the world stage for a long time and done really, really well," said McVeigh. "They're not afraid of the big stage which I think is a testament to Irish golf and everything that's come behind us beforehand. They're ready for it here and ready to perform."
 
When Mehaffey speaks, the words come tumbling out.
 
"I love playing in front of a crowd," she said. "It's something I really thrive off."
 
And she has not rested on her laurels since winning bronze with Ireland two years ago.
 
"When I played the last worlds [2016] I had just started university so there was a lot of parts of my game that I wasn't really happy with," Mehaffey said. "I'd say I'm probably hitting it 20 yards further. I'm striking it better. I feel like since the world's two years ago I'm a completely different player. I think I've really moved my game along."
 
Bubbling with enthusiasm, thought and talk of medals does not seem fanciful. It certainly does not faze them.
 
"That's why we're here," said McVeigh when asked if Ireland might contend.
 
Home comforts add to the sense of confidence among the group.
 
"I think our preparation has been brilliant," said Annabel Wilson. "During the winter we came down and played both courses three or four times whereas other teams haven't. They're just coming here this week haven't seen the course so that's a big advantage. Also, we've got our coaches that have been here the days we've been here giving us tips and helping us prepare the best that we can for this week."
 
Two years ago Ireland were good enough to medal. If Ireland produce their best again this week, there is good reason to believe that will put them on the podium again.