Women’s Stroke Play: Defending champ Earl eager for links test

It’s a year since Rebecca Earl claimed her first international title at the English Women’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Ipswich Golf Club.

The road to the winners circle, where she eventually joined past winners such as Charley Hull and Sophie Walker, wasn’t without a couple of speed bumps for the golfer from Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire.

A bogey on the 18th made for an agonising wait as Rosie Belsham of Whitley Bay had the chance to birdie the last to draw level and force a play-off.

However, the stars aligned as Belsham could only par the final hole and Earl wrote her name into the history books forever.

This year, the 20-year-old will have to defend her title at Burnham and Berrow against a quality field of 143 tough competitors, all with hungry eyes fixed on the same goal.

“Winning last year adds a little pressure,” said Rebecca, “but I’m not putting too much on myself as we haven’t been able to play a huge amount of competitive golf this year.

“I’ve been practising a lot over the last couple of months, working really hard with my coach on my driving and swing.

“I’ve been making more long-term changes to my performance to tighten up all areas of my game.”

Earl has been studying across the pond for a number of years at Woffard College in South Carolina, and says it has helped to elevate her performance to the next level.

“Studying out in America has been amazing, I spend a lot of time playing golf and working on different areas of my game.,” she added.

“I keep in regular contact with my coach back at home for online sessions, which are really useful.”

Like every other golfer, however, she has also felt the effect of the lockdown and hasn’t been able to play as much as she would have hoped in the build-up to the tournament season.

“It’s been an up and down year for golf over the last couple of months. I would have liked to play more competitive golf because it’s a lot different to practising at the range.”

Despite the lack of tournaments this year, Rebecca was lucky enough to receive an invite to play in the Rose Ladies Series event at Moor Park Golf Club.

“It was great playing in the Rose Ladies Series. It wasn’t my first time playing in a pro event but I really enjoyed it, the standard was amazing and I was able to pick on a few different things from watching how they played.

“Their performances were really tight,” she added, “it taught me a lot about my own game. It was good to see what level I’m at in comparison.”

Now Earl is looking ahead to her title defence next week on the Somerset coast.

Challenges will come from all angles; current English Women’s Amateur champion Emily Price will be hoping to maintain her form and push for the title.

Women’s squad player and home course favourite Mimi Rhodes (pictured below), who has been in good form after finishing second in the Rose Ladies Series event at Bearwood Lakes, will bring local knowledge to the field.

Also likely to be in the mix is Lily May Humphreys, who finished tied-second in Women’s Stroke Play last year and has been in fine form after finishing runner up in the English Women’s Amateur Championship. Lily will look to go one better and challenge for the top spot.

Rebecca added: “I’ve never played Burnham and Berrow before, but I’m really looking forward to playing links golf for the first time in a while.

“The courses in America are completely different so it should be a great challenge.

“I don’t have a particular plan of attack, I’m hoping to keep it steady, shoot close to the pin and keep big scores off my card as much as possible.”

The field will contest a 72-hole stroke play championship, starting on Tuesday 18 August and concluding on Thursday 20 August.

The women will play 18 holes on each of the first two days. Then the leading 40 competitors and ties will play the final 36 holes on the third day.

The winner will return the lowest gross score over 72 holes.

Photography: Leaderboard