Great to see Michele Thomson’s name at the top of the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open leaderboard, especially when you think it’s not that long ago she looked lost to the game. See what happens when talent is given a chance to play, and encouraged by one of Scotland’s greatest golf ambassadors.
Less than 10 years ago the only 65s Thomson would have been dreaming about were in social rounds with friends in her native Aberdeen, never mind in her home Open. Despite an amateur career that saw her win the Scottish Women’s Championship and play in the Curtis Cup at St Andrews in 2008, Thomson’s pro career seemed set to come to an abrupt halt. In 2012 she decided on a new life. She enrolled in the Scottish Police College in Alloa and embarked on a course to become a police officer. Now she’s back walking the fairways instead of walking the beat, and that’s great news for Scottish golf.
Thomson isn’t the first successful amateur to become disenchanted with life on tour. Fellow Scot Sally Watson partnered Thomson in that 2008 Curtis Cup at St Andrews, and played in the 2010 match too. The former Scottish Girls champion was a standout at Stanford University, yet she struggled to make ends meet on the Ladies European Tour after turning professional in 2013. She quit after four years and joined the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to study for an MBA.
Watson might be lost to the game, but at least Thomson persevered. Maybe that has something to do with the fact it’s easier to make a living on tour now. As Watson admitted after the 2017 Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns:
“When you see some of the men on the Challenge Tour, whatever else, they’ve got a decent amount of financial support, whereas here you’ve got players in the top 30 of the LET Money List that are struggling to get the financial support to invest in themselves and progress their game.”
It still isn’t easy, but it’s getting better. There was a time when the Ladies European Tour schedule had more holes in it than a string vest. This week’s Women’s Scottish Open is one of 27 LET tournaments this season, with a run of 23 straight weeks. There were just 13 in 2017 when Watson’s dream of life as a tour pro died.
Playing opportunities for women have lagged so far behind those for men over the years it’s no wonder so many give up on their dreams. While men have had many mini tours to choose from to sharpen their games for the European Tour, for women it’s been the LET or bust for a long time. That’s changing thanks to the largesse of people like Kate and Justin Rose who went out of their way to set up the Rose Ladies Series to help British players compete during the pandemic. Mini tours like the Clutch Pro Tour are now open to women too. As three-time Rose Ladies Series winner Gemma Dryburgh said this week:
“It's getting there. The men have so many. It would be good to see more like the Rose Series where it's just for the women so it gives us more opportunity to play.”
As for arguably Scotland’s greatest golfing ambassador, Thomson wouldn’t be in the position she’s in now if not for 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, who watched Thomson's opening 65 at Dumbarnie Links yesterday. He has mentored Thomson through her pro career, as well as European Tour winner David Law, and other players from the Aberdeen region. The time and effort Lawrie puts into helping nurture young talent in the North East of Scotland can’t be underestimated. He and that other great Scottish golf ambassador Catriona Matthew have pushed hard over the years to create opportunities for Scottish golfers, particularly women.
All talent needs is a chance to shine. Thankfully that’s happening more and more. Let’s hope it continues and Scotland produces players who can emulate Lawrie and Matthew and contend in their home Opens, for major titles.
#JustSaying: “The determining bulk of Scottish people had heard of golf ever since they had heard of God and often considered the two as of equal importance.” G.K. Chesterton
Photo courtesy of Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open