The R&A organises the Junior Open Championship every two years and two representatives, a boy and one girl, are eligible to represent their countries between the ages of 12 – 16 and must hold a valid handicap no higher than 15.
The competition this year was held at The West Lancashire Golf Club, a par 72 for women and men and approximately 5941 yards for women and 6772 yards for men.
I qualified to play in this, the 11th Junior Open, reducing my handicap to 13 during last season. Unfortunately, Riccardo, who was meant to participate was too young, which meant I would represent Malta alone.
After my annual school exams, I focused on my golf before leaving for the UK.
After lessons with Henning and Danny Holland, I left Malta feeling more confident and was aware of the rough and the speed of the greens as I had played links golf last year.
As I arrived at Edge Hill University, the nerves started to kick in. My mum dropped me off, opting not to be a delegate, and stayed close by.
The organisation of The R&A officials and other helpers from St Andrews and all over the UK was great. Within one hour, I had the keys to my room and had looked around the halls where I immediately noticed a +6 handicapper on the list which made me slightly more nervous. I attended the welcome speeches from The R&A, and quickly made friends with three girls from Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
A practice round followed the day after settling in and I played with three girls from Israel, Costa Rica and Zambia. We all tried to make each other feel comfortable and relaxed. I played reasonably well and we were allowed to play additional balls if we needed, although I did not take advantage of this too many times as my golf was quite steady.
After our practice round, we went to the opening ceremony which was very enjoyable. I felt proud in my blazer with my MGA badge and seeing my name on the score board, representing Malta, I felt privileged to have this opportunity.
On day one of the competition, I was to tee off at 3pm which gave me lots of time to practice and prepare. I played with Mihary Rabenja from Madagascar, and Minese Siame from Zambia. I started off steadily considering the wind and rain which were brutal. As there were ball spotters and officials all over the course we often found my balls in the rough but it was tough getting out of the knee deep terrain! I knew the shots were piling up so I tried to relax and just enjoy the experience. On the 5th hole, I hit a great tee shot, followed by a fantastic 250 yard shot with the wind against which was headed straight for the pin. As I approached the green with confidence, no one could find the ball and after the 5 minute search time, I eventually had to go back to play another ball.
I was devastated. Feeling punished for a great shot it took a while to recover mentally from this disappointment. I eventually settled back into things on the back nine. Not posting a great score meant I could relax and just enjoy day two.
On day two we played in the same group but started a little earlier. With the sun shining and very little wind, I felt more at home and comfortable with the conditions. Getting a par on the first three holes and narrowly missing par on the 4th gave me confidence. I approached the dreaded 5th hole and, even though I did try to block out the disaster I had on this hole the day before, I managed to find the rough and my frustration only added to the struggle of finding the fairway. When I three-putted to finish the hole I was totally disappointed with myself.
After a few more holes I got my game back again. I started putting for par again. During day three, the players who did not make the cut attended a clinic and a lesson with the resident professional. I left him feeling confident again looking forward to playing.
After the tournament ended and the results were recorded, the prize was presented to the overall winner from Ireland and all other awards were given out. I was pleased for all the winners and some great scores were recorded. I then had The Open to look forward to.
To watch Tiger, Rory, and all the top players in action was incredible. To see Henrik Stenson find the rough on the 17th and take two more shots to move it 10 yards made me feel slightly better about my own experience in the rough.
An R&A wind jacket was given to us on our arrival and I got it signed by Sir Nick Faldo. We will have it framed and it will make my Dad’s sports hall of fame, in our house along with my glove and my Open ticket.
A few days in London followed for me to relax and wind down with my family which gave me time to think and reflect on my experience.I have learnt so much from playing in this event. Taking the medicine and getting the ball back in play is the biggest lesson and in any future links competitions I play, it will be my priority when finding the rough.
I would like to give a huge thank-you to William Beck for believing in me, The R&A and the MGA for this opportunity and experience that I will never forget.
I was touched when I returned to Malta by how many people supported me and complimented me on my efforts. I have also had offers of help from many of the experienced players to help me improve and move forward.
I would also like to thank my Mum, Dad and all my family for their continued support.
I look forward to the future and to more competitions. This experience has been wonderful and has made me a stronger person, player and more determined to succeed in a sport I love.I am very proud and honoured to be the first female junior competitor to represent Malta in this competition.
Thank your for all your support!