Maybe this isn’t my place to say.
But I don’t yet have the cynicism of the players who have been around for longer than me, who have seen too much life sucked out of the LET to believe it’ll ever look like being anything more than on life support to the outside world. But because of circumstance, I also haven’t bypassed the LET like some of my peers. And I haven’t yet moved past the stage of caring. I hope I never do.
I like to think I’m a good representative for our tour. I won’t pretend I’ve always felt like this – if things had gone to plan when I came out of college, I would have progressed past first stage of LPGA Q School and had some kind of status on either the LPGA or Symetra Tour. I’d been playing college golf for 4 years; it made sense for me to transition nicely in America. That’s how a lot of girls see it. But like most things in life and golf, that beautifully straightforward plan didn’t work out. So I tried my plan B; I went to LET Q School. I came up a couple of shots short of getting my full card and was left to wonder whether I was cut out for professional life at all. Luckily – even though it felt like blindly at the time – I took the only option I had left and committed myself to the Access tour for 2017, hoping to take any chances I might have on the main tour.
It’s funny how things work out.
If none of that had happened, I might well have never found out what the LET was all about. I might have never had those opportunities, to fall back in love with the process and nothing more, to take my golfing vulnerability into an environment that taught me it was ok to have that. Into an environment that shaped that vulnerability into trust, into steeliness, into a relentless determination to be myself and prove what that could mean on a golfing platform. I like to believe we all end up where we are meant to be. But I don’t pretend for a second to believe I could be the person or the golfer I am today if I hadn’t fallen into this particular path. Events shape you, and people shape you. I think I’ve always craved people who understand me. We all want to feel like we belong. Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with that more often in life than I probably should have. But falling into life on the Access Series and the LET taught me that it was ok to be myself. That being myself could mean something. That being myself meant I belonged.
That wouldn’t have happened to me anywhere else. Even now, two years later, I don’t carry that with me into every environment. That’s part of life; getting out of our comfort zones is the hardest and the best thing to do. But the LET has something special; provides something special, for everyone who truly gives themselves up to it. Maybe I can’t explain that, but I’ll try. It provides you with a comfort zone at the same time as forcing you out of another one. We’re all protected by each other even though we spend every day trying to be better than each other.
Players are limited, or think they are limited, in what they can do to support the genuine growth of this tour. We think it is beyond us, above us, a waste of our time anyway. We’ve got golf to focus on. That might be right. The running, the operating, the guidance of the tour are not things we can control, nor do we have the expertise to do so. I would never tell anyone in another role how to do their job. But I don’t think anyone can really express what the LET is and what it means apart from the players. And that, to me is what the rest of the world just don’t seem to want to understand.
I know everyone in a role at the LET cares about the tour. Those people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t. I have every respect for every ounce of hard work they have put into their jobs, in what has been an incredibly difficult environment over the past few years. They deserve more credit than they get. Of course they could all do better, the tour could do more to help itself – but so can all of us, in whatever capacity that might be. But I’m tired of making a case for why we deserve more respect than we get when I have no idea if the people with the power to make that happen – within this organisation and well beyond it – really get it. Really understand it. People are talking about women’s sport, about women’s golf, far more than they ever have. What’s happening with women’s football right now is exhilarating, and inspiring… and also couldn’t have happened without individuals not scared of tearing down conventions and stereotypes and privilege.
People will disagree, but I know in my heart that women’s golf in Europe can light up the sporting landscape in a similar way. Maybe golf will never have the entertainment value or capture the casual fan in the way some other sports can, but we do have something; the LET has something. If it’s understood and bottled properly, our popularity can explode. I genuinely believe that. But right now I’m scared that the boat is going to be missed; the tidal wave of support and interest and investment into women’s sport will crash over us and we’ll carry on trying not to drown. Treading water isn’t any better; it just makes us all exhausted before the same thing happens in the end. Too dramatic maybe, but we deserve better.
That’s why I’m writing this. I’ve been exposed to enough of the world of sport, in a multitude of avenues, to know how important this is. And maybe I’m just a player who really can’t change very much – I spend half my time worrying that I’m sucking life out of my own golfing potential by concerning myself with the life of the LET. But like I said, I care too much. I don’t know what my own career holds, and I don’t know if that would have been greater or not had I made it onto the LPGA at the first ask. I still want to play against the best players in the world, because I want the best for myself.
But I believe the LET has shaped me in ways I’ll be forever grateful for. And I know I’m far from the only one. Every tournament throws up a story of someone who needs the LET. Every tournament provides an example of someone who at some point in time, hasn’t believed. In themselves, in their own ability, in their own potential. Someone who has questioned whether it’s all worth it. Every tournament gives someone a chance to believe again. Every tournament gives someone the heady glow of achievement, the all-encompassing warmth that comes with the realisation that your peers are genuinely happy for you. That they understand. Those moments, however fleeting, are electrifying. The applause when you walk onto the 18th green, spotting your friends hiding bottles of champagne and elated whispers of excitement… knowing that those moments are entirely yours. And yet they are shared with everyone who matters too. Those moments are everything.
As far as I can tell, you’ll struggle to find a group of athletes anywhere who have such genuine warmth to each other – and that’s despite the fact we’re competing against each other every single day. We are all our own opponents. But collectively, we are a team. The cliched family. Maybe it’s because we’ve gone through such rough times as a tour recently. Maybe it’s because we all know just how difficult it is to try and carve a career for yourself – both financially and developmentally – when we have such limited opportunities. For a million different reasons, I think we’ve all got a respect and empathy for each other that is rare to find elsewhere. We care.
I know competing in this market, as a tour, is beyond difficult. I know the commercial, political, geographical realities of who we are and where we exist means things can’t just happen because we all care and we all want them to. I know finding sponsors and partners and tournaments is quite often nothing to do with who we are as players or what our abilities are. I’m not naive. That side of growing our tour is something that I don’t envy for anyone. But I think there’s more to it, and that ‘more’ is being consistently missed. Everything that makes this tour special is completely and utterly irrelevant if nobody else gets to see it. There will always be limits to what organisations are capable of, whether financial or logistical or otherwise, and the outside world is not always aware of those. It is easy to criticise, to place blame. But everyone is capable of more.
Wanting what’s best for the LET – whoever you might be – should require one thing above all else: belief in what we stand for. Belief in what makes us special. Belief in the product. It isn’t as simple as taking our product and putting it on a plate for anyone we think will be interested; but we as players and as an organisation can instil it in our behaviours, our communications, our ideas. We, as players, are the Ladies European Tour. And maybe we’re not in a position to be overly demanding, but I’ll always believe that people will want to work with us, and take interest in us, if they see what we truly are. If that happens, we’ll have a chance of becoming – individually and collectively – what we are capable of becoming.
I never want to stop fighting for what I believe we are as a tour. We deserve to be respected for who we are and what we have achieved, as well as what we will go on to achieve. The top ten of our Order of Merit as it stands holds 18 LET wins and 106 LET top tens. We have Order of Merit winners who have contended in – and won – major championships. We have players in every event who have been stars of amateur and college golf, alongside players who have brought Solheim Cup magic to fans across the world.
We deserve respect.
I’ll say that in every interview I ever do, and defend myself as rationally as possible on social media despite being told by a mixture of nobodies, golf fans, and male tour professionals, in both casual ignorance and blind contempt, that I am wrong. That we are not worth it. I can make people care, but none of us can take the LET in the direction we want individually. I love what I do for a living; I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I am grateful every day for that. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t excel at what I do – neither would a single player on this tour
So here’s my final message.
Understand why the LET is special. Understand what makes these players different. Understand why we deserve to be treated with respect that is a given for our male counterparts. Understand it. And let that guide how you think about us, talk about us, and work for us.
With every respect and gratitude – for caring –