01 Jun 19
The clouds of worry and uncertainty that have hung heavy over Heather MacRae since March were pierced by some welcome beams of joy when she won the Women's PGA Championship at Trentham, writes Adrian Milledge.
The victory was the second time the 35-year-old Scot had won the Titleist and FootJoy-sponsored tournament but this one was more significant than the first. Massively.
It has earned her a place in the team that will represent Great Britain and Ireland in the inaugural Women's PGA Cup. The significance runs much deeper than that, however.
The match will be staged in Austin, Texas, in the last week of October, four-and-a-half months after she undergoes an operation to banish the cervical cancer that was diagnosed in March.
The surgery has been re-scheduled for June 14 but the original date would have prevented her from playing at Trentham.
“I thought I would have to rely on a captain’s pick to make the team,” said MacRae, who is attached to Stirling Golf Club. “But when I realised I would be able to play here I made it my goal to qualify without needing a pick.”
With four of the five places in the WPGA Cup team based on performances in this and last year’s tournaments at Trentham, MacRae was well-placed to qualify having finished second 12 months ago.
That was a result of losing a play-off to Keely Chiericato and MacRae’s disappointment at the time was tangible. Disappointments these days are relative, however.
“I lost two play-offs within a few days of one another last year, and it was difficult,” she recalled.
“But the last few months have put everything in perspective. I’m still determined, want to hit good shots and get frustrated when I don’t.
“But I don’t feel nervous playing golf after waiting for the results of medical tests and things like that. It’s important because I want to do it well and it means a lot. But it does change your outlook.
“I’ve also been overwhelmed by the support I’ve had from so many people. It has come from friends and family, the golfing world and people I’ve never met before. It’s helped me a lot and kept me as strong as I have been.”
Understandably, that strength wavered as she delivered a moving winner’s acceptance speech. Not so on the golf course earlier, especially on the last nine holes of the 36.
Having reached the half way point on one-under-par, she trailed Wrotham Heath Golf Club’s Hayleigh Tottman (above) by two shots.
Tottman maintained that advantage for the first half of the final round but her lack of opportunities to play or practise since becoming a mother almost a year ago and the physical efort of playing 36-holes in a day took its toll on the back nine.
Consequently her score slipped from three-under to one-over and MacRae took full advantage.
Unfazed by a double bogey at the par-four ninth, a birdie at the par-five 14th and no further wobbles saw her post a two-under-par total of 144 for the 36-holes to finish two shots clear of Ali Gray and Suzanne Dickens (below) and claim the £1,000 first prize.
All of which completed a successful two days for MacRae and her fellow PGA Professional, friend, fourball partner, caddy at Trentham and designated driver to and from Scotland, Craig Lees.
The pair arrived at Trentham having 24 hours earlier qualified for the final of the golfbreaks.com PGA Fourball Championship and MacRae added: “I like to have goals and the tournament is at the end of August.
“The recovery time from the surgery is eight weeks so that’s something to look forward to and aim for. Then there’s the WPGA Cup in October. June and July are not going to be great but at least I have something to look forward to.”
MacRae will be captained in the WPGA Cup team by Tracey Loveys and line-up alongside Hazel Kavanagh, Gray and Dickens, who won a play-off with Maria Tully to claim the last of the four places determined by points accumulated in the 2018 and 2019 WPGA Championships. The captain’s pick has yet to be decided.
Leading scores and WPGA Cup qualification points (Maximum 30): H MacRae (Stirling Golf Club) 144 (-2) 24; A Gray (Ormskirk Golf Club) 146 (level) 20.75; S Dickens (Thorpe Wood Golf Club) 146 (level) 12.75; H Kavanagh (Impact Golf) 147 (+1) 13.75; H Tottman (Wrotham Heath Golf Club) 147 (+1) 9.75; S Walton (Belton Park Golf Club) 149 (+3) 5.75; M Tully (Eastbourne Downs) 149 (+3) 12.75.
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