Emily Mahar is nervous, she doesn’t mind admitting, as she prepares for the US Women’s Open this week. But the 21-year-old from Brisbane would not be human if the butterflies were not moving a little.
After all, it’s the biggest of stages, and the most significant women’s tournament in the world at an iconic venue, the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Mahar is still an amateur, having just completed her senior year of college at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, but she tried her luck in qualifying at Belle Haven Country Club recently and found her way into the field of 156.
It is her debut in a professional tournament.
She is a perfect advertisement for the Golf Australia mentoring program, which connects experienced and world-wise professional players with the stars of the future.
As part of it, Mahar practised on Monday at Olympic Club with Hannah Green, Australia’s most recent Major champion and an LPGA Tour staple, and yesterday she was partnered up for a practice round with Sarah Kemp, another Australian LPGA veteran.
She’s also previously been part of the Karrie Webb Scholarship squad, travelling to spend time with the legendary Webb in the United States to pick up some tips, having moved to the US a few years ago after graduating from junior programs at Keperra Country Golf Club in north-western Brisbane.
Mahar said it had helped her immensely this week.
“I felt yesterday when I stepped up on the first practice hole, I was very nervous,” Mahar said. “As soon as we went down the first hole Hannah Green was talking to me. That made it a more comfortable environment to be in. “I’d met Sarah at the qualifier we played in, so I already knew her.”
It’s been a great week all round for Mahar, so far.
“It’s been pretty cool. Getting treated like royalty out here,” she said yesterday as she beat balls on the driving range.
“It [the course] is tough. They’ve got it set up long, even though it’s cold and windy. I’m hitting long irons into the greens. I played 18 [holes] yesterday and nine today. If you hit it in the rough, you’ve got to get your wedge out on to the fairways and try to get on to the green again. It’s pretty brutal.
“It’s thick, thick rough. On the east coast we play with a lot of Bermuda, and it sits down but it’s kind of thin. Out here it’s thick and it’s wet all the time, too. That makes it harder.”
Mahar, who has won two tournaments in Virginia Tech colours, has her fiancé, another VT graduate Jackson Gray, as caddie this week.
“I think the No.1 goal right now is just to make the cut. Just get some good learning experiences out of it and find how to control myself around this type of crowd. Having the professionals around me is kind of intimidating sometimes, but just knowing I can keep up with them is nice.
“It’s nice having Jackson on the bag. He knows how to keep me calm. He knows me as well as my parents would or someone like that. It’s calming to know that I’ll have someone I can talk to that makes me not as nervous.’’
The Australian contingent at the Olympic Club also includes Green, Kemp, Sarah Jane Smith and Minjee Lee, with the first tee-times late tonight, Australian Eastern Standard Time.
Read about the Golf Australia mentoring program here