Once embarrassed to say she played golf, new kiwi pro Amelia Garvey is taking the next step this week to join friend Lydia Ko on the LPGA tour.
Amelia Garvey is about to tee off in one of the greatest weeks of her golf career.
The 21-year-old Christchurch professional will start the second stage of the LPGA qualification school in Venice, Florida at the end of this week – and will play alongside the best female golfers in the world for a chance at an LPGA tour card 2022.
She has come a long way from the kid swinging plastic clubs in the backyard, to the girl who was embarrassed to admit she was a golfer, and then to one of the few women in the world who owns the exclusive Augusta National Have played the course.
And while participating in this important tournament, she knows she has the support of her kiwi golfer and friend Lydia Ko. And Garvey wants to make the former number 1 in the world proud.
Garvey stormed through Stage 1 of Q-School (as it is better known) in August when it tied fourth in a rush of 339 high-quality competitors.
This result secured her the chance to play tournaments on the secondary Symetra Tour next year. She is not satisfied with that, however, as she is making a push on Friday at the Plantation Golf and Country Club to consolidate full Symetra Tour status by advancing to Stage 3 in December – and with it a chance at an LPGA- Card 2022.
She has shown that she is in good shape – she sank a hole in one in her training lap on Monday.
It’s already been an extremely successful year for Garvey. She competed in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and scored a clutch win in a qualifying tournament to secure a spot in her second US Women’s Open.
The US Open was her first tournament after turning pro in May, and despite missing the cut, she was ranked in the top 10 on putting stats. Garvey also donned a hat and gown when she graduated from the University of Southern California with her degree in communications (pictured below).
So how does it come that an athlete who was born in Manchester, England and raised in Christchurch attended a university in downtown Los Angeles and became one of the rising stars of women’s golf?
Like many whose journey begins from the stuff of their dreams, Garvey’s father must give Lee credit for bringing the possibility of golf to her mind.
“When I was about six years old, he first saw me swinging a golf club, a small plastic kit in the garden,” says Garvey. “I was out there swinging it by myself and he was like, ‘This is not normal.'”
Kaiapoi Golf Club, north of Christchurch, soon became a second home for Garvey as her game developed in her childhood and early teen years.
When she became aware of the possibilities that sport could open up for her, Garvey’s colleagues were not always understanding – at a time when various sports were still heavily gender-specific.
“I used to be embarrassed to say I played golf when I was in middle school and starting high school. Until people saw that I was traveling around the world, I was always pretty embarrassed because I was the only girl who was playing, ”reveals Garvey.
“I grew up with guys who were four or five years older than me and I never had another girl to play with. It was definitely not the most popular sport to play. “
Towards the end of her time at Burnside High School, Garvey attended a handful of universities in the United States in hopes of receiving a scholarship to a prestigious college golf program.
College sport in the land of the free is unrivaled anywhere in the world with its ardent fan base, limitless fund of finances and resources, and the sports competitions it produces.
It is also the launch pad for a significant number of golf careers. The extremely competitive college system serves players well as they master the transition from amateur to professional status. And Garvey didn’t have to look far to know that moving to the States was the right move for her.
“I played with girls before they went to the States and I remember seeing them on TV at the NCAA championships,” she shares. “Seeing that and realizing how cool it was was the moment I thought I wanted to go that route.”
Garvey’s last visit was to the University of Southern California, whose impressive golf program ranked second in the country at the time. Always humble, she never gave herself a chance to get a full scholarship from the Trojans, but by the end of the trip to LA, her college future was assured.
Her résumé spanning four years as a college player makes for an impressive read: two Pac-12 Conference championship titles in a row, two All-Pac-12 selections for the first team along with three honorable mentions from All American while she was also in the NCAA plays championship three times. Her college record is 11 rounds in the ’60s, and she finished seventh in a draw in the 2019 NCAA championships for her sophomore year.
Amelia Garvey played for R&A Women’s Amateur in Northern Ireland in 2019, where she finished second. Photo: Getty Images.
Not only does Garvey turn gender stereotypes as a golfer on its head, but he also disproves theories that golfers aren’t true athletes. She and her USC teammates would be on the practice class at 7 a.m. and not return to college until 7 p.m. It’s not that easy to walk around and hit a ball over the cut grass – there is also a lot of strength and conditioning work involved.
“I spent a lot of time in the gym and also doing quick workouts,” says Garvey. “It’s becoming a bigger part of the women’s game – girls start hitting the ball 280-300 yards” [255-275m] on average.”
Your work pays off as your swing speed is among the top 5 LPGA professional ranks.
And what about playing on that golf course, Augusta? The sacred fairways and greens of the most famous course in the world are the promised land for every golf fan or player. From the well-known strict ban on electronic devices and photos to the notorious “Amen Corner”, where many players have lost their hopes of winning the coveted green Masters jacket – there is history everywhere.
The club has only about 300 members at any one time and membership is only secured by invitation. This is also a club that did not welcome African American members until 1990, and it wasn’t until 2012 that Augusta accepted its first two female members (including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).
That was just nine years ago, and yet in April of this year Garvey was in the process of hosting the Augusta National Women’s Amateur for only the second time since it was founded in 2019. She can count herself among the few women who have played the course. and the remarkable achievement has not escaped her.
“We were teeing off early in the morning and it was about four degrees and there were girls complaining about the cold,” Garvey recalls. “I just thought, ‘What are you doing, you’re in Augusta!’
“I just couldn’t stop smiling. I didn’t care how cold it was, I had the time of my life. It was one of the coolest days of my life. “
For all of the highs she’s seen in 2021, Garvey’s been the constant challenge of not having her family by her side. It’s been almost a year since she was last in New Zealand and seen family and friends.
Several attempts to book an MIQ seat were unsuccessful, as Garvey’s time window quickly closed over Christmas and January. If there is no miracle, until the start of the 2022 season in February, she won’t be able to come home the next time until the end of the year.
“I don’t want to think about it too much, I like to keep my head down and focus on what’s in front of me,” Garvey admits.
“But as an athlete, your well-being has to be happy. The fact that I couldn’t see my family and my sisters and my dog is tough. At the end of the day it’s a priority for my performance, you have to be in the right headspace. Thinking about these things doesn’t make it easier for me. “
Encouraging more women and girls to play golf in New Zealand is also a great passion of Garvey. She knows the physical and mental benefits of being outdoors, of doing the sport socially or competitively. It highlights the beautiful places across the country with exceptionally low green fees compared to the rest of the world to be used.
Golf New Zealand agrees after recently unveiling its new strategy for women and girls’ golf, ‘Our Ambition’, which aims to ensure that ‘women and girls are welcomed, valued and thrived in golf’.
When asked what it feels like to be another female inspiration for young Kiwi girls alongside Lydia Ko, Garvey quickly diverts all the praise to her friend.
“She’s already written the history books, and she did it all by the age of 20,” says Garvey. “She did everything at such a young age, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I can’t even imagine what she’s achieved at my age, and she did it when she was five years younger. “
The two have a special relationship as Garvey received the Lydia Ko-Scholarship in 2018. They meet regularly to chat about all things golf and even have a round or two of practice sessions if their schedule allows.
“Whenever I do well in a tournament, she always congratulates me and she is a great advocate of women’s golf in New Zealand,” she says. “Knowing that she is out there and wants someone from New Zealand to tour with her is a testament to her character. I want to make her proud, she did a lot for me as a scholarship holder. “
Garvey is also open about her dream of becoming an Olympian – it’s a main motivator that gets her out of bed in the morning. And the goal is not only to compete in the starter box alongside Ko, but also to share the podium with her.
“She is currently the only female golfer to have won two Olympic medals, it is incredible what she has achieved. I grew up absolutely adoring her, so maybe it would be a dream to be on the podium with her, ”she says.
Los Angeles is calling in 2028, especially since Garvey previously played at the Riviera Country Club.
When she is reminded of Ko’s statement that she plans to retire at 30, there is a twinkle in her eye when Garvey calculates that Paris 2024 could be the best opportunity for her dream of playing as Olympians together.