Gog Magog golfer Emily Slater seeks to carve out professional career
Turning professional is a defining moment for all budding sports stars.
It is the culmination of the first phase of life, almost like a ‘graduation’ to the next stage of hard work.
The demands on each individual discipline vary, but golf is particularly tough going, and the opportunities even more limited when it comes to women’s golf.
Therefore, to be making that next step up during a pandemic is not the easiest of transitions, but that will not stop Emily Slater.
The Rose Ladies Series has helped fill some of the blanks caused by the cancellation of tournaments across Europe, where the 23-year-old was due to be part of the Ladies European Tour Access Series.
It has been 12 years in the making for Slater, who showed prodigious talent from an early age and took part in her first competitions from the age of 11.
Things started at the driving range in Ely one school holiday.
“My dad had played golf a little bit, so it started as something to keep me and my brother occupied through the summer – I just ended up loving it,” says Slater.
“I have always been quite sporty, I did various different sports at school and was doing gymnastics at the time. but I wanted to carry on playing golf, and chose that as my main sport.
“I started having junior group lessons, and it just spiralled from there. I won the first junior girls’ competition that I ever played in, which was quite a surprise really.
“I don’t think I had even really played in a proper competition then as well, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. But I think that was what pushed me on even further and made me think ‘maybe I actually am quite good at this’.”
The dedication from a young age meant a different lifestyle to many teenagers. Rather than weekends with friends going shopping or to the cinema, Slater was having to train or play competitions.
The schedule that started then now means up to six days a week, fitting in gym work, bootcamp, strength and mobility, and getting on the course, driving range or putting green.
But she says: “I don’t see that as a sacrifice I had to make, I always made the time up in the weeks I was at home. If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have done it.
“It teaches you a lot of things from a young age, like the etiquette, that you can carry through life – I guess that’s probably the same with most sports as well to keep you out of trouble.”
As it is a life choice, the situation is no different now, but Slater makes sure to find time during the winter to catch up with friends.
The curb on travelling and playing during this period was also noticed, says Slater.
“One of my friends said to me a few weeks into lockdown ‘I think this must be the longest time in the summer you’ve actually spent at home in about eight years’.”
Slater had been a ‘full-time amateur’ last year, and working at Gog Magog Golf Club in Cambridge in the bar and catering department to help pay for it.
She was also assisting in the pro shop in Ely this year, before the pandemic.
“I was very fortunate that a few of the members of the Gogs sponsored me throughout last year and are continuing to do so this year,” she says.
“The Gogs have been really great with me with support, even through my amateur tournaments all the members want to know how I’m getting on and how you’re doing.
“It really helps with the support from the golf club.”
The assistance is invaluable as the opportunities in a normal year are far more limited for women golfers than men.
Slater, whose clubs have included Lakeside Lodge, Newmarket, Ely, Woodhall Spa and Gog Magog, often found herself as one of the only girls in the junior sections.
There were more dotted around the county which helped the competition at Cambs and Hunts Ladies County Golf Association junior events.
“I think you will see more coming through now,” says Slater. “There is quite a lot of involvement in getting girls into golf and hopefully that will be a good thing for the future and they can make it their career as well.”
It is people like Slater who can act as an inspiration for other young girls who may be interested in taking up the sport, even if she is modest about that role herself.
“It would be great if it could get a few girls into playing and seeing it is not just a guys’ sport, it’s not just for boys because they can hit it further than us,” she says.
“Golf is becoming a bit more inclusive than it used to be, especially when I was growing up. It was a men’s game still, and there were still restrictions, but now it seems to be a bit more inclusive with the women’s and juniors as well.”
The Rose Ladies Series has gone towards trying to address the imbalance.
It was supposed to be all so different in 2020 after Slater turned pro at the end of last November, following the culmination of all the amateur competitions.
After attending qualifying school in January to earn playing rights for the Ladies European Tour, she made final qualifying but did not avoid the cut for the fifth day to reach the main tour so was going to be on the stepping stone Access Series.
When the green light was given for golf to resume, the men’s calendar was soon able to get events up and running but it was not the same for the women.
Having had such an exciting year to look forward to, as events were cancelled or postponed, Slater found that there was very little to play in.
She is a member of the 2020 Pro Tour, which sees men and women compete on a level playing field, but did not know when the competition would resume.
So when the opportunity to sign up for the Rose Series, which was originally due to be a one-day event but is now a series of eight competitions, Slater jumped at the chance.
“It’s great what they’ve done, and it’s great for women’s golf in the UK as well especially because there wasn’t actually a tournament, apart from the British Open, that a lot of us girls could play in,” she explains.
“You get to play with different people. It’s not very often that you can play in the same field as Laura Davies or Charley Hull because obviously I’m not part of the same tour as them at the moment.
“We almost don’t have enough to play in at the moment anyway, not as much as the men – they have so much to choose from. We really just have the LET, the access and the mini tours that allow women to play.
“You have to really think that the men can play every week for the whole year almost, whereas we have weeks in between that we don’t play and it’s quite difficult when you do make it your career, as you’ve got to fund it somehow.”
Slater has already shown that she is prepared to put in the hard work to reach her goals, and the pinnacle would be to one day emulate her hero, Annika Sorenstam.
“I want to have a successful career playing,” she adds. “I’m hoping to play a couple of years on the LET working my way up, and then go over to the LPGA and hopefully, world No 1 one day.”
The experience of the Rose Ladies Series is no doubt a good starting point. After finishing tied 33rd in the first event at Brokenhurst Manor, Slater was tied 37th at Moor Park last week which all adds to the valuable learning curve.