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Home for The Open
Now that The Open at Muirfield is fast becoming a fading memory, and we've enjoyed the glut of sporting extravaganza from the Commonwealth Games, it is time to turn attention to the women's Weetabix British Open starting at Turnberry next Thursday.

It promises to be a grand occasion, and worthy of everyone's focus. It is the first time that a women's Major has been staged in Scotland, and the hope is that action over the famous Ailsa course can match the excitement and drama of Ernie Els' magnificent triumph in East Lothian less than a fortnight ago.

One big plus is that the home players, led by Turnberry member Mhairi McKay, are likely to produce a far more significant showing than was in evidence at Muirfield. In a tournament carrying a record £1 million prize purse, North Berwick's Catriona Matthew and Glasgow's Janice Moodie, joining McKay in the top-30 on the LPGA money list, all have sights set on becoming the first Scot to lift the most coveted of titles.

McKay, who is enjoying a great season in which she has done everything except actually win, will be the prime focus, and she will have to carry a burden of pressure on her shoulders. But the perky 27-year-old has the confidence and personality to thrive and self-belief to enjoy every minute.

She goes into the championship knowing that she is in the best form of her life. Earlier this month, she claimed her highest ever finish in a major with a sixth in the US Open at Prairie Dunes in Kansas, and she is currently at 15 on the LPGA money list after 10 top-10 finishes.

Of course, she will be inundated with requests for interviews and is certain to become a well-known face in the newspapers and television during the build-up. In fact, she has already been swamped with questions from her US colleagues - where should they stay? Which is the nearest airport? Will the weather really be horrible? And will the rough be as tough as it was for the men at Muirfield? If it is, many fear that there could be a few damaged limbs.

But Turnberry's most illustrious member says she is relishing the prospect. 'I think it will be great to be playing in front of lots of family and friends and to have so much support,' said McKay, who returned home this week from a career that is based almost full-time on the other side of the Atlantic.

But she also warns that her knowledge of the Open Championship links will have little benefit. 'Most people think I have a huge advantage playing my home course. But, to be honest, I've played the Ailsa course very little in recent years because of my hectic LPGA schedule,' she pointed out.

'Golf at Turnberry during the winter months will not resemble those of tournament conditions in August. It means that although I won't have to remember the holes, I will still have to figure out my tournament game plan versus just the fun "bounce" games that I've become accustomed to in recent years.'

McKay has already experienced the thrill and atmosphere of an Open Championship at the course, although it was in a very different role. She was just 11, and working as a ball spotter, when she witnessed Greg Norman's march to the title way back in 1986.

'Back then, I do remember thinking that I'd love to get the opportunity to do what the men were doing that week. But I never really thought that it would actually happen,' she reflected. 'It's really is incredible that it is going to come true.

'It's such a thrill to get the chance to play a major championship over your home course, with home support. It's especially nice to be playing the Weetabix in Turnberry's centenary season and I know all the members are looking forward to the week immensely.'

Of course, if McKay could pull off victory (and I should apologise for being another to pile on the pressure!) it really would make the celebrations complete.

And if she doesn't manage it, then perhaps Matthew or Moodie, both joint third at Sunningdale a year ago, can rise to the occasion.

If there were a home winner it would be another huge boost for the women's game in Scotland. Even many golf fans don't realise how well our girls perform on the LPGA Tour - but I hope they can ram it home to everyone next week.

©    31 - JULY 2002

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