Mhairi McKay might not have made quite as big an impact in professional golf as her former classmate, Tiger Woods, but the Scot has certainly announced her arrival as one of the women's leading players.
In her fourth season on Tour, McKay has finished at no 24 on the 2001 LPGA money list - her previous high was number 80 in her rookie 1998 season - and only a couple of unlucky strokes have denied her a first Tour title. She drove out of bounds at the 71st hole and lost by a stroke at the LPGA Corning Classic and, at the First Union Betsy King, she missed a short putt at the 72nd hole that would have earned a place in a play-off.
Still, the two-time former Curtis Cup player is just delighted to be proving the potential she showed when she finished joint seventh as a rookie in the 1998 US Open.
'I've been working on a few swing changes over the past couple of seasons, and it is really just this year that I have begun to feel really comfortable with them,' explained the 26-year-old, whose home course is the Open Championships links of Turnberry.
'When I turned professional I pictured how my career would go, and I wasn't living up to my expectations. But now I feel that my game is much more where I want it to be.'
A golfer since she spent holidays with her family in Girvan from the age of four, Mhairi was the first overseas player to be offered a golf scholarship at Stanford University in California, and it was there that she shared a classroom with Tiger. Three years ago, she graduated with a degree in public policy.
As a top class scholar, Mhairi did wonder if the world of professional golf was the route to follow. But she decided that she had to give it a chance, and she is pleased that she did.
While the last couple of years might have not have quite matched her ideals, this year's transformation has made all the harder times worthwhile.
She is coached by her Florida-based fellow-Scot Gregor Jamieson (his father Bob was the long time head professional at Turnberry) and is known as one of the longest and most gifted players on the circuit.
But, to reach the top, she knew she had to harness the power, and eliminate the damaging rounds.
'This year, I've been much more consistent,' continued Mhairi, who had seven top-10s and qualified for the prestigious end of season Tour Players' Championship. 'That's made a huge change to my confidence level,' she says.
Nowadays, Mhairi spends most of the year in America, but always enjoys her trips home to Scotland. This summer, she became an aunt for the first time when sister Fiona (who also played for Scotland at amateur level), and she always enjoys meeting up with old friends and going to watch her beloved Celtic.
She has just returned home for Christmas, and she said: 'It's nice to be back and get a break from the Tour. But I do enjoy life on the circuit and, obviously, it's been even better this year.'
Next year, Mhairi will have even higher goals. Obviously, Europe's defence of the Solheim Cup at Interlachen in Minnesota in September is on the agenda, although she notes: 'I'm just going to try and play well and then the Solheim should take care of itself.'
Another highlight on the calendar is the Weetabix British Open at her home course of Turnberry in August. It is the first time that the women's major has been held in Scotland, and there has never been a Scottish winner.
A first professional victory, and joining Kathryn Marshall, Janice Moodie and Catriona Matthew as Scots to have won in America is the other dream that Mhairi hopes to make come true in 2002.
Janice, who grew up playing alongside Mhairi in west of Scotland girls' tournaments, has no doubt that her younger friend will soon sign up the club.
'Mhairi has had a fantastic year, and I'm sure that her first win is just around the corner,' she said. 'This year, she played some really great golf.'
|| 29 - NOVEMBER 2001