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Scotland's golfer of the year
Heather Stirling is a woman of very few words. She clearly prefers to let her golf clubs do the talking. This year, they've not been able to shut up. The Stirlingshire County championship, the Helen Holm strokeplay championship, the Scottish Womens' championship, the St Rule Trophy, the SLGA's order of merit... they all sit proudly on the Stirling household's mantlepiece. Which means the Stirling household's mantlepiece must be about the size of the Hoover Dam.

As if dominating the domestic scene wasn't enough, the flame-haired 25-year-old from Bridge of Allan also managed the first hole-in-one of her 17 year golf career during the Scottish Women's County championships.
Throw in an appearance in the Curtis Cup, a pivotal role in the Scotland women's side which finally won a game in the Home Internationals for the first time since the Suez Crisis  or so it felt  and a place in the Great Britain & Ireland Espirito Santo Trophy team that has recently returned from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and you have all the ingredients of a memorable season.

She may be quieter than a trappist monk with laryngitis but Heather's triumphs this year speak volumes for her talents and determination. Just don't expect this talented and unassuming youngster to wallow in the glory of her own successes.
You could say I'm a women of few words, the former American college student said. I prefer to keep myself to myself and take things easy. I was pretty laid back when I won the hat-trick of titles earlier in the year. I just went out with my family and had a quiet celebration. I'm not one to brag about things. I don't like to get a big head and say I've won this and won that. I don't like that.

Looking back, I think winning the Helen Holm title was the highlight. It got my season started. It was a big achievement for me over such a strong field and it acted as a springboard for the rest of the year.

Heather's triple whammy of titles, achieved during a frantic six week period between the end of April and the start of June, was the first time ever that the treble had been achieved. It was a magnificent accomplishment made even more remarkable by the now well-documented fact that she was fighting alcoholism.

In March, Heather cut short a warm-weather training session with the Scotland ladies team in Spain after she went back on the booze for the first time in two years. She subsequently pulled out of the Ladies Golf Union's elite squad trip to South Africa and squared up to her demons by giving an interview to Lady Golfer magazine in which she revealed the details of her battle with the bottle.

It was this disclosure that provided the catalyst for a sparkling season as a huge weight was lifted off her young shoulders.

I think its fair to say I feel more at ease and have played some of my best golf since talking about the problem, she admitted. I felt that by being honest I no longer had a secret I didnt want anyone to know about. It was all out in the open and it did help. It made me more relaxed on and off the course and I could just be myself again as I didn't have anything to hide.

Now I'm not as anxious. I've realised that golf is just a game. It's there to be enjoyed. Yes, it's a frustrating game at times and you do need a bit of fire in the belly if you want to succeed, but I've learned that winning is not everything.

During her early golf career, winning certainly wasn't everything. I'd always been a runner-up. Ever since I was a junior I was always the bridesmaid, she confessed.

An eager participant in a whole host of sports as a youngster, Heather eventually decided to give judo, table tennis, athletics, football, squash, medieval jousting, naked mud wrestling and so on the heave ho and focus her energies on golf.
Inspired by her older brother Roy  now a teaching professional in Dortmund, Germany  she began to forge her talents at the nine-hole Bridge of Allan golf course before teaming up with her long standing coach and mentor John Chillas, the former Scottish PGA champion and now a regular campaigner on the European Seniors Tour.

I loved the game and played as much as I could, Heather said. In one season when I was 13, my handicap came down from 19 to 9. John was the first person who helped me and even at such a young age he said I had a real chance to go on and become Scottish champion.

'Eventually I proved him right. He's been a great support and even during my troubles last year he still believed in me.

With the added support of family and friends, Heather has battled courageously to overcome those troubles and is now poised to continue her climb up the golfing ladder. She has already secured her card for the US Futures Tour, a developmental circuit for fledgling professionals looking to one day progress on to the lucrative LPGA Tour.

Typically however, Heather refuses to look too far ahead. I'm looking to play on the Futures Tour and get some experience, she admitted. Ideally I'd like to do well there for a couple of years and then try and get on the LPGA Tour but I don't want to look too far ahead.

You've got to have goals, however. It would be easy to sit back and just be an amateur for the rest of my career. You've got to go for what you want in life. If it doesn't work out then at least you can say you've given it a go.

She may be the self-confessed quiet woman of Scottish golf, but underneath the modesty lurks the burning ambition and desire to make the best of her considerable talents. And with all that she has achieved this season, Heather Stirling has already proved that actions do speak louder than words.

Heather Stirling on
The biggest influence on her career
'Definitely John Chillas. He's been my coach since I went for my first lesson with him at the age of nine. I've always knew I had the ability but it's a case of believing in yourself and knowing that you can do it, trusting your swing and doing it. He knew I was a good player and he has stuck by me and gave me another chance. I've not let him down.'

The change from amateur to professional
'It's a hard game playing golf and I know it will be even harder to make a living out of it. You never know what will happen. The professional game will be a totally different world from the amateur game. Amateur's fairly carefree but the pro game means every shot could affect your livelihood.'

Players she admires
'I suppose I'd say people like Janice Moodie and the other Scottish players on the LPGA Tour. They have done brilliantly and that's ultimately where I want to be. They are great examples of what can be achieved.'



©    3 - DECEMBER 2002



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