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Bright prospects
A lot of talented stars end up sacrificing their education to follow the dream of a professional sports career. But two rookies on the Evian European Tour have managed to do both, and England's Gina Simpson and Denmark's Karen Margrethe Juul are a good role model for others to follow.

The two 26-year-olds launched their play-for-pay careers at last week's Tenerife Open and Gina finished tied 11th to suggest she is a new British name to keep an eye on, while Karen was joint 35th.

Gina explained her reason for delaying the switch from the amateur ranks by saying: 'Because I wanted to do the American thing.' In fact, she spent four years at San Jose State University in California - joining just as Scot Janice Moodie was leaving - and eventually graduated with a degree in advertising

The former English schools' champion and full international reckons her greater maturity has eased the transition into the hard school of playing for a living.

'It's probably less scary being a little older,' said the Yorkshire lass, who had her parents for company in Tenerife with her Dad acting as caddie. 'I already feel quite settled and I've not really noticed any difference from the amateur game. After all, you've still got a club, a ball and have to hit it round a golf course.'

As for Karen, she's still doing homework after every round. The 1997 British Open Strokeplay and 1998 Helen Holm Scottish Open Strokeplay Champion is studying chemical engineering in Copenhagen, and spent the evenings in Tenerife concocting strange potions.

'I've got to finish a project by next month, so I have to pack my books along with everything else,' explained Karen, who describes herself as 'a regular bookworm.' She also spent time at San Jose State but found the US university not quite up to the academic standard that she craved. She also, at one time, had serious doubts about turning professional.

'I think I won the British Strokeplay and the Helen Holm a little too early,' she reflected. 'It all seemed so easy and I then seemed to lose a little motivation.'

However, by teaming up with English coach James Petts at the Simons Golf Club in Copenhagen she regained her enthusiasm. 'He was terrific, really believed in me,' said Karen, who showed her ability when she was second in last season's Evian Tour qualifying school.

'Now that I've turned professional it's like starting all over again with a new challenge. I'm just so keen to become a really great golfer, and I'm going to work really hard on my game.'
With a mother, Lise, who played for Denmark as an amateur - she is now a regular on the growing amateur senior circuit - Karen has been given plenty encouragement in her choice of career.

Wisely, however, she is going to complete her studies - she has another year to go - before following her next dream of playing on the LPGA Tour in America.

One of a growing band of Danish players on Tour - Iben Tinning, who tied for third in last year's Weetabix British Open is the current number one - Karen is desperate to be the first Dane to really hit the highs in the world rankings.

For both, it was an encouraging start in Tenerife, and they will be hoping for more of the same in this week's 54-hole Irish Open starting on Friday in Killarney.

So, while last year's great batch of rookies - Suzann Pettersen (pictured), Paula Marti and Karine Icher - all bounced onto the Tour barely into their 20s, Gina and Karen are a more mature model of newcomers.

A lot of Scottish amateurs - including national champion Linzi Morton and Helen Holm winner Heather Stirling - are now into their mid-20s, and still not quite sure about whether the professional road could be the one for them. They, like many of us, will no doubt be watching Gina and Karen's progress with interest.

©    10 - MAY 2002

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