Lesley Nicholson will be plying her trade on the US Futures Tour next year. It is a decision that has raised a few eyebrows in some circles, but she definitely has the approval of fellow Scot Myra Murray.
It was after a hugely disappointing rookie season - she played in just one Evian European Tour event plus three on the Swedish domestic circuit this year - that Lesley headed for the Futures qualifying school in Florida in November.
She had only managed to secure a conditional card for next season at the Evian Tour's equivalent the previous month, so it was a last gasp attempt to locate a passport to regular tournament play in 2002.
It says much for her determination, therefore, that she finished eighth at the Futures school at Lakeland, and she is now looking forward to a much better second season as a professional.
'The Tour runs from March to September and there is an event practically every week,' she explained. 'The thought of being able to play week in and week out is fantastic.
'Really, I just want to see the back of this year. I never had a clue if I was going to be able to play anywhere and it was so frustrating. I was practising hard, but that doesn't make up for competitive play. When I did get into tournaments, I just felt so inconsistent.'
It was a point she proved on her sole Evian experience in the British Masters in Cheshire in July. She had a poor opening round, but then fired a best of second day 67 and went on to finish in the top-40.
But now she will be playing in the sunshine every week, and if she listens to Myra, who has played the Futures circuit for the past two years, then she must be filled with optimism.
'America is definitely the place to be,' insists Myra, who spent the first five years as a pro in Europe. 'I wouldn't advise anyone to play on the European Tour. Lesley is doing the right thing. The weather's better, there's a great atmosphere and everyone is very friendly. In fact, it feels like a party every week.
'You also make so many friends playing on the American Tours. You are provided with free hospitality, and so the costs are very low.
'The purses on the Futures Tour are also growing. They are about $60,000 minimum. The standard is also going up all the time. A lot of players are using the Tour as a stepping stone to the LPGA.'
As for Myra, her golfing ambitions have been put on hold this season - she and husband Robert, who acted as her caddie in the States, are expecting their first child in May.
'I've no idea what will happen after that,' admitted Myra, who runs a guesthouse with Robert in Inverness. 'But I might go back and play in America with the baby in tow next year.'
As for Lesley, her dream this year is to finish in the top three on the Futures Tour and secure one of the coveted cards for the 2003 LPGA circuit.
'That would be a huge bonus,' she admitted. 'But, at the moment, I'm just looking forward to planning a schedule, playing regularly and trying to make a belated start to a successful professional career.
'Last year, I was forced to play in Sweden, but you didn't earn nearly enough to even cover expenses. The prize money isn't great on the Futures Tour but, if you do well, you can certainly make a living.'
Lesley is backed by the Scottish-based management company, 110sport, and she is delighted to have their support. In the not too distant future, she is hoping she can follow in the footsteps of stablemates Catriona Matthew and Kathryn Marshall and join the list of successful Scots on the full US women's Tour.
|| 27 - DECEMBER 2001