The shutters roll upwards at the PGA Academy at Oulton Hall on the evening of Wednesday 18 March 2015. Suddenly, an expanse of green land dotted with small white golf balls opens up before me. I am here to meet 14 year old Middleton golfer and Cockburn High School pupil, Jennifer Conlon. She is warming up for her training session with enthusiastic Phillip Akers – golf trainer at the academy.
They greet each other and Phillip asks Jen if she’s brought her worksheets in from last week’s session. Jen mumbles something about subject surgery at school that day and that she didn’t have enough time to complete them. However, Phillip doesn’t waste any time on the training and Jennifer takes her position and prepares a shot. Her swing is strong and confident, and doesn’t miss to send the ball flying at least 219 yards down the driving range. I try and follow the small white ball disappearing into the distance. She is intimidatingly good.
Jennifer has only been playing golf for four years. Craig, her dad a local bus driver says she was 10 years old when she first picked up a club. The family who live near Middleton Golf Course (now closed due to council cuts) used to walk their dog and watch golfers play.
Craig said “As soon as she whacked the ball that was it” – they’ve not looked back.
Both Jennifer and Dad realised this wasn’t beginners luck, that there was real talent here. She started to enter local competitions. At 12 years old Jennifer won the Yorkshire Qualifier for ‘Wee Wonders’ a golf competition for under 12’s. The finals were at St. Andrews, and she was the only Yorkshire girl to represent the region. After coming in 15th place she was then invited to the European Junior competition in Gullane coming in at an exceptional 24th place. This helped springboard Jen into the international golfing arena by being invited to South Africa Golf Junior Africa Challenge last September. Jen proudly holds the trophy with first place engraved into it.
Craig says “Well you can’t stand in the way of that, can you?” As well as seeing some stunning parts of the world already Jen has made lots of friends too. There’s a lot of peer support from a shared passion of the sport.
Jennifer is now preparing for Scotland again, then the States for the American teen world champions, and onto Italy in August for the Italian Open. She then returns to South Africa in September again. Luckily Jen won’t miss much school as these all take place in the school holidays, but ouch – also the most expensive time to travel too. Craig is working all the overtime he can get to help save and fund for the trips. He explains it’s £250 to enter each competition then with upkeep of the equipment and expenses you’ve already spent £1,000 before she’s even hit the ball!
Jennifer attends Cockburn High School in Beeston and is at a crucial point in choosing her options, but she is staying focused on both school and golfing which is her life. She has a close group of friends that understand her passion for the game and support her. Her family are a great support too. Craig has committed most of his spare time to helping and travelling with Jen. They both admit though, at times they do argue over which clubs to use.
Phillip is now monitoring Jen’s ability and skill. Apparently Jen hits more to the right, however, understanding the types of clubs determines the direction the ball will travel. Jen also has a fitness coach who is helping her learn fitness techniques in the gym. Phillip stresses the point that talent at this stage has to be nurtured and they have a holistic approach to the sport.
Phillip says “Athlete first, golfer second.”
If you would like to help support Jen take the next step towards her golfing dream there is a link www.gofundme.com/nciuz8 where you can make a donation. You can keep up to date with the her progress via the Twitter feeds south Leeds life will be posting. You have one more follower – we’ll be rooting for you Jen!