WINNER TAKES IT ALL
David Fearnhead meets Sophie Lamb, a young Clitheroe golfer with a big future ahead of her. Photography: www.kevindiss.com
It’s late summer 2016 and after shooting four-over par on her opening round at the Ladies British Amateur Stroke-Play, Sophie Lamb’s chances of victory aren’t looking good. However, the Clitheroe teenager is not one to panic.
With dad Phil on the bag she goes on to shoot a tournament record 68 for her second round and her good form continues into the final day. She turns the corner on the final round with a 37 for the front nine, her closest rival can only manage 40.
That final back nine is to prove crucial. With a bogey on the 10th, followed shortly by a double-bogey it seems it might not be her day after all. Though champions are forged through adversity and three birdies on the back nine ensures the trophy is heading to the Ribble Valley.
“The first few days after were a bit surreal,” says Sophie, 18, as she reflects on her victory when we meet up at Clitheroe Golf Club. “I remember it quite well, the shots and the conversations I had with my dad. It’s nice memories.”
It was dad, Phil, who first put a club in Sophie’s hands. As an 11-year-old she could be considered a late-comer to the game as most professionals are already swinging a club by the age of eight. She was admittedly somewhat of a natural.
Added to her innate talent though has been many hours spent hitting balls on the practice range.
“Nothing ever comes easy in golf,” she says. “I work hard with my coach Graham Walker, but I guess if it does come naturally at the start it does help.”
Whilst her youthful face gives away her age, she has a maturity which belies those tender years. I ask her if she ever feels like she is missing out on doing just normal teenage things? “Sometimes, when you’re away and you see your friends going out, you miss it, but at the end of the day this is the career I want. Me and my boyfriend are both in the same position so that helps.”
The boyfriend is Marco Penge, a promising English golfer of Italian descent, who occasionally caddies for her. Sophie herself is half-Swedish. Her mother is a former basketball international for Sweden. It is through her, Sophie says, she gets an understanding of coping with the pressures of playing sport at a competitive level.
Her connection to Sweden is strong. A regular visitor, she also speaks fluent Swedish. But it made choosing whether to play for England or Sweden quite a dilemma: “At the time it was kind of hard to decide, but I live here and I started golf with my dad who is English. For the training it was more suitable to be here, but I still have Swedish flags on my golf clubs.”
The close family bond has proved instrumental in her success. Her father’s willingness to devote the necessary hours to caddying and travelling around the globe, not to mention the expense, have given opportunity to her talent.
“My dad says he prefers to watch, but I like having him on my bag. He’s very enthusiastic. If you ask my dad what I hit four years ago on a certain hole he’d remember. He knows every shot I’ve played. He’s always been there on the cold rainy days on the range. He just wants the best for me, so it was really nice to share that win at the British with him.”
“My parents make a good team. They push me to the extent that I need to be pushed, but not so I feel vulnerable or that I ever felt I was being forced to do it. They also make sure I switch off from golf when I need to.”
Switching off can be the hardest thing for someone so focused on success, but Sophie says she has no such worries.
“Usually I’ll play, and then do some practice after the round on whatever I feel I need to work on, I’ll go over my stats and then it’s no golf until the next day. At the most I might chat with my dad for five minutes about my round.”
Following her British Amateur Stroke-Play victory there are no plans to rush into professional golf. She’s adamant that she won’t be turning pro until at least after the Curtis Cup in 2018.
“The thing with golf is that you can play until you’re 50-odd. There’s no time limit. I don’t want to turn pro and not be ready. When I turn pro I want to be at the level all the other professionals are at.”