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Open experience stands Watson in good stead for Curtis Cup test

THE only player on either side who crossed swords with the world's best players on the Old Course last summer, Sally Watson believes her experience of playing all four rounds in the Ricoh British Women's Open will stand her in good stead when she represents Great Britain and Ireland against the USA in the 35th Curtis Cup match tomorrow.

One of four Scots who make up half of the GB&I side, the teenager from Elie is understandably excited about the prospect in front of enthusiastic galleries of striving to help the home side win the trophy for only the seventh time since the biennial match began in 1932.

"I have great memories of the British Women's and so many experiences I treasure from the Old Course last year," Watson recalled. "I'm the only player in this match who has played the links off this yardage and in competition before. I think that must be a help, because you can never know too much about St Andrews. It's such a historic place and any chance you get to play here will stand you in good stead. To be part of another big event here is extra special."

As the rain came down in sheets yesterday and the wind howled across the ancient linksland, Watson knows she's going to face a completely different kind of test over the three days of foursomes, fourballs and singles in St Andrews from the target golf she plays in Florida.

"I've been home in Scotland for a few weeks and you do need to adjust to play those different shots on a links which you don't play in America," she reflected. "For example, I plan to hit a lot of 3 woods or rescue clubs from off the greens because it's such an effective shot at St Andrews. My coach has taught me how to shape shots, so I know how to draw and fade the ball or hit a little punch. For me that's the enjoyment of the game - controlling your ball. There are shots you have to play at the Old Course which you don't face anywhere else; that must be an advantage for us."

The Scottish Girls champion at 14 and a winner earlier this year of the Leadbetter Girls Championship, Watson, 16, has spent the last two years studying and refining her game at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Florida. Blessed with a shrewd head on young shoulders, the teenager says she won't neglect either the amateur scene or her education.

"I'll spend one more year at High School in America and then go to college. I love studying and practicing in Florida. The facilities there are unbelievable. It's the kind of place where you can find yourself working out in the gym with world class athletes such as Paula Creamer or Maria Sharapova. It's an unbelievable experience and something I feel privileged to be a part of.

"Academically, I'm now completely integrated into the American system, but the qualification I'll have will allow me to choose from a lot of universities. As things stand, the scores I had in March were good enough to get me into Stanford in California. I've already spoken to Mhairi McKay about her time there and she really enjoyed her experience. A lot of fantastic golfers over the years have studied at Stanford including Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.

"It's highly unlikely I would turn pro when I leave school. My academic qualifications are important to me. And the way the American system works, you can study for a couple of years, turn pro, then go back at any time to finish your degree.

"If you look at Tiger and Lorena Ochoa, the world No 1s, they both spent two years at college. It helps your golf to develop and is a stepping stone in life. I'm sure it will also help me to prepare for coping with life as a professional. When I've spoken to Scotland's professionals on the LPGA Tour, they all advised me to go to college. The message was there's no rush."

Understandably, Watson is enjoying spending time this summer with her mother Maggie and father Graham, the executive director of the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation. "Of course when I'm in Florida I miss my family and my parents," she added. "When you're living abroad at my age, it makes you appreciate what you've got at home."

As far as the Curtis Cup is concerned, Watson reckons the backing of the home galleries will also be significant this week-end. "I live just 20 minutes from here and half the village is going to come along," she grinned.

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