Sunday, May 03, 2015

Danielle McVeigh rediscovers her love of golf 

after being reinstated as an amateur

Danielle McVeigh had to learn the hard way that  professional sport was not for her. But she has no regrets about her  career and after a year away from the game, she is rediscovering her  love of golf.

It  was on sunny afternoons playing alongside her late father, Thomas, that  Danielle McVeigh realised she was smitten. When she got the chance to  get out of school early one day, it was her dad who came with the offer.  Together they headed for the links at Royal County Down, mischievously  stealing some time away from the world.
“Mum  was away and she would have been stricter on me. Dad was like, ‘it’s a  nice day, let’s go play’,” says McVeigh, recalling what is now a  precious memory. 
“I remember it clear as day. It was a Thursday, we were  playing away and mum was none the wiser. We were coming up the 18th and  this man came out with a camera. He was doing an article on Royal  County Down. ‘Do you mind if I take a picture?’ 
"Next thing it was  in the papers the next day, me swinging on the 18th hole and mum was  like, ‘so, when was this taken?’” 
"Caught rotten," as McVeigh puts it. She  was 15 or 16 at the time and beginning to find out just how good she  could be. Aged 12, she got her first real taste of the game in Kilkeel,  her home club, and quickly progressed. Her first Irish cap came at the  European Young Masters in 2003 alongside another promising young player  from Co Down.
“I remember a short, chubby fella  and this massive big blazer on him,” says McVeigh, describing her first  encounter with Rory McIlroy. “I remember he had four pairs of golf  shoes. I was happy to have one pair.”
McIlroy, then 14, was a  year younger than McVeigh but their careers were on similar  trajectories. McVeigh would become a poster girl for Irish ladies golf

Her victory at the British  women's open amateur stroke-play championship at Royal Aberdeen  in 2009 setting her on the way to  Curtis Cup selection the following year when she won the Helen Holm Scottish women's open amateur stroke-play title at Troon. 
Danielle also played for GB and I against the Continent of Europe in the 2011 Vagliano Trophy match at Royal Porthcawl (picture at start of article is her in action in that international).
After completing a Business and  Management degree at Maynooth University in 2011, she turned pro,  chasing a livelihood from the game that had captured her imagination.
“I  had played the Women's British Open in 2007 at St Andrews, that was my first  introduction to professional golf,” she says. “It seemed like really  good fun just out playing golf every day, nothing else really mattered.  Playing St Andrews (in 2007) on a sunny day with nice people, that’s  what I thought I was getting into.”
The reality of life on  tour was far removed from that experience. Chasing her playing card was a  lonely pursuit though fear was a constant companion. Making the cut was  never enough. How could you expect to hole putts when your mind was  elsewhere?
“I remember at a tournament in the Azores and there were about 12 of us out for dinner and I remember thinking if I don’t  make the cut tomorrow, I’m not actually going to be able to afford heating oil in the house for the next month.

"Sure, lo and behold, I  missed the cut. I remember I was freezing for a whole month. I was going  for a run before I went to bed just to get myself a bit warmer.”
It  was a harsh working environment but she never expected success to come  easy in a world full of highly competitive people. In the end, she  realised it wasn’t the life she wanted to lead.
“I was having  to sacrifice different things in terms of relationships, even being with  my friends and my family,” she says. “I still kind of reckon that I  wasn’t selfish enough to actually be the best out there. "I think you  have to be very self-focused. Obviously I would be to a point and  that’s what got me to the level I was at in terms of competitiveness but  when you really need to put yourself first in all circumstances, I  don’t think I did that. I don’t regret not doing that because I don’t  think it is my personality.
Home for Christmas after the 2013  season, life had changed in so many ways. It was more than three years  since the death of her dad, Thomas, who was lost to cancer at the age of  54. And golf was not as simple as skipping out of school to play a few  holes in the sunshine at Royal County Down.
“I had no money, I couldn’t really go out,” she recalls. “It was scary. I was pushing towards being on the dole at that stage.”
She  was 25 and completely unsure about what to do but with the help of some  of her golf contacts, she plotted a new career path and soon picked up a  job with Qualtrics, a technology company, in Dublin.
“A lot  of the skills that you learn from playing golf, being independent,  self-motivated, driven, being a good leader, it’s helping me here (at  Qualtrics),” she says. “Motivation is one of the biggest things that I  had.

The tenacity it took to succeed at golf  has helped her through the transition. Putting the clubs away for a year  has allowed her develop new interests, like the guitar that often  accompanies her when she meets up with some golf friends each  month.
“I’ve got Molly Malone down to a t,” she says with a smile.  
Gillian O’Leary, Ailish McCartan and Maria Dunne can all vouch for her  burgeoning musical talent. The X-Factor may not be on McVeigh’s horizon  but golf could still give her cause to break into song as she rejoins  the Irish amateur circuit this summer.
“Right now I’m really  loving golf,” says the 26-year-old, who has been reinstated with a  plus-two handicap. 
“It’s kind of reignited my passion for it, the  passion I had for it when I was 15. I was always learning something, I  was just naturally curious.
"I lost that, especially as a  pro. Now I’m really keen to get out there, hit a few balls and figure it  out.” 
And so a new journey begins, golf having recaptured a piece of her  heart.