KirkwoodGolf: Scots Jess Meek and Clara Young have proved first-class recruits

Monday, March 28, 2016

Scots Jess Meek and Clara Young have proved first-class recruits

Europeans have played key roles in Missouri University women's team's resurgent season

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Photo illustration of Missouri women’s golfers, from left, Emma Allen of England, Jess Meek of Scotland, Clara Young of Scotland and Marit Harryvan of the Netherlands, who have led the Tigers to one of their best seasons since 2008   Picture by Daniel Brenner/Tribune

A resurgent season by the Missouri University women’s golf team is nearing its conclusion with only one tournament remaining before the start of the Southeastern Conference Championships on April 15 at Hoover, Alabama.
But coach Stephanie Priesmeyer has every reason to think her Tigers — 24th in’s rankings — will be playing beyond that.
They are positioned to secure the program’s first NCAA regional berth since 2008 after posting two victories in the fall, including a record-shattering performance in their home tournament, the Johnie Imes Invitational, and three top-five finishes in five events since.
“They’ve been the best that we’ve had in a long time,” said Priesmeyer, who’s seen her team place ahead of top-50 teams Iowa State, Tennessee, East Carolina, Texas, Miami, Vanderbilt and Ohio State along the way.
Michelle Butler, a fifth-year senior from Dunedin, Fla., has anchored Missouri’s line-up, posting a team-best stroke average of 72.1 in eight tournaments. The team also has received contributions from December graduate Haelena Schwemmer and freshman Amanda Kim, an O’Fallon native who’s worked her way into the lineup for four events.
But there’s no way the Tigers could be enjoying the success they’ve had were it not for a quartet of European players who’ve turned in some of the top individual performances in school history.
Junior Jess Meek, who hails from Carnoustie, Scotland, posted the lowest 54-hole total by a Tiger when she won the Johnie Imes with a score of 15-under-par 201 in September among three top-10 finishes.
Sophomore Clara Young, a native of North Berwick, Scotland, also beat the old mark in the same tournament with a 207 and would have equalled the record-low round of 6-under 66 had Butler not fired a 65 the same afternoon at The Club at Old Hawthorne.
Freshman Emma Allen, who grew up in Southampton, England, scored her first top-10 finish as a collegiate player when she finished the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown with 10-under 206 in late October.
All three have stroke averages lower than the record 73.97 former standout Julia Potter finished with during her junior season in 2008-09. Allen’s 73.08 is on pace to set the MU freshman record.
“We’ve had that experience of traveling and going to big events,” Meek said. “I think just the maturity level of the freshmen that have come in and the Europeans that have come in is extremely useful to have.”
Late enrollee Marit Harryvan, a native of Winschoten, Netherlands, has been no exception since joining the program in January. She already has competed in two tournaments and appears to have a bright future after tying for 24th with three rounds of 75 or better in last week’s MountainView Collegiate in Arizona.
It’s the result of a concerted effort by Priesmeyer and assistant coach Mindy Bullard that all four found their way to Columbia.
“I’d made a decision to check out the European Girls Team Championships,  thinking we need to get some of those top European players if we could to help our team get some improvement,” Priesmeyer said.
Every SEC team except Alabama can count at least one international student among its ranks, and most rosters feature three or four hailing from around the globe.
Priesmeyer had coached players from overseas before. Swede Maria Ohlsson was on the roster when she took over the program in 2001, and she later signed Swede Madde Augustsson and Englishwoman Hannah Lovelock.
Her decision to look abroad again was not so much to gain a step on the competition as it was to catch up.
“When you go to that event, you’re literally looking at the best players in their countries, and there are 25 coaches there,” Priesmeyer said. “So it’s a big event. It’s very popular. Some of the best coaches in the country, best teams in the country, are doing that, so to compete with those teams, we just felt like we needed to step that up a little bit.”
She first laid eyes on Meek and Young playing for Scotland at the 2012 European Girls Team Championships in Germany. Bullard watched Young again the next year in Sweden. Priesmeyer uncovered Allen playing in the 2014 Girls British Open Amateur Championship in Northern Ireland, and both coaches were in Czech Republic for the European Girls Team Championships in July, trying to find someone who could bolster this year’s roster, when they stumbled upon Harryvan and saw her swing.
Harryvan hadn’t given any thought to playing college golf in the United States before meeting Priesmeyer and Bullard. That set her apart from her European teammates.
Young and Allen said they were 15 or 16 when they began thinking about the possibility of playing college golf on this side of the Atlantic.
“I realized there were so many opportunities out here,” said Young, who like most European players made the decision to come to the United States with an eye on testing herself to see how she measured up against other women who’ll one day play on the LPGA Tour.
Allen saw shorter-term benefits, as well.
“I just always liked the idea of coming out to America to play golf,” Allen said. “It’s kind of like an adventure.”
The recruiting process is different when recruiting international students. Email and Skype make it easy enough to overcome the distance when it comes to communication and building relationships between coaches and prospects. More challenging are the educational differences, which can make it difficult for prospects to meet all the NCAA requirements, including ensuring they’ve taken all the required core courses.
Harryvan, who knows four languages but is not a native English speaker, had to take the SAT more than once and needed to get her high school transcripts translated from Dutch to English.
Meek and Young first met when they were 11 or 12 and were team-mates for several years on the Scottish national team, so it wasn’t a surprise that Young consulted Meek during the recruiting process, though Young committed to Missouri before Meek started school.
“It was kind of like the blind leading the blind,” Meek said.
In some ways, European players are no different than any other freshmen in that they have apprehensions about living on their own for the first time and how well they’ll be able to make friends.
But they also have to get used to cultural differences, some relatively minor.
When Harryvan joined her teammates for a dinner at Chili’s a couple of weeks after her arrival, she was confused when she finished her drink and her server, unprompted, brought her another.
“In Europe, you have to pay for a new one, so I was like, ‘Well, I didn’t ask for one,’ because I didn’t want to pay for an extra drink,” Harryvan said. “Everyone was like, ‘It’s free refills.’ ”
She was no different than the rest of her European teammates in saying she sometimes found herself missing the food from back home.
There are differences in school, as well. Harryvan didn’t know what a quiz was, and Meek said the concept of extra credit was foreign.
But maybe the biggest adjustment has been on the course, particularly for Meek, Young and Allen, who grew up playing on links courses in the United Kingdom.
American courses tend to be longer, challenge players to hit the ball higher and fly it onto the green and in some ways put more pressure on a player’s short game because they require one to adapt to different grasses, faster speeds and undulating putting surfaces.
“It’s been fun to learn a lot of different shots,” Young said. “I definitely came here to learn about my game and develop as a player.”
There will be more lessons to come, but that hasn’t stopped all four Europeans from having success, and the Tigers collectively have been thriving with a different mentality this season.
“I think we’ve had a really good mind-set with this team, where, even at the beginning of the year, we kind of made a pact to surrender the outcome — surrender the results, surrender the outcome,” Priesmeyer said. “We don’t talk about rankings. We don’t talk about winning. We’ve focused on what we’re doing right now.”
It’s been paying off, and they hope it will continue the remainder of the spring