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EDITION 29 - MAY 2009
Student Athlete of the Month
Teenage golf star Kelsey MacDonald explains how playing sport from a young age gave kept her on the right track and is now helping her on her way to a university degree...

Nairn golfer Kelsey MacDonald is the latest in a long line of students who have staked a claim at golfing success through a scholarship at Stirling University.  Past successes include US Amateur Open Champion Richie Ramsay, European Tour player Lynn Kenny and Solheim Cup star Catriona Matthew.

Here, Kelsey tells ITWZ that, in her case, sport really has made a significant impact on how she has grown up, and how she just may carve out a career in golf...

WZ:  Tell us a bit about yourself Kelsey.

KM – I am 18.  I started golf when I was nine years old.  I lived across the road from Nairn Dunbar Golf Club, so my mum used to always tell my twin brother and I to go and play golf when we were younger.  She wanted us out of the house but also wanted to know where we were.

My dad didn’t start golf until he was 30 and my mum doesn’t play, but he really wanted us to start sport really early.  I played football, golf and a lot of other sports as well, including badminton, tennis and swimming. 

I also did ballet which I didn't really like but it was good for my football and to keep my strength up and that was until three years ago and started when I was four years old.

WZ – At what point did you realise that you were good at golf? 

KM – It was when someone said I should get a handicap. My first handicap was 45 when I was 10 years old. But after the first year I came down to 26 – a big jump. 

I was pretty lucky that there was a girl, Laura Walker, who was at my club who was six years older than me.  She was able to give me lifts when my mum was working.  My dad is off shore so he is never really home.  She took me out and entered me into all the competitions, like the under 16s at Drumoig.

That was my first Scottish tournament and it kicked off from there.  I thought I had started really early but compared to a lot of the other girls I have started later. 

I got picked for the European girls when I was 15 years old, in Switzerland for Scotland. It was the youngest team they had ever had – Carly Booth, Sally Watson, Me and Krystle Caithness. So I think it was really the season after that that I had realised that I could represent my country.  That is all I wanted to do.  No matter if it was any other sport – all I wanted to do was represent my country. 

WZ: Why were your parents so keen for you to play golf? 

KM – Nairn is quite a rough area and when we went to high school everyone wanted to hang about the streets and we just got told to go to the course and hit balls.  There was quite a big group of us in my year at school that played golf and we have all turned out pretty normal now because we didn’t hang about the streets.

Nairn is well known for being the capital of the Highlands and Islands for underage drinking and all sorts of stuff.  It is pretty bad that way for youths, there is nowhere to go.  So they would always hang about the high street and people used to drink and get into trouble whereas we were able to go and have fun at the golf course, even if it was just playing pool. 

It was so much better with the group that I was with, now they are all pretty much at University doing something rather than at home wasting their time. 

On the other hand some people that I was really good friends with, I don’t even talk to now because they are so the opposite of me now and out every night taking drugs and drinking and not really doing anything with their life. 


WZ:  What position are you currently?

KM – I am in the Great Britain and Ireland Ladies squad. Through lack of money I wasn’t able to play that many tournaments compared to others. Quite a lot of girls played the Portuguese, Spanish, French tournaments and they were able to get noticed but I wasn’t able to do that due to time, the fact that I don’t drive and I couldn’t afford to go to these places and play the tournaments.

So every tournament I play in I have to be that much better than everyone else to get noticed.  Stirling offered me a scholarship and I was able to go to America and play.  I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t here, so I guess that was a really big opportunity for me to get noticed.

WZ: And what is your next step?

KM – The Curtis Cup, hopefully next year in America.  Then I hope to turn pro. 

I will do Tour School, maybe in two years time, but just for the experience, not really to get my card but to get familiar because I think a lot of people go from amateur to professional.

WZ: Amateur and pro are very different aren’t they?

KM –I think with amateur everyone knows each other and we are all friends. When you go to play professional then everyone else is there to make money and they are there for themselves. You are quite isolated and a lot of people get lonely.  Often they are out there by themselves or with their caddy and not meeting other people.  Everyone is out there just to get their money and make a living.

WZ: So now you’re on a golf scholarship at Stirling University, studying sports psychology.   How does your daily routine differ from ‘traditional’ students?

KM – Obviously each semester changes with your timetable here but I have practice sessions on a Monday and a Wednesday.  I make sure that what I practice is productive enough that I will benefit from it.  I usually only practice for 45 mins, not for too long because I don’t think I would gain anymore from that.

Then I have weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I have to do cardio-vascular (CV) work three times a week.  I have had a sore knee so I have not been able to do my lower body weights recently.  So I have been doing certain weights but only three times a week. 

With Psychology you have labs from 9am - 1.30pm, then you have to do a report from then to be handed in the next day.

I find it hard to catch up on stuff that I have missed because I am away a lot with golf.  I am very tired all the time and need to work pretty hard to get through University and with my golf.

WZ: The strength and conditioning is obvious but what is the CV for?

KM – CV is to help you keep a balance around the golf course.  For example if you hit a bad shot then your heart rate will be pretty high because you are angry or you hit a good shot then you will be buzzing with adrenaline.  So CV just helps to keep you level with the course. 

You don’t want to dip 3 holes from the end, when they are quite important.  So if you are up and you want to win that game then those three holes, you have to be pretty strong and mentally. I think CV helps you maintain a much more level heart rate. 18 holes is 4 ½ hours and very long to keep your concentration.
WZ:  So you are on one hand studying the theory of the mental part of sport and then playing it and trying to use it also?

KM – It is so hard to know how to do it with golf.  We are told to be confident and more positive and if you hit a bad shot then it’s not a big deal, but it’s so hard to practice drills with golf.

If you hit a bad shot then you obviously have to release the anger and not keep it in but studying psychology you are able to help with other things around golf as well, like off the course as well as on the course.  It does help if you practice, even just the breathing techniques. 

It is interesting because I didn’t really know anything about psychology before I came to University and because I was studying it has definitely helped my golf.

WZ: Mental strength is obviously massive but if you were to stay that a percentage in golf is mental and percentage is physical then how would you divide that?

KM – I would say 70% mental and 30% physical.

People sometimes don’t understand why they do certain things on the golf course.  They can say they are confident but it is being able to do it every time and to break the habit as well.  I think people should definitely be given help with the psychology part of it to all sports.

WZ: Do you think that confidence is the key mental trait?

KM – I think that people from Scotland tend to not be open to say that they are the best and they are going to win. We did a psychology workshop in Spain and when someone mentions to me that I am good at golf I always say I am alright, but Americans are more confident and say that they are good. A lot of people that play sport in Scotland don’t let themselves think they are good.

I think with confidence it is knowing that you can win but without telling people all the time that you are going to win.

WZ:  So what is it that you know now that you didn’t know before?

KM – That you can make mistakes.  There are 70 shots in a round so you are going to make a bad shot and always thought I was in control of my own shots and couldn’t understand why I had hit a bad shot.
Now I know that I just have to let it go and know that wherever you are on the golf course you can get out of that trouble. It is just about believing.

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