Chloe Ryan was a relative late-comer to golf. So far she’s been busy making up for lost time.
At 14, golf was barely on the radar of the Limerick teenager. She had tried her hand at most sports growing up, swimming and hockey chief among them, yet it wasn’t until the intervention of Arthur Pierse that Ryan began to hone a talent that has since put her on the international stage.
“I had no idea who he was,” says Ryan of her first encounter with Pierse, a legend of the Irish amateur game having played Walker Cup in 1983. Ryan was just idly hitting balls that day in Tipperary when Pierse first spotted her but in his mind he saw the hidden potential. From that day, he’s been fine-tuning her swing.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” says Ryan. “He said I had a fast pair of hands and I was quite strong. He’s been teaching me ever since.”
Within a couple of months Ryan improved dramatically and started winning prizes in junior competitions at her home club, Castletroy.
Her competitive instincts had been fired so she kept travelling to Tipperary on Saturday mornings for lessons with her new mentor.
“We just hit eight irons on the range just to build up my swing,” Ryan recalls of those weekend sessions with Pierse. The following year Ryan had graduated to the inter-provincial scene and picked up her first Irish cap at 15.
“I really didn’t have time to even think about it,” she says. “I didn’t really expect to get anywhere near the level I’m playing at now.” For the last four years Ryan has been operating at the elite end of Irish ladies amateur golf, coming into the ILGU’s High Performance programme as far back as 2011.
As much as her own game has improved, she has seen first-hand the changes to the ladies coaching system.
“At the beginning, there wasn’t much golf to it,” she says of her initial experience in 2011. “This year is the best year we’ve had. We’ve five top coaches with us every weekend we’re at the Heritage.”
The High Performance Panel have been travelling to the Heritage in Co Laois during the winter as part of their preparations for the 2015 season.
Under the guidance of David Kearney, the ILGU’s High Performance Manager, the coaching regime has expanded considerably. Most recently, the panel spent a full week at the Heritage in February, where the players had access to a wide range of coaches covering everything from short game to strength and conditioning.
“You have to be an athlete,” says Ryan, who has taken her off-course preparation to a whole new level thanks to the help of former Irish Amateur champion Robbie Cannon, now a respected golf fitness coach.
“I think Robbie has become the most important part now,” says Ryan. “I love going to the gym and doing the workouts. You’re building up your weaknesses.”
The benefits have been visible on the course. Ryan reckons she’s now hitting the ball 40 yards further than she was four years ago. Playing 36 holes in one day is no problem.
Better still, she can get up and do another 36 the following day. This year she has also put more of a focus on nutrition in the search for more energy and greater focus during rounds.
“I wouldn’t have thought about it (nutrition) as much as I do now. I know what I have to eat now beforehand to be ready to go and what to be eating during a tournament.”
Porridge with fruit, nuts and honey has become a staple at breakfast. Almonds, cranberries and raisins sustain her while she’s playing.
It’s a demanding regime but it’s one that she enjoys. It’s also what she’s used to. Currently in her third year studying law at UCD, Ryan is rarely idle.
“I’m enjoying it. I get time for my friends and my boyfriend. It’s a case of managing your time really well.” After her summer exams, she will be focused on golf for 12 months as she opts to take a year out of college before completing her degree in 2017.
It’s the best of both worlds, the chance to devote herself to something she loves while her career takes shape in the background.
“I’m working really hard on everything so hopefully things will come together. The problem with golf is that it’s not a certain game,” says Ryan but given her appetite and ambition, she’s already got the foundations firmly in place.