Marian Riordan hopes that beauty can conquer the beast when she becomes the first woman to tee it up in the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA at The European Club today.
Pat Ruddy’s magnificent Brittas Bay links has brought some of Ireland’s best to their knees over the years, no more so that last season's Irish championship, when the cut fell at a whopping 19 over par
But Ladies European Tour pro Riordan, 28, is hoping that she can use brain power to her advantage when she goes toe to toe with the likes of triple major winner Padraig Harrington and the cream of Ireland’s club professionals in the country's oldest professional championship.
A modest 250-yard hitter (with run), Tipperary native Riordan earned her place in the field when she shot a six over par 77 on the Wicklow wonderland eight weeks ago to share fourth place in an 18-hole qualifier.
And she’s banking on her mental strength and patience to make up for her lack of muscle off the tee in an event that Harrington will be bidding to win for the sixth time since 1998 and the fourth in five years.
She explained: “I don’t try and compare myself with the guys. They are blasting it 300 yards with ease and I probably carry it 230 yards and it goes 250. But I work with (PGA pro) Gillian Burrell on keeping calm on the golf course and that’s where I think I will have a little bit of an advantage over some of the younger guys this week because this course will push you to the limit.
“If you don’t know how to handle that - if you hit a bad shot and come away with a double or a triple - you are in trouble unless you can dig deep inside. Once it starts going badly here, it can go really badly.”
The European Club measures 7,355 yards off the championship tees but the Irish Region of the PGA will reduce that to around 7,089 yards for its members this week and put no more than 12 of the back tees in operation.
Under PGA rules, a woman professional plays a course up to 10 percent shorter than the men, which means that Riordan will be asked to negotiate a track of about 6,400 yards.
She said: “I get about 40 yards on the seventh, thank goodness, but after that it is around 10 or 15 yards on most holes. I am hitting at the front of the tee and they are at the back.
“I watched Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam play men’s events but you just can’t compete with the men off the same pegs. They just launch it. They hit it 300 yards easy. That’s massive and they don’t even have to go into first gear."
Launching the ball aimlessly is suicidal at The European Club where deep rough and visually intimidating, sleeper-faced bunkers are major hazards.
“You can’t miss the fairways here because if you do you are looking for your ball, you are hoping to find it and if you do find it, you are just hoping to dig it out," Marian said. "It is a penalty straight off. I am hoping the wind blows a little bit and the guys have to hit their drivers.”
With a conditional Ladies European Tour card, Riordan missed the cut by two shots on her tour debut in the AIB Ladies Irish Open at Portmarnock Links two weeks ago but hopes to do better this week.
While sponsors Ladbrokes have rated her a 500-1 rank outsider to win the tournament, the Greystones PGA trainee is just 9-1 to make the cut and has decided to back herself.
She said: “I’ve put a few bob on myself but I just take it one shot at a time. I am 500-1 with Ladbrokes to win the event and everyone else it 200-1. So I am not thinking about winning.
“But I am not thinking about making the cut either. If you do, you might just make it or you might miss by a shot or by loads. I am just thinking: hit fairways, hit greens in regulation and minimise the putts. Then come in and see how I have done.
“It’s great to make a little bit of history. All the members in Greystones know about it and a few people will travel up from Tipperary. There has been more hype about this event than there was for the Ladies Irish Open.”
Riordan will tee it up with Callan’s Michael O'Shea and Brian Kerley in the first two rounds but wouldn’t mind a crack at reigning Open and US PGA champ Harrington.
Asked how it feels to tee it up in the same field as a three-time major winner, she joked: “I doubt he is that nervous. I am sure he is not too intimidated."