Annabel Wilson — Irish golf’s great new hope
Annabel Wilson (Lurgan) in action during the2016  Irish Women's Open Strokeplay Championship at The Island. Picture: Ronan Lang  

Annabel Wilson (Lurgan) in action during the2016  Irish Women's Open Strokeplay Championship at The Island. Picture: Ronan Lang  

The American college dream beckons for many of Ireland's top amateurs, but one of the men behind the phenomenal success of Lurgan's Annabel Wilson reckons she could make a swift transition from teen star to the tour.

PGA professional Peter Martin has moulded 16-year old Annabel since she was just 11 years old. 

And having watched her meteoric progression, culminating in her call-up to the Great Britain and Ireland Vagliano Trophy team to take on the Continent of Europe in Italy on Friday, he'd love to see her by-pass America and go straight onto the LET or LPGA Tour.

US colleges are queuing up to sign a player who this year added the French Under 18 title to an already impressive list of achievements.

But Martin, himself a former Irish international, is already thinking outside the box.

"From seeing her from the age of 11 to winning the first two or three championships at the age of 13, I'd love to see her go to the Q-School to see how she gets on," said the former Balmoral player who runs the Colin Park Golf Academy just outside Belfast. 

Annabel Wilson of Ireland, plays her tee shot at the par 5 fifth hole, during the third round of the 2016 Espirito Santo Trophy at Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club in Riviera Maya, Mexico on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.  (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Annabel Wilson of Ireland, plays her tee shot at the par 5 fifth hole, during the third round of the 2016 Espirito Santo Trophy at Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club in Riviera Maya, Mexico on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.  (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons)

"I know she is getting loads of offers from US colleges, but if there is somebody in this country that can be a female version of Rory McIlroy and go down that Charley Hull route, it's Annabel. That's how highly I rate her.

"With Rory, everybody could see straight away that this kid was going to blow everyone away from a ball-striking point of view. 

"It's the same with Annabel. She just seems to hole clutch putts or hit clutch long irons under pressure. Under any sort of pressure at all, she just seems to go to the next level. That's something that's very rare in any game. 

"If she were a boy, you'd have management companies jumping all over her. 

"So I think with somebody of Annabel's ability, the ILGU should be encouraging her not to take up scholarships in the US but to be one of the first to become a Ladies European Tour or LPGA Tour player."

A two-time Irish Girls Close champion and Junior Vagliano team member, Wilson stepped up a level last year when she played alongside the world No 1 Leona Maguire and current No 9 Olivia Mehaffey and helped Ireland make history by winning bronze in the  World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico.

Having just turned 16, her talent marks her out as one of the best Irish prospects since McIlroy hit the scene 15 years ago.

There are no guarantees but her chances are surely as good as a whirl on the Royal Vegas video slots.

Annabel Wilson with the Irish contingent after winning Ireland's first medal. a bronze, in the 2016 World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico.

Annabel Wilson with the Irish contingent after winning Ireland's first medal. a bronze, in the 2016 World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico.

She helped Ireland win the Girls' Home Internationals for the first time last season, winning five points out of six, and is now on course to make the Junior Solheim Cup team.

America is something that attracts her — "I haven’t looked into it yet because I won’t be going until 2019 but it’s definitely something I would like to do,” she said.

But Martin truly believes she can break the mould and skip that stage.

"She is lucky she has had some great role models," Martin said of players like Mehaffey and Leona Maguire.  

She first came to prominence in 2014 when she won the Ulster, Leinster and Irish Girls’ Championships in the space of three weeks, then retained her Under-18 Irish Girls’ title at Galway Bay as a 14-year-old in 2015.

This year she's already achieved one of her ambitions by winning an international event, beating local favourite Elsa Ettori-Douard 3 and 2 in the final of the Under-18 Cartier Trophy in France.

Annabel is also a star performer in the classroom, and it's her work ethic, as much as her talent, which sets her apart.

"Her work ethic comes across to everyone," Martin said. "She's had an indoor putting green made for her and practices her putting nearly every day in winter for three or four hours.

"She is on study leave right now as she prepares for her GCSE's and she will play 18  holes at six in the morning, go back and study and then go back and practice in the evenings.

"After school, she'll go straight to the range or to a lesson or to play golf every day. She's really dedicated.

Jumping for joy with Olivia Mehaffey and Leona Maguire after their historic third place finish in Mexico last year.

Jumping for joy with Olivia Mehaffey and Leona Maguire after their historic third place finish in Mexico last year.

"The support of the ILGU has been fantastic, and she has a great relationship with Robbie Cannon, who does her fitness programmes."

It's important that the ILGU continues to carefully nurture a special talent, but Martin honestly believes she can step up to professional level quickly.

He said: "David Kearney, the ILGU's High-Performance Manager has revolutionised high-performance in women's golf here, but while he'd say the proudest moments are when somebody is offered a scholarship at a US college.

"But I sometimes say, 'Dave, let's look outside the box and think about the LET or the LPGA Tour route.' I'd like to change that mindset a little."

PING's UK club fitter Geoff Waddington, a man accustomed to watching Lee Westwood stripe it on the range, was blown away when he saw Wilson hit balls.

"He said, 'Does she know how good she is?'," Martin explained. "I honestly think she could go right to the tour. She's very good academically too—one of the lucky ones. 

"The US colleges are queuing up for her, but that could be three or four years away, and in the meantime, she might have gone to Q-School a couple of times to see how that went."

Whatever the challenge, it appears that this 16-year-old talent has that fearlessness you need to succeed.

"I’ve never been overawed,” she said. “I don’t play with fear. I just enjoy playing golf.”

With that kind of mindset, the sky's the limit for Irish golf's newest pearl.

What they say about Annabel Wilson

David Kearney (ILGU High-Performance Manager)

"Annabel's been with us for four seasons and she's embraced all aspects of a modern high-performance sports programme.  A player who is not inclined to panic, it was this quality—as well as her obvious prowess and international results—that earned her a spot in Ireland's successful Espirito Santo team last September where she showed her world-class potential at the highest level.

"A chilled kid who is great fun and great to be around, who knows what the future holds for her. I’m sure, given a fair wind, she will go on to even better things."

Robbie Cannon (ILGU Strength & Conditioning Coach)

"She has a swing to die for.  She hits a little draw and reminds me of Rory when he was 14 or 15. She worked hard all winter in the gym and has become a proper athlete. There's still lots of room for improvement but her coach Peter Martin has done an amazing job."

Chris Jelly (ILGU Girls Coach)

"She plays the game from tee to green with a grace I could compare to a young Rory Mcilroy and possesses tee to green stats that are up there with the world's best — averaging 14 greens in regulation and  240 yards off the tee which is fairly long in the ladies game."

Donal Scott (ILGU High-Performance Coach)

"Annabel is incredibly talented but it's her desire to learn and become the best player she can possibly be that has set her on the path she's on. I'm excited to see where that takes her."