McCarthy moving among game's elite
Julie McCarthy, Picture: Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics

Julie McCarthy, Picture: Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics

Irish women's golf is on a high with Forrest Little's Julie McCarthy the latest star to emerge following her maiden US collegiate win in the Clemson Invitational on Tuesday.

As Lurgan's Maeve Cummins broke through to win the SAC Championship for Carson-Newman University this week, 20-year old McCarthy achieved one of her career ambitions by finishing joint winner at The Reserve in South Carolina.

Maeve Cummins in the winner’s circle

Maeve Cummins in the winner’s circle

She followed a career-low, six-under 66 with a 70 to share the lead going into the final round with Tennessee's Micheala Williams before poor weather forced organisers to abandon the last day and declare them joint winners.

It was just the result that McCarthy was looking for as she bids to turn a remarkable second season with Auburn University into an unforgettable one.

She's already set to represent the International team in the prestigious Palmer Cup at The Alotian Club in Arkansas from June 7-9.

But she will also now be on the radar for the selectors for the Vagliano Trophy match against the Continent of Europe at Royal St George’s from June 28-29.

"It was fantastic," Julie said yesterday as she dashed into a test at the Alabama university, where she is majoring in accounting. "Unfortunately they had to cancel the last round due to the weather but it was great to get the win.

"I've been working very hard and playing well after a lot of hard work with the coaches here and Shane O'Grady at home. It's a nice boost."

Not only is McCarthy now set to break into the world's top 100, she's ranked amongst the best collegiate players in the US and yesterday she was named SEC Golfer of the Week.

"It's great," McCarthy said. "I wasn't really expecting it until Coach (Melissa) Luellen told me. We've all been playing pretty good as a team, and I think it's finally starting to come together heading into next week and the SEC championship."

While her first win in the Clemson Invitational has yet to be computed, she was ranked fourth in the NCAA Women's Division I rankings behind three of the world's top players — world number three Andrea Lee, world number four Frida Kinhult  and world one Jennifer Kupcho, the winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur.

A two-time Irish Girls champion, she didn't start at Auburn in January last year and after a tough initial period trying to find her feet, she's blossomed this season.

"It's been going brilliant and I am loving it over here,"  said Julie. "I would have been late starting the first semester, so we thought it was better to start in January and be completely ready.

"It really helped with the transition and it helped me settled in but the first six months were challenging — being away from home for the first time away from friends and family. 

"I had to get used to a new schedule and learn how to combine college work with practice and workouts. But once i got settled in it was really good."

McCarthy's day starts when the alarm goes off at 5:40 am and she heads to the gym for workouts at 6:15 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before heading to class.

The afternoons are reserved for golf, and with the team playing a high-profile collegiate event every two weeks at the height of the season, she's made huge strides with her game.

While her stroke average in her first year was 75.5, it's now 71.9 and falling rapidly.

"It's just been a combination of everything," said Julie, who won the Irish, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht Girls titles in 2016 and played on Ireland's Ladies Home internationals winning team in 2017.

"My putting still needs work but I am holing a lot more than last year and feeling more comfortable with my swing. 

"When you are hitting more fairway and greens and a few more putts are dropping, it makes a big difference.

"Working with the coaches here and Shane back at home and getting to practice at great facilities and then travel around to play great tournaments with strong fields every two weeks in summer and spring has been really good."

Auburn will be gunning for a deep run in the NCAA Division I championship this year and after following a run of four top-five finishes in five starts with a first win has been a dream come true."

Making teams is always a goal but McCarthy is happy to let her clubs do the talking, especially when it comes to talk of selection for the Vagliano Trophy

"I am just trying to keep playing my best and if it comes, it comes," she said. "The important thing is that the work is paying off and the scores are starting to come."