Country girl hits the world stage

Stacey Keating’s path to Ladies European Tour professional is not one that you would expect in this modern era of children swinging a club from birth.

As a young girl growing up on a farm in Cressy, south-western Victoria, netball and tennis was all country girls like Keating played.

Her home town, with a population just nudging 100, didn’t even have a golf course.

With her parents busy tending the sheep and crops, it was Keating’s grandparents who introduced her to golf when she was 12. They took her up the road to the bustling town of Colac. A town with a population a touch over 10,000 and more importantly, its own golf course.

Still, she wasn’t immediately hooked. Netball and tennis remained constant and in Keating’s own words, she just “hacked around the golf course every now and then.”

Hacking or not, the teenager’s talent was clearly evident. In a short space of time, with incredibly no lessons and no help, Keating was able to chop and chip her way to a handicap of 8.

“I didn’t have a lesson until I was 18 when I moved to Melbourne to study at university,” the 24 year-old said in her understated way.

Country girl hits the world stage Stacey Keating

“There just wasn’t anyone around at home to help.”

Her first lesson was with Steven Giuliano in 2005, from the Le Brocque Golf Academy based at Sanctuary Lakes.

“Once I had my lessons I just started practising. I was off a handicap of 8 when I started having lessons and then it just kept going down and down,” she said.

“I was hooked and solely played golf. I was going out each week and just improving and improving.”

Three years after her first lesson, Keating was holding aloft one of the world’s top amateur trophies, the Canadian Amateur in 2008 and last year she won the most prestigious title this country has to offer, The Australian Amateur Championship.

The Ladies European Tour (LET) is a long way from the wheat fields of Cressy, but Keating is looking forward to the challenge – a challenge she is ultimately glad she waited for.

Keating could have turned pro last year after the December 2009 LET qualifying school but her patchy finish meant she only gained conditional status. Playing every week was not guaranteed.

“I didn’t think it was worth it,” she said.

“Getting through tour school in 2010 was great after the disappointment of the previous year but after the 2010 that I have had, I have zero regrets, not one.”

Keating had her most successful time as an amateur last year, securing four national ranking titles and was a member of the winning Trans Tasman Team and the Victorian side that captured the Gladys Hays Interstate Series. She also won the coveted Karrie Webb series.

Her success ensured the 2010 December Q school was a much more pleasant experience.

“I think I was much more prepared for it this time after having the year that I have had being able to win a few events and really feel like I was dominating,” she said.

“There is nothing better than winning, whether it is your Saturday comp or whatever for your confidence, so I went over there feeling really confident.”

Keating finished fourth and now has a full playing card for 2011.

“I am really looking forward to testing my game against the best in the world and hopefully I can do alright and never go back to tour school and never have to go through that again,” she said.

With so much natural talent don’t expect to see Keating ploughing the wheat fields of Cressy any time soon.