Broken ankles and break-ins – Holly Clyburn's year on the LPGA Tour
The last time I spoke to Holly Clyburn she had just landed at Gatwick Airport in December 2015. She was en route from Florida to the season-ending event in Dubai having just secured her card for the LPGA Tour.
This was the golden ticket; the place to test your skills against the best in the business and was very quick revenge on a Q School where Clyburn had been disqualified after being on the wrong end of one of the stupidest rules in the game.
The Cleethorpes youngster was at the second stage, opened with a solid 71 and then her playing partner, Justine Lee, got into a disagreement with a volunteer over her own score, a 78. The Australian left the scorer’s tent having failed to sign Clyburn’s card and the English player, instead of finishing the first day in a tie for 11th, had the letters DQ next to her name. Lee was able to play on (she didn’t make it).
So, naturally, Clyburn’s hopes were high and everything was rosey. The path to this point had all been fairly seamless, her amateur career had boasted two Curtis Cup appearances, including a leading role in the victory at Nairn in 2012. A year later she won on Tour and was narrowly pipped to the Rookie of the Year by her Nairn team-mate Charley Hull. Her seventh place on the Money List was improved upon the following and the switch from the unpaid to the paid ranks had been seamless.
Media days would take place and Clyburn was front and centre, a great advert for the LET and any tournament. She’s normal, fun and down to earth and, having played with her a couple of times, ridiculously talented. Lots of players are really good, Clyburn is well beyond that. The next logical step was the LPGA Tour albeit if it had been delayed by a year.
Then, after a solid enough start to her new life in the States, the upward curve hit the buffers. The easy assumption, just going by the scores, was that Clyburn was struggling with the step up in class. But that doesn’t even get close to the actual story of her 2017 which ranged from unlucky to fairly horrific…
How comfy were you starting out on the LPGA Tour?
I knew a lot of girls from co-sanctioned events and British Opens etc but we have our little gangs on the LET where we room together or eat together. On the LPGA the players have their teams with them and are pretty family orientated. It is expensive enough just having a caddy let alone bringing along your family members.
I didn’t base myself anywhere, I saw my sister, India, who is at college in North Carolina a couple of times but I did two stints of eight weeks on the road and I regret that now. I should have come home even if it was for two days.
I made loads of friends but not ones you would room with. A lot of players do private housing where you stay with a family and I enjoyed that in Canada, hotels week in week out can get boring.
How do you entertain yourself for eight weeks on the road?
Go to the gym, I lost two dress sizes and two and a half stone. My fitness levels went through the roof, I wasn’t thin and fatigued, I just had loads of energy. If I had a couple of hours spare I would go to the gym.
There were some amazing bits too obviously, in Canada I went up Banff and Lake Louise and did some hiking and it was incredible to stay in the Atlantis hotel in the Bahamas.
And the early-season form was OK?
Yeah, I sneaked a top 20 at the Kia Classic in San Diego and I missed out on the ANA, the first major of the year which was the week after, by $75. So I then had some time out and went to see my sister as my next start was in Hawaii.
And then on to the Swinging Skirts on the outskirts of San Francisco?
That was just a horrible week. Jo Morley had been on my bag since the Open at Turnberry the previous summer and this was the last week of our long stretch on the road and we were both ready to go home.
We were on the second hole and Jo just went over, the bag went over her head and seeing someone go down was just horrible. My mum had come out so I screamed to her as Jo couldn’t get up. She had broken her ankle and then spent four hours in a walk-in clinic.
A greenkeeper stood in to carry the bag but trying to hold your emotions for another four hours was very hard work, I could easily have pulled out. But that wasn’t quite the end of the week..
What happened then?
On the Sunday morning we went into San Francisco as I wanted to show my mum this coffee place I always went to. We couldn’t get a space as it was church time so I took this turning and saw a space.
We were gone 20 minutes but the car had been broken into and everything, my passport, laptop, English phone, had been stolen. Well everything apart from my clubs.
At that moment I just hated my job, the country I was in and my own head. I just wanted to leave but couldn’t, I was a wreck. I even thought I saw a guy with my backpack and chased him down the street.
So we had to drive six miles to take the car back, get another hotel, take the car back to the LPGA event and couldn’t get a flight home until the Tuesday night obce we had got a new passport.
I didn’t touch a club for the next two weeks.
What did you do for a caddy?
My sister India did Kingsmill. I was eight over at the turn on the first day, I don’t remember ever being that bad and she gave me a good talking to and I played the next 27 holes in five under.
All my golfing friends are pros so they play themselves or have full-time jobs and my other friends work or have families.
How good is the standard on the LPGA?
It’s ridiculous, even if it is chucking it down there will be 10 people putting in the rain. Someone is always working. That was why I lost the weight, I wanted to be like the others on the range or in the gym. It is such a high standard, the best in the world.
At the KPMG at Sahalee, which is the third major of the year in June, I didn’t have the game for it. It was beautiful but one of the hardest courses I’ve ever played. You really had to shape the ball both ways and I couldn’t do that. It wasn’t a surprise when Brooke Henderson won as she is so good off the tee.
How much did you play to your potential over the year?
Maybe the Kia where I was 20th. It was a struggle, I was working hard and putting in the hours in but it wasn’t paying off.
My coaches, Graham and Mike Walker, have always said to try and teach myself as they wouldn’t be there 24/7. I wasn’t with Mike last year but I got back with him in January and things are already a lot better.
With Graham we had to do a lot of video lessons over the phone but that’s not the same as someone standing next to you and showing you the moves.
It was a funny year as well with the Olympics as the schedule was split and so there was even more travelling.
Your LPGA season ended in Canada with a pair of missed cuts, a pretty disappointing end to your rookie year?
I needed two steady weeks to make the cut and keep my card but I didn’t play on either weekend.
So I came home and posted something on Instagram explaining how tough the year had been. I played in an LET event the week after and so many people came up and said how brave I was.
It was written for the people who look online and think she’s not good enough, she’s missed another cut. We’ve all just scrolled down the scores and just made assumptions from looking at them but things aren’t always as they seem.
How good was it to get all that off your chest?
There was so much of almost relief to post it, it took a lot of weight off my shoulders and I finished the season off quite strongly in Europe. I saw a lot of old faces, friends caddied me for me in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and I just felt like I was more myself, and more like the person who got their LPGA card the previous December.
Where is your game now?
I can shape the ball again now, I’ve changed equipment to Callaway and am back with Mike and I really trust what he’s telling me. I’ve invested in a FlightScope launch monitor and now I think it’s a matter of time.
I’ve got a conditional status this year on the LPGA which should mean about 10-12 starts but they have two re-ranks within the first six months.
If I make the next two cuts I could have full status back. Your season and life can flip very quickly.
What has been the best advice you’ve had in the past 12 months?
To never stress out too much, at the end of the day the LPGA will always be there, it’s not going to disappear, it’s only going to get bigger and bigger. And I know that I can play good enough.
It had been three years of riding this amazing wave and I thought, it wasn’t easy but I could do this for another 10 years. Last year was good but don’t ask me to go through that again.
But you are?
I am but hopefully it won’t be with my caddy break their ankle, Jo’s still recovering now, or my car to be broken into.
So what will you do differently this year?
Definitely enjoy it more, I am that sort of person and I like to experience new things. Trust in my game more and how good I can be and try and get that cockiness back. I’m pretty thick skinned, I’m from Cleethorpes, I think a lot of northern people are, you have to be. I’m not a southern softie!