LG Meets: Ladies European Tour star Sophie Walker
Now taking part in her 10th season on the Ladies European Tour, Sophie Walker has already had many successful years as a professional golfer.
As the 2017 season gets underway, LG’s Harriet caught up with the player at the American Golf Show in Manchester to talk about life on tour.
Did you take to golf straight away?
No not at all. I think I first held a club when I was two, then I joined a club at 10. But I didn’t really enjoy it because I was playing with ladies in their 40s, which when you’re 10 seems really old.
But then a year later some of the lads who were in my class joined the juniors at Cleethorpes Golf Club with me and I started to really love it.
Do you always want to be a professional golfer?
I don’t think I did. I didn’t really see it as an option until I was 18 and the people I was playing against were all starting to turn pro.
I finished my degree in Sports Science and Business Management at Loughbrough University, then had a year of playing golf before I turned pro. I always just liked golf and I knew I wanted to be involved in golf or some kind of sport. Being a pro was a nice idea but I wouldn’t say that I dreamed of it from a young age, I just wanted to be good at it.
What was it about golf that you loved?
Mainly the fact that I was good at it! And that I could play with the lads, I couldn’t do that with other sports. I also enjoyed the competitiveness of it and the fact that every day was different.
With golf you can always continue to challenge yourself and set your own goals, you can’t do that with all sports.
Is it very competitive on tour?
I don’t think the European tour is too bad. It’s probably known as the friendly tour even though there’s so much talent on it. I think because there are so many English players, about 20 playing a week. Me and Holly Clyburn are from the same club, that’s how close we are.
You notice the competitiveness amongst the players from the smaller countries more, you can see that the Danish are all wanting to be top dog.
Who are you friendly with on tour?
A lot of the people I turned pro with have stopped now. But I hang out with the British girls like Carly Booth, Amy Boulden, and Kelsey MacDonald, and some of the Australians like Stacey Keating and Rebecca Artis.
Do you think it’s cliquey on tour?
No it’s no at all. There was a great photo taken recently of the players lounge where there were 15 tables free but everyone had chosen to sit together. There was me, Amy Boulden, Georgia Hall, Anne Van Dam from Holland, and Emily Pedersen from Denmark. So it’s not cliquey really, it’s just easier to sit with and go out to dinner with English speaking players.
Have things changed since you turned pro?
There’s still no support for the players. As soon as they come out of England Golf that’s it.
For me it’s like a conveyer belt, and it’s sink or swim as soon as you drop off. I don’t think that’s right and there should be some type of year rookie system. You go from getting everything to having to do it all by yourself. It would be nice to still be part of a team and have access to a national coach or to be able to wear some of the uniform.
Some of the girls do struggle because they’re so young and naive to it all, some of them are as young as 18. We still do very well to say there isn’t any professional team backing.
Do the younger players ever come to you for advice?
I always say to the English ones who have just turned pro that if they need help I’m always there. I’ll give them advice on caddies or where to stay. I just pass on what I’ve learnt over the years.
When I was 21 I didn’t know anything either, I had to ask the likes of Becky Brewerton what to do.
Is there a not-so-glamorous side to being a golfer?
Oh yeah! I’m sure there is in any job. We were staying in an apartment last week and the washing machine broke, which when you’re away on tour and you need to wash your clothes isn’t great!
If your luggage gets lost when you’re travelling that’s also a nightmare. In golf the highs are really high and the lows are really low. That’s what you have to try and manage.
Will you be competing as much as you can this year?
Yes but probably not so much in Asia as I’m not really sure that I want to travel that far. But I’ll play the ones in the Middle East and all the European events. We’re crying out for more European events and I’d love to have an English open. When I’ve finished on tour I’d like to try and help set one up.
Do you enjoy travelling so much?
Not as much as I used to. Economy class is a nightmare, but business is fine. Etihad sponser the tour now so we get a cheeky upgrade to business class when we fly with them. Your Golf Travel have also joined the tour so we are getting better accommodation, travel and flights.
But travelling can be lonely as you’re not always on the same flight as other people. Like if you’re on a flight to Australia you might not speak to anyone for 24 hours.
Have you had any real disasters or dramas while you’ve been on tour?
Not personally. But I know one player who took what she thought was her golf bag from a domestic flight in China and put it on her flight to Abu Dhabi, but actually it was some Chinese guy’s clubs. That was amazing! None of us had ever heard of anything like that. Trying to get her clubs back from a man in China wasn’t easy. She was only a rookie and I felt really bad for her.
Your coping mechanisms just become so much better when you have to travel so much. I notice that when I go on holiday with my friends. Little things that stress them out are just normal for me.
Do you ever miss home when you’re away?
I do, you just always feel like you’re missing out on things.
When we’re away we still all get together to watch Made In Chelsea. I love Olivia at the minute!
But it is quite isolating and you have to watch lots of box sets. It’s nice coming home. You never want to go out for a meal though, you always want to stay in and enjoy your own bed and a decent shower. Not living out of a suitcase and having more clothes is also great. You just open your wardrobe and think crikey I’ve got all these to choose from!
I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to wear a thermal top. I just don’t like them. It’s nice to dress up when I come home because you’re always in gym or golf clothes or just a pair of jeans.
Have you got to know Denise Van Outen while you’ve been doing the American Golf Show?
Yes she’s lovely. We had a kind of green room where we could all chat before we went on stage. It’s great to see someone like her who is into golf. She’s the opposite to the stereotypical image of a golfer that we’ve trying to knock down.
Do you think women’s golf is catching up with the men’s?
In sport men will always play more sport than women, that’s just the way it is. But if we can make it more accessible that will help.
Women just need to be more accepting of other women. They need to remember what it was like that when they used to work and couldn’t play golf every day. I’m not scared of saying that. It was the women who made me felt uncomfortable when I first got into golf, never the men.
What did you think to Muirfield accepting female members?
I don’t know why the media gave Muirfield so much attention. If they want to be men only they can be men only. Then they gave them the Open ten minutes after letting women in, it’s not for me that. It was given too much publicity and it gave golf a bad name. Because the other 99% of clubs aren’t like that.