Briony Bayles talks national success, her new golfing ambitions and what the future holds with Dean Bailey.
For 16-year-old Briony Bayles, the last four months have been the best of her golfing career.
Having put her clubs away ahead of her GCSE exams, she committed to a packed schedule of summer golf which paid off in style when she won her first national title on the Old Course at St Andrews.
And as we went to print, Briony beat some of the best young players in the region at Chester-le-Street to claim the second Northern Golfer Junior Champion of Champions title – more on that in next month’s magazine.
On her first trip to the Home of Golf, Briony saw off some of the world’s best young female golfers to win the St Andrews Junior Ladies Open – including a 2&1 win over top seed Alison Muirhead in the semi-final before beating Jessica Bailey in the final of the event for the best female golfers aged under 23.
We last spoke the morning after Briony holed a 4ft putt on the 18th green to win the title. A month on, that moment has settled in and given her the confidence boost she had been searching for.
“It’s been an amazing few weeks since winning the biggest title of my golfing career so far,” says Briony, still beaming each time she talks about it.
“It was a special week, playing at St Andrews against some of the best young players in the world. To win finished off what had already been a fantastic experience.”
With the win, Briony joined an elite list of players which includes Ladies European Tour players Carly Booth and Anna Scott.
“Having let things sink in, it’s given me a huge confidence boost,” she said. “I’ve always felt like I could compete in those events but I wasn’t sure I could win them. To get the win, under so much pressure, has proven I can do it and given me the push I needed.
“It’s really changed my mindset and given me the belief I could make golf my career.”
A two-handicapper, Briony says she is at home at both Bishop Auckland, where she learned the game with her father David, and at Wynyard, where she has been a member for three years.
“I’m a big practiser; I love to get out on the range and working on my game, and developing my swing,” she says. “I don’t play too much golf at home, particularly this summer as I’ve concentrated on county and national events.
“I think it’s really important to have as much experience as possible and that means travelling to the big events and playing at St Andrews or Royal Birkdale as well as playing locally.”
Having played in a handful of national events each year since the age of 14, Briony admits she hasn’t felt entirely comfortable in the biggest tournaments in the past, but is now relishing the opportunity.
“This season has been a big turnaround for me. It’s the first time I’ve been able to fully commit to golf as I got my GCSEs out the way and could just play, focus my mind and go all out.
“Saying that, I’ve been really careful to split my time up and not play too much golf. It’s really easy to golf yourself out and I’ve spent time away from the course with my family and friends because I don’t want to just be all golf, golf, golf – right now it is just game.”
As well as her national success, Briony has won the junior club championship at both Bishop Auckland and Wynyard this summer, beating some of the county’s best young players, and some of her closest friend, to the titles.
“There’s a small but really talented junior section at Bishop and you have to play good golf to win the club championship. I played both rounds with Alex Stevenson and we had great fun – though we were obviously both playing to win.
“I played really well to win at Wynyard too, playing with Katana Hollins – who I’ve played a lot with and we get on with really well too.”
As well as competing against her friends at her home clubs, Briony has progressed through the Durham system with many of her friends, making it through to represent the county at Match Week – her favourite week of the golfing calendar.
“Alex and I shared a room at Penrith this year and played the foursomes together,” she says. “It was great to spend so much time with her having got on so well for so long. It’s a lovely atmosphere at Match Week and the girls are all so close.
“So many of us started together at the county girls camps and we have such a great time when we meet up. We would have never had that if we didn’t have that junior coaching. For all of us to still be playing and competing against one another is amazing.
“It’s a totally different pressure playing for the team and it reminds you of how passionate you can be playing golf. It’s amazing to play the last with all the girls cheering you on.”
Having first picked up one of her dad’s clubs in the back garden aged nine, Briony has been a member of Bishop Auckland since the age of 11, around the same time she started working with Steve Carpenter at Hedlam Hall.
“I’ve worked on my game with Steve since I started golf and he’s such a lovely guy to be coached by. He’s quite old school; we work on some technical stuff, but I really like his long-term approach to everything we do.”
Having found her confidence with success at St Andrews, Briony has a clear plan for the next stage of her golfing career.
“I’m starting my A Levels at Dyke House in Hartlepool and can’t wait to work with the coaches there and to be mentored by Graeme Storm like Jack Ainscough and Will Skipp have been in the last few years.
“I’d love to go on to play college golf in the US and get a degree while playing elite events. After that, who knows? I think most golfers dream of playing golf for a living – but there’s a long time before I have to make any decisions like that.”
With so much golf in this year’s diary, Briony’s dad David has been key to her fulfilling her potential, and has watched every step of her golfing career so far – feeling the pressure of every putt.
“When you’re playing you’re in control of what’s happening. Watching is far more stressful and can be so nerve wrecking,” says David.
“To travel and play some of these amazing events can only be a good experience for Briony and to see her enjoy her golf, at whatever level, is the most important thing. For her to be happy playing and succeeding makes all those miles worth it.
“Watching her hit balls in the garden aged nine I couldn’t have imagined how dedicated she would become and what she would achieve by the time she was just 16,” adds David.
“I couldn’t have achieved what I have without my dad ferrying me around, and for him to give up his time to travel with me and watch me play is so important to everything I’ve achieved,” adds Briony as her and David head back out to the golf course to finish their back nine – David one up with four to play, though he is getting a few shots nowadays.