Jess Baker and Rosie Belsham cap their remarkable seasons with success in the Northern Golfer Ladies and Junior Champion of Champions at Ramside Hall, writes Dean Bailey
Gosforth Park Ladies’ Jess Baker and Whitley Bay’s Rosie Belsham capped an incredibly successful year, which has included England caps and success on the national stage, with victory in the Ladies and Junior Champion of Champions events at Ramside Hall.
Jess, 16, made her England debut at Pannal just a few weeks earlier and led an elite field of club champions over the Prince Bishops Course at Ramside Hall with her two under-par round of 72 – finishing three shots ahead of Darlington Golf Club’s Ella Crang as Close House’s Claire Brown finished third with a round of 76.
Competing in the Junior Champion of Champions, 16-year-old Rosie saw off boys and girls from across the region to lift the trophy in its fourth year – posting a round of 72 to finish four shots clear of Gosforth Park Ladies’ Libby Bell as Hexham Golf Club’s Robert Henderson finished third and collected the trophy for the best nett score.
“It’s a great feeling to be the Champion of Champions, and a fantastic way to end a really good year,” says Jess.
“I got off to a really fast start at Ramside with a birdie at the second and an eagle at the fifth – from there I just tried to play sensible and keep my ball out of the water. Playing steady and slowly building my score was definitely the key.”
Rosie got off to a similarly fast start at Ramside, birdieing her first four holes en-route to the title. “I’m really proud to add my name to the Junior Champion of Champions trophy – it’s a big event to finish the year and the field was really strong so it’s a good one to win,” says Rosie.
“My round got off to a fast start like Jess’ with birdies at the first four holes and I felt really confident. I dropped a couple of shots on the back nine but knew I was in a strong position when I finished under-par on such a tough golf course.”
Both Jess and Rosie have recorded a string of top individual performances in some of the country’s biggest events this season. Rosie finished second at the Scottish Girls Open Championship at Montrose before a sixth place finish at the English Girls U16s at Lyme Regis and a second place finish at the North of England U16s at Pannal. Meanwhile, Jess has posted a second place at Lyme Regis along with top-10s at Montrose and Pannal.
Rosie and Jess have also made their England debuts this season – Rosie representing England in The Junior Open and in Norway before teaming up with Jess in her first match at Pannal against Switzerland.
“The highlight of this season was definitely getting my first cap for England,” says Jess. “It was great to play alongside Rosie in an England shirt having come through the Futures Squad and the Regional Squad together.
“In individual events, my season got off to a really good start at the Scottish Open in April before I took a two-month break to concentrate on my GCSEs. I struggled a little bit after that but once I got back into it things went really well and I played some great golf – particularly in the English Girls U16s when I finished second.”
For Rosie, her highlights of the year have come north of the border – representing England for the first time and coming close to lifting the Scottish Girls Open title.
“My highlight was the Junior Open in Scotland,” she says. “It was my first event staying away from home on my own and it was an incredible experience meeting so many people from all over the world.
“It’s been a really busy year but there are loads of highlights. I was really proud to be in the final group at the Scottish Girls Open and to hold the lead before eventually finishing second.”
While Jess credits a move to Andy Paisley along with an improved focus to her practice thanks to the experience of playing in elite events for her step up this season, Rosie says the key this year has been learning how to grind out scores while not having her A game, feeling confident that a single poor shot isn’t going to lead to her score spiralling out of control.
Having progressed through the ranks together from the age of 12, starting in the regional Futures Squad led by JJ Vallely and Bryan Ross at Matfen Hall, Rosie and Jess teed it up alongside each other in England colours to take on Switzerland at Pannal – where they won their foursomes match before going on to secure both their singles points and win the match.
“I really enjoyed playing alongside Jess,” says Rosie. “Having played for England before, I knew what to expect and felt really relaxed going into the foursomes as we’ve played so much golf together and know each others games so well.”
“I was nervous standing on the first tee but Rosie took the pressure off by hitting the opening tee shot,” adds Jess. “From there I settled into it and it was all pretty chilled.
“The key was just keeping cool. The golf looks after itself, mostly, so it’s all about staying calm, playing my normal game and not getting wrapped up in what’s going on around me.”
The girls will represent England again in Ireland this October before they head to the national training camp at Quinta do Lago, Portugal in February. From there, they’re planning to compete against one another in the country’s biggest events while keeping an eye on their prospects of heading to the US to compete on the college golf circuit.
“Over the winter I’m looking to improve the core elements of my swing and practising hard,” says Jess. “Next season I’ll be playing in some new events including the top ladies events – possibly some outside of the UK too. I think I need to do something different and broaden my experiences, while also hopefully playing some more events for England.”
“My big aim next season is to win a national event, while adding some more top-10s to my record,” adds Rosie. “From there I’ll see what opportunities come up and hopefully continue representing England.”
Both girls have already begun the process of looking at US colleges with support from their agents – though they agree any decisions are still a long way off.
For now they’ll be competing closer to home – all thanks to the support of their parents and mentors.
“I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to play in everything I do and I couldn’t do it without my parents, who are there very step of the way,” says Jess.
“My parents are always there too, supporting me and ferrying me around to all these events – we couldn’t do it without them,” adds Rosie. “Bryan Ross and JJ Vallely have also been really important to both of us making it so far – the Regional Squad has been such good preparation for going into the national squad and I can’t thank them both enough for everything they’ve taught us.”
Expect to hear a lot more from Rosie and Jess next season, and beyond.