11-year-old Maggie Whitehead chats to Dean Bailey about her love of golf, what it was like to star on Sky Sports alongside Lee Westwood, and how the talented female golfers across the region are inspiring her to achieve more success in the future
Success on the golf course and commitment to the practice ground often work hand in hand, and in 11-year-old Maggie Whitehead’s case the latter is proving key to her rising stock as one of the region’s most talented young players.
A winner of the US Kids Golf British Junior Championship at the age of nine, Maggie has already competed against some of the best players in the world at courses like Woodhall Spa, The Old Course at St Andrews and Pinehurst No.2.
The holder of one of four Michael Adamson Junior Golf Scholarships from Ramside Hall for this season, and part of the North of England Futures squad coached by JJ Vallely at Matfen Hall as well as the Northumberland county system, Maggie’s passion for golf will rival many in the region, if not the world.
“I practice most days of the week at Ramside and Close House and use our indoor putting green at home before I go to bed every night, which is nice when it’s raining all the time. I love working on my swing.
“I get to meet loads of different people from different clubs and from all over the world too. I also get to play so many different golf courses which have hosted events like The Open and US Open, which is pretty cool.”
Playing off a handicap of nine, Maggie will make her first appearances in some of the country’s biggest girls events this summer, including the English Girls’ Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship, the Scottish Girls’ and the Girls’ Under 16 Open Championship at Fulford. Add in representing the Ramside junior team and the county, and taking part in Futures coaching, which prepares players with the potential of making it into the North of England Girls’ squad, and it’s already shaping up to be a busy season.
“I’m really looking forward to playing some of the national under 14 and under 16 events this summer,” says Maggie. “I’ve got loads of time to play junior golf but I can’t wait to play with the best players in the country and see where I am compared to them.”
As part of the growing group of elite girls in the region, Maggie practises with and plays alongside England internationals like Caitlin Whitehead from Cumbria and is coached as part of the squads featuring the likes of Jess Baker, Rosie Belsham and Faye Wheatley.
“Faye is my best golfing friend. We play a lot together and with her granddad Tony McLure, who has taught me loads about what it takes to be a really good golfer,” adds Maggie.
“There are so many really good players in Northumberland and in the north region teams. We’ve all learned so much from working with JJ and it’s nice to have lots of really good players to spend time with and see how they’re improving.
“I really look up to Caitlin. She started where I did and when she was 11 her handicap was the same as mine. She’s coached by JJ too and she’s now in the national England squad and gets to travel all over the world representing the country.”
As one of the first players to win her place in the Junior Masters at Close House ahead of the British Masters last season, Maggie got the chance to meet and practice with Lee Westwood ahead of the tournament in front of the Sky Sports cameras, an experience she describes as one her favourites golfing memories so far.
“Meeting Lee and getting tips from him was amazing and it was really fun to play some games with him and do some challenges. Lee does so much for juniors and he was really inspiring.
“I then got to play in the Junior Masters in the same week as the tournament, which was just incredible. I got to meet Sergio Garcia and loads of the best players in the world. They were all really friendly and I got loads of selfies with them.”
With such potential and such high praise from coaches, fellow players and her followers on social media, it’s no surprise Maggie has set her sights on reaching the top of the game.
“I’d love to be world number one, win a major, and be part of a winning Solheim Cup team,” she explains.
“This year I really want to get into the England north region girls’ squad and get my handicap down to six – I just need to keep getting better.”
Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of mum and dad Nicola and Andy, who attend each of Maggie’s events and have seen her progress from a two-year-old with plastic golf clubs in the garden to one of the region’s best young players.
“Maggie officially overtook my handicap of 10 last year so we’ve had some fun with that recently,” says Andy. “It’s every parent’s dream to see their child achieve their goals and we’ve got every faith Maggie will achieve hers as she’s so dedicated.”
“I may not be a golfer but I love watching it – whether it’s on TV or out on the course with Maggie,” adds Nicola. “She’s got such amazing drive to practice and improve so we just need to give her as many opportunities to achieve her dreams as possible.”
For now, it’s back to the putting green with the help of dad’s headlights before a final 10 minutes of putting practice at home before bedtime and chance to dream about where she may end up in the years to come.