England’s Pat Smillie will retire as EWGA’s national junior coach at the end of September, after 13 years spent successfully nurturing and encouraging the country’s best young players.
During her tenure, England’s girls have won four European championship medals – one gold, two silvers and a bronze – and they have won the girls’ Home Internationals 10 times.
Some have become winners on the Ladies European Tour, such as Melissa Reid who has played her way into Europe’s Solheim Cup team. Others are making their way in the USA, such as Jodi Ewart – who was one of the top college golfers – and Rachel Connor.
Only last week the successful England ladies’ team at the Home Internationals was made up mostly of players who had come through the training programme and who were as young as 15.
“We have had some very good results, but what really pleases me is that the standard is getting better and better, right across the age range. That’s what you want, to raise the bar, and to expose the girls to the highest level of European golf so they know what they have to do to be successful if they turn pro,” said Pat, who is based in her home county of Yorkshire.
Most of the girls in the EWGA training programme aspire to a professional playing career. Pat’s tasks have included helping to prepare them for this – and opening their eyes to the realities of life on tour.
“I think it’s important that, without being a damp squib, we tell them that it is extremely difficult to make a living. It’s one thing to be good enough to go to Tour School and get a card, it’s another big step to be successful.”
She went on: “We hope the players will stay in golf, in one way or another. They can’t all make it as tournament players but there are other career routes to take. Or, if they stay playing golf at a high club and county level, it’s all good for the game.”
Pat has always been able to draw on personal experience while coaching the girls. She was twice the English girls’ champion, played in two winning teams at the girls’ Home Internationals, captained two England girls’ teams, and played for the England ladies’ team before turning professional in 1987. After four seasons, in which she broke even, she decided to take the coaching route and has been head professional at Wilton Golf Club in Yorkshire for almost 18 years.
She is retiring – as she always said she would – at her 50th birthday. But, she will remain involved in England coaching by taking charge of two northern Birdie squads, working with the youngest girls in the EWGA training programme.
“Working with young people is always rewarding, especially if you can help them to become as good as they can be. But I’ve always said I would give up at 50, I think it’s a good time to stop – and quit while I’m maybe a little bit ahead!”
EWGA chief executive Jim Robinson said: “Pat has been brilliant as national junior coach, we shall miss her tremendously and we offer her our very best wishes for the future.
“She has made a huge contribution to our training programme and to the success of our teams. Both the EWGA and many of our players owe her a very great deal and we are delighted that she will continue to work with young girl golfers in two of our Birdie squads.
The English Women’s Golf Association www.englishwomensgolf.org