Former Ireland international Gillian O’Leary is shaping the future elite performance of Welsh golf – hoping to emulate the Emerald Isle’s recent successes.
With four Major golf champions in the last decade, two of the top five in the ladies amateur world rankings, along with plenty of amateur successes in the men’s and ladies teams, Ireland has been one of the forces of world golf.
Former Portugese Amateur champion O’Leary has joined the Golf Union of Wales as performance director aiming to focus resources at the sharp end to bring more consistent success to the Welsh players.
“Irish golf is a bit bigger but culturally it is very similar, all the ingredients are here for Wales to be a major international player,” said O’Leary, who is finishing a masters degree in sports development and coaching, focussing on elite sport systems.
Jack Davidson’s win at the Spanish Amateur represented a good start, with a strong Wales men’s team set to take part in the European Nations at the end of the month.
However, no Wales Ladies or Girls team has been entered to the European Team Championships later in the summer, with those resources diverted to give the players greater exposure at international level to be more competitive in future.
“One of my performance philosophies would be to try to make opportunities available to compete at international level more often, being more focussed on competing with the rest of the world,” said O’Leary.
“In preparation for this, we will be trying to create a supportive environment for players but one in which they are challenged heavily around their behaviour and their commitment to the processes involved in becoming world class players. I believe if we can do this successfully, the results will follow.
“It is great having Jack winning in Spain and we need to build on that momentum. When our players are at that level then others see it and start thinking they can do the same thing.
“Hopefully we will have a strong men’s team at the European Team Championships in Austria trying to compete.
“When we send Wales teams, we should be going there to compete and not just to make up the numbers. We have a comparatively small budget and resources so we must use that to build towards something rather than just going along.
“We are challenging the players that to represent their country is not about being the best in Wales, but being one of the best in Europe and the world. We do have hugely talented players who can go further with a bit more belief and hard work.”
O’Leary is delighted to be able to build on the work done by predecessors Nigel Edwards and Ben Waterhouse, while the national coaching staff in place in Wales is also a strength.
“The coaching staff we have in place is top class and they work really hard for Welsh golf,” she said.
“They are very passionate about what they do, I am lucky to be coming into an environment where there are some challenges but a lot of opportunities and a lot of work that has already been done to get Welsh golf to this stage.”
O’Leary is from Cork in the South of Ireland, but did a Masters in Dublin and enjoyed a successful amateur international career while working for the Irish Ladies Golf Union.
“I played in various international teams over 10 years with the likes of Danielle McVeigh, Maria Dunne and as the Maguire twins were starting out, maybe my background gives me more empathy towards the players,” she said.
“I always wanted to be more involved on the elite performance side and once I finished playing internationally in 2012 I was very fortunate to be given a lot of opportunities to work more closely with performance manager David Kearney.
“I felt I had progressed as far as I could with the Irish Ladies Golf Union at a time when we had two players in the top five of the World Rankings, Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey, and had just won the Girls Home Internationals so the time was right to make a move and I feel Welsh golf is the perfect fit for me.”
Golf Union of Wales www.golfunionwales.org