Clyburn: I’ll chase down Matthew in Olympic bid

Drive to succeed: Holly Clyburn wants to cherish the experience of the Olympics (Photo by Getty Images)

Drive to succeed: Holly Clyburn wants to cherish the experience of the Olympics (Photo by Getty Images)

by Graham Otway

Holly Clyburn will tee up in the Kingsmill Championship at Williamsburg in ­Virginia tomorrow  in the middle of a hectic schedule that most top Tour pros, men or women, fearing burnout, would never undertake.

She plans to play a minimum of five tournaments on the trot on the US Ladies Tour and that ­follows visits in the past two weeks to tournaments in San Francisco and Morocco.

As a rookie on the American ladies scene, the 25-year-old from Cleethorpes would love to record her first victory in the States to earn an exemption or, early in their season, win enough money just to secure her playing rights for 2017.

However, running alongside those goals is the hope that she can fulfil a burning ambition to be a part of the GB&I team who travel to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Given the qualification system imposed on the sport of golf as it returns to the Games schedule for the first time in more than 100 years, Clyburn is currently the outsider of three British ladies competing for two team places available in Brazil.

Standing at 15th in the Olympics’ special world ranking qualifying field, Kettering’s Charley Hull has all but booked her place in the 60-strong field to compete for an historic golf gold medal.

And Catriona Matthew, ­although in the twilight of her Tour career at 46, is well placed to stand behind her in the airport check-in queue for she is more than 50 places ahead of Clyburn in the rankings table.

But that gap could close ­rapidly if Clyburn can hit top form before the qualification ­period closes on July 11 and while insisting it will not be at the forefront of her mind as she walks the fairways in America, she is clearly going to be up for the ­battle.

Last week GB&I’s team leader Jamie Spence told The Golf Paper that she and Matthew would be going at each other ‘hammer and tongs’ at every tournament over the next few weeks.

And Clyburn said: “He’s not wrong there. We will be out to fight for ourselves at the ­tournaments and fight for that second spot. We just have to beat each other and that’s harder for me because she is some way ahead of me in the table.

“But I won’t be putting myself under extra pressure by thinking about the Olympics while playing these tournaments because I know that if I play well in the American tournaments now, and finish well above Catriona on the leaderboards, then the Olympics should take care of themselves.”

And Clyburn will certainly not be looking for a repeat of one ­unhappy incident that happened after she missed the cut at the LPGA’s Swinging Skirts event in San Francisco.

“I got burgled,” she said. “My hire car was broken into and my two pieces of carry-on luggage for the flight home and my ­passport and iPhone were stolen. Fortunately I do have two ­passports but it was not a nice thing to happen.”

Although on paper there is going to be the big rivalry with Scotland’s Matthew over the next month, it is not an a personal issue as Clyburn said: “We have not discussed it because we don’t socialise a lot together on Tour. I think I have had lunch with her a couple of times but nothing more.”

(photo by Getty Images)

(photo by Getty Images)

However Clyburn does know one big factor that could count in her favour. “Catriona will be ­playing in America as well because she has been on the Tour for a long time.

“But she has children back in Scotland and never plays more than three ­tournaments in a row before going back to them. But I am going to be staying out here and playing at least five, possibly all six, before the qualification ­period ends.”

Clyburn’s career to date has been more promising than star-studded. Her only big pro victory to date was in 2013 at the Deloitte Open in the ­Netherlands and she has not had a top ten finish on either side of the Atlantic this year.

But she does not doubt her ability to play well enough to win a place at the Olympics. “I am a strong player,” she insisted. “I can send the ball out there and hit it out of thick rough if I have to.

“And to get into the Olympic team would be the ultimate thing for me. Since it was announced that golf would be returning to the schedule, playing golf in Rio has been my dream.

“I have also been ­dreaming about taking part in the Olympic opening ­ceremony. I want to live both of those dreams.”

And as a relative youngster on the Tour scene, Clyburn has one big advantage over Matthew ­because should she miss out on Rio, she knows she should get the chance to have a second bite at the qualifying system for the Games in Japan in 2020.

“It’s going to be hard travelling in America for so many weeks and staying in hotels, but playing golf in tournaments is my job. And knowing that if I miss out on Rio I could still make the team for Japan in four years’ time is going to make it all a lot less stressful.”

By then, however, it is not ­beyond the realms of belief that Clyburn could have an even tougher rival in the battle for an Olympic place – her younger ­sister, India.

Although only 19, she has ­already won the English Under-18 Championship, the Scotland Under-21 title and the British women’s amateur Open.

And she knows her elder ­sister’s game having caddied for Holly in two US Open qualifying events and LET tournaments in Turkey and China.

But it will be more than three years before the rivalry starts to hit the headlines for India is now on a golf scholarship at North Carolina State University.

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