LOCAL golfing prodigy Molly O’Hara has spoken of her excitement as she prepares to depart for the USA in pursuit of a career in the game.

Molly, from Newtownards, put pen to paper last week on an agreement to join the ranks at South Dakota State University for the next four years, after she was offered a full scholarship for both athletic and academic purposes. It will see the Rockport School student follow a similar path to fellow countrywomen and current LPGA Tour stars Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow, both of whom are products of the US college golf system. “I was kind of lost for words when the offer came in, I was so excited. Because in my head, I never thought I would get to a Division 1 college,” revealed Molly.

“Obviously moving to the other side of the world is a big change but it’s really nice to know there is a coach willing to invest all of that into me. “Last year, I decided I was going to contact American colleges myself by writing a portfolio. I was getting some replies but it wasn’t really going anywhere,” continued the 18 year-old. “My parents had realised that it was something I really wanted to pursue, so my dad contacted College Sports America, who are an agency that helps athletes go to America on scholarships. “They created a profile for me and put it online but still, nothing was really happening. Then, in August, I played at the Girls Amateur Championships in Carnoustie, which is pretty much the biggest competition a girl of my age in Britain can play in,” she explained.

A 59th-placed finish in a field of more than 140, which saw her shoot rounds of 79 and 78 around the historic Open Championship venue, would prove the catalyst for her big break. “I had a good run at it and afterwards, different colleges started reaching out to me,” said Molly. “There was one in Oklahoma, one in Miami and one in South Dakota. The coach at South Dakota was female and from the very first time I spoke to her, I just got an instantly good connection,” she continued “The second time around, I got to speak with the playing team there and asked them what they thought about it all – because obviously a coach is going to try and sell it to you!” she laughed. “So, everything began to add up after that.” Molly’s journey into the sport stretches back to a decade ago, and she has her younger sibling to thank for stepping foot on a golf course in the first place. “My brother, Harry, picked up a golf club when he was three and had a bit of a natural talent for it, which made me want to play too,” Molly said. “I was probably about seven or eight at that point and I joined Clandeboye Golf Club, where I got my first handicap of 54. I remember getting down to 36 within two years and from then on, I continued to be cut about 10 shots a year.

“When I was 12, I got to my lowest handicap, which was 5. I played my first interpros for Ulster that year at Shannon Golf Club, all of the girls in the team were much older than me but it was a great learning curve,” she recalled. Molly would go on to become the leading points scorer at the same event in 2021 and also last year, earned a place on the U18 Ireland High Performance Panel. Her success is being rightly celebrated outside of sporting circles, too. Rockport School, where Molly is currently studying for her A-levels in English Literature, Sports Studies and Business Studies, have expressed their delight at Molly’s pending adventure. Headmaster, Mr George Vance, commented: “This is a truly magnificent achievement by Molly.

A US golf scholarship is such an attractive option for talented student-athletes worldwide and competition for places is therefore incredibly high. “Indeed, it is becoming ever more competitive year on year, given that the US college golf system produces the majority of golfers on the LPGA Tour. Mr Vance continued: “Molly’s strong golf and academic credentials, as well her sheer determination to succeed, have contributed to this success. We wish her all the best and look forward to following her future progress and success in the next stage of her exciting golf journey.”