Dorset golfer Sophie Keech sets sights on 2016 Olympics in Rio

PUBLISHED: 11:18 28 July 2014 | UPDATED: 14:33 25 March 2015

Sophie drives  from the 8th  tee at Parkstone Golf Club

Sophie drives from the 8th tee at Parkstone Golf Club

Hattie Miles 07907 645897

Fired by a driving ambition since her grandfather first introduced her to the game at the age of eight, golfing supremo Sophie Keech now has her sights set firmly on Rio de Janeiro and Olympic victory

Sophie at Parkstone Golf Course with her coach PGA professional Karen Nicholls who is director of golf at Millfield SchoolSophie at Parkstone Golf Course with her coach PGA professional Karen Nicholls who is director of golf at Millfield School

When you first meet England International golfer, Sophie Keech, she’s more Tigger than Tiger. Without her game face on, Sophie has a bubbly personality, a warm smile, and a tousled mane of strawberry blond hair. She is lightly tanned and very toned from hours of playing golf on courses as far afield as Jakarta and Portugal, though she tells me she loves playing at Parkstone Golf Club, where she currently holds the ladies’ course record. “People say I am a really bubbly fun person off the golf course but once I hit the golf course I am deadly serious, I want to win. I’m competitive and I have a killer instinct.”

On her way to a game, Sophie psyches herself up with a little rave in the car. As her mum, Lisa, can confirm, Sophie has blown three sets of speakers as Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out, her favourite track, has shaken the car to its very crank shaft. Her love of loudness, though, doesn’t apply to golf attire: “I love my greens, but I hate reds. I wouldn’t mind designing my own range of ladies’ golf wear, though to be honest I’m happiest in shorts and a polo shirt. I am a sun lover,” she says as she flexes a golden tanned limb.

Rave and golf may be an odd combination but a good golf swing, as any player will tell you, is all about rhythm, though when I learnt to play golf (in the last century) I was told to think of the Blue Danube waltz in my head rather than drum and bass.

With her love of music and, according to her mum, an impressive talent for dancing (“you should see her moves”) it’s not surprising that Sophie is a natural golfer with an instinctive feel for the game. Playing golf comes easily to her though it hasn’t been without serious dedication and a determination to be the best.

Sophie and her mum Lisa in the Parkstone Golf Club pro shop doing a spot of shopping!Sophie and her mum Lisa in the Parkstone Golf Club pro shop doing a spot of shopping!

One of Sophie’s greatest motivators is her golf coach, PGA Professional, Karen Nicholls. “Karen is a natural golfer like me. For us, it’s all about having a feel for the swing,” says Sophie. “It’s not about the latest equipment or sitting up studying course guides the night before a match.

“Instead, we’ll go and play a practice round, talk it through and then switch off. The following day we play with a relaxed mind. It works for me.”

Her natural talent was nurtured early when Sophie was introduced to golf at the age of eight by her grandfather, Bill Moulton. At the time he was men’s captain at Lyme Regis Golf Club and he thought Sophie would enjoy coming up to the club with him. She loved golf from the very start and soon became a force for other junior golfers to reckon with. “Though the boys didn’t like being bested by a girl,” she laughs.

By the time Sophie was 11, the steely will of a future winner was fully evident. Her family moved to Portugal and, at the Benimore Golf Club at Tavira in the Algarve, Sophie would tee off at 7:20 every morning, without fail, with her mum or grandparents walking the course with her.

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“I never once had to nag her to get up she was always keen to go and play,” Lisa recalls.

Sophie managed to get in ten or more holes before starting her daily lesson with a home tutor at 10am. After homework she would practise again for a couple of hours, either on her short game or on the driving range. Dedication paid off; within two years her 25 handicap was down to single figures. She was also given honorary membership at three local courses: Benimore, Quito da Ria and Quinta de Cima. “Quita de Cima is where the European Golf Tour plays so it was a real honour to play on that course,” she says.

With hours of daily practice Sophie became a serious competitor, with championship potential. Golfers say ‘drive for show, putt for dough’; Sophie focussed on her short game, where pin-sharp accuracy can save you shots and get you out of trouble. “I would practise for hours, chipping and putting and playing bunker shots. I’ve always found spending time on the driving range a bit boring to be honest. Being able to play on the courses daily helped me build my long game.” At 13, Sophie returned to the UK and was awarded a scholarship at Millfield, a co-educational independent school in Street, Somerset, renowned for its sporting facilities. “My family were a bit worried as it was a big step going from being home tutored to boarding but as an only child I loved having the company. My boarding house was two minutes from the pitch and putt so I practised whenever I could.”

At Millfield, she met her coach, Karen Nicholls, and her golf really started to take off. In less than a year, she was playing for Dorset County and at 14 became the youngest ever Ladies’ County Champion, winning at Parkstone Golf Club, which is now her home course. “I love playing Parkstone, it’s such a pretty parkland course. Parkstone Golf Club has been so supportive too,” she tells me.

The club also nominated Sophie for the England Golf Silver Tee Award this year which is given to a girl who excells at golf and her school studies. Not only did Sophie win the award but she also completed a BTEC in Sport and Golf, and was made Golf Captain at Millfield’s - the first time a girl has held this post.

With the school team, Sophie has visited the World Schools’ Championships in South Africa, as well as playing in Thailand and China.

“I want to be a professional golfer and play around the world,” she declares.

“Part of my job,” says her mum, “is to keep Sophie healthy and happy when she’s on the road. I do all her booking, all the entrances to the competitions, plus sorting out the travel and accommodation.”

Last year Lisa took five months off work to travel with Sophie and caddie for he as she competed worldwide, from China to the World Junior Championship in Jakarta.

Playing golf at this level is costly. “Not only do you have to pay to enter the competitions which can be anything from £50 to £100, but there is accommodation, travel - including long haul flights - and obviously I need someone to go with Sophie if I can’t go, so I have to pay for their costs too. Then there’s all Sophie’s golf equipment, golf shoes and clothing.”

Unlike the pros, amateurs can’t have sponsors, though they can have silent partners for funding support. Sophie gets some support from Parkstone Golf Club and funding from England Golf and from Sports Aid, but it doesn’t cover all her costs.

“We’d love support from local Dorset businesses or individuals who would be happy to help Sophie with her blossoming career,” says Lisa. “If they contact the English Golf Union they will set up an account in Sophie’s name.”

It is Lisa’s calming presence that helps her daughter manage the stress of competition. “I never talk about golf,” she says. “When we finish a game we never go over and over it, we usually go shopping - though often it’s not to buy anything it’s just to unwind.”

Sophie confesses she is “a bit of a shopaholic! But it really does help me to relax. I always play well after a spot of retail therapy.”

Recently she was playing in a major competition at Roehampton, south west London, and realised that Harrods was 15 minutes away. “Well, you have to go and see Harrods don’t you?” Sophie says, “so I hopped on a bus.”

Lisa laughs, adding: “Sophie was on such a high after Harrods, the following day she won.”

With a raft of wins already under her belt, which is she most proud of? “The England Under 18s Girls’ Open Amateur championships, which I won last year. A few years back another Dorset girl, Hayley Davis, won it and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Sophie will be defending her Under 18s title in July and wants to build on her amateur career. “I’ll turn professional when it’s the right time. Currently I am off plus 2 so I’m not in a hurry. I want to be the best, and win a few British Ladies’ tournaments.”

Golf returns to the Olympics in 2016 after a 112-year absence. Competition for the 60 places, split evenly between the men and women, will be stiff but she is determined. “I would love to play for my country - and my county - at the Olympics in Rio.”

Sophie’s many golfing accolades

Dorset County Ladies’ Champion; Faldo Series Champion; World Schools’ Golf Challenge Girls’ Champion; England Schools Champion; England Under 18 Girls’ National Champion; Faldo World Series Under 16 Champion; England Schools Team Captain; Faldo Series Under 21 Champion; England Golf Silver Tee Award

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