OKLAHOMA is more than 4,500 miles distant, but for Howley Hall’s Becki O’Grady it could prove less than a 300-yard drive away.
This is how far the four-handicapper is likely to need to hit the ball when she competes in Friday’s American Golf Long Drive Championships at High Legh, Cheshire.
The winner will earn a spot in the world final in south central United States and O’Grady, who has had to come through local and regional qualifying rounds to get as far as Cheshire, hopes to claim the prize.
She knows she will be up against it, though, for among her rivals on Friday will be Wearside professional and defending champion Rebecca McGinley, who went on to place third in the world event last year after being crowned UK champion.
“She has been invited back to take part this year so I will see how I go,” said Howley Hall ladies’ captain O’Grady.
“I will definitely give it my best shot.”
Husband Darren has been helping her prepare this week, marking out a 50-yard wide grid on the practice ground at her club to replicate the landing area she will be required to hit into for her drives to be measured.
Although her qualifying mark for each of the preliminary events was around 250 yards, those were hit indoors on a golf simulator. Outdoors in practice O’Grady has boomed out drives measuring just over 290 yards – a distance most male club golfers can only dream of reaching.
Her height – she is 6ft – has proved an asset in generating tremendous clubhead speed although she says she is fortunate that she has always been a long hitter, ever since first showing aptitude for the game as a 13-year-old.
“My dad got me into it,” she said. “He played, and there was a taster session at Sand Moor so I went up there.
“The pro there at the time, Peter Tupling, said he saw some potential in me and asked if I would like to have further lessons.”
Tupling knew what he was talking about. O’Grady accepted the offer of tuition and it led to her earning county and England representative honours in a career that was unfortunately curtailed for a while by shoulder and back problems.
“I stopped playing for eight years,” she recalled. “I was two at my best; this is my fourth year back and I’ve come back down to four and I’m hitting it further than I did when I was younger – and I am more consistent.”
She is relishing the chance of performing in front of an audience again, having enjoyed her days as a county and national team player.
“I think having played in big competitions will help me,” she said. “You have to deal with the nerves, you have to compose yourself and get yourself into the moment. I haven’t experienced that for a while, but I am really looking forward to it.”
As well as getting assistance from her husband, she has been aided by fellow lady members at Howley Hall who have helped her measure her shots during club events.
She commented: “Even though I have been playing in competitions, and obviously trying to put in a good score, it has been in my mind about how far I’m hitting it compared to other people I’m playing with, and measuring has helped to give me an idea of how I’m doing.”
Attention to detail has included using a new, extra stiff shaft for her driver in an attempt to gain a few more yards, and she has been practising with Titleist Pro V1 balls, the type that will be used in the competition on Friday.
“I’m not going to overdo it in the next couple of days,” she said.
“The extra stiff shaft in my driver means I’ve got to swing a bit quicker and harder, which gives extra length, but I’ve got to make sure I get consistency too. Fortunately I am quite a straight hitter so accuracy shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Husband Darren cannot be present on Friday because of a family wedding, so her sister Helen will be her guest for the day.
“But Darren’s told me if I win the trip to Oklahoma then he has to be my guest for that trip,” she laughed.