Golf: Conlon’s had a year to savour

Jennifer Conlon.
Jennifer Conlon.
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UP UNTIL the summer of last year, the furthest Leeds golfer Jennifer Conlon had been abroad did not even venture outside of Britain.

“Our holidays meant going to Scotland!” admits the down-to-earth daughter of an Asda check out worker and local bus driver.

One year later, the 14-year-old is preparing to defend the South African Junior Open Challenge this month – fresh from tilts at the Teen World Championships in America and the Junior Venice Open in Italy.

Cockburn High School pupil Conlon, formerly of Westwood Primary School, is flying the flag for the South Leeds area of Middleton as one of the country’s hottest young female golfers.

But a sporting talent that was unearthed thanks to pet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Odie has only been able to blossom thanks to the generosity of The Hunslet Trust – led by another former south Leeds resident in property tycoon Andrew Beadnall.

Conlon was enticed by the sport after taking her pet for a walk at Middleton Golf Club as a youngster.

After dad Craig allowed his daughter to pursue her interest in golf, the results were simple – Conlon was a natural – and 2014 saw her talents really blossom. Highlights included appearances at the Wee Wonders British Championships at St Andrews – and victory in the South African Junior Open Challenge – a trip only made possible by a raft of fund-raising.

But thanks to the Hunslet Trust, Conlon is now in the midst of a spectacular summer of competing abroad – where she aims to do England, South Leeds and her family proud.

Conlon has benefitted from a recent sponsorship deal with The Hunslet Trust and told the YEP: “I think it’s crazy to be honest, for me to be going to all these places!

“But I’m definitely pleased with myself with what I’ve achieved and the places that I’m going this year – Pinehurst in the USA for the Teen World Championships, Italy for the Junior Venice Open and South Africa again for the competition that I won last year. I was obviously really proud of my achievements and what I did over there.

“Then I got my sponsor from the Hunslet Trust so obviously I would like to thank them for taking the time out to come and arrange a meeting and to give me all this money so I can achieve my dreams in America.

“It’s always been a dream to go there and up until going to South Africa our holidays meant going to Scotland!

“I loved it in South Africa. I loved it how they did everything differently and there was lots of new food and animals as well.

“When you were playing on the golf course you had animals running in front of you like zebras and then there were monkeys climbing the trees.”

Conlon, meanwhile, is climbing the rankings – and quickly slashing a handicap that has shot down from 32 to 16 in a year.

Key to that progress has been coach Phil Akers at Oulton Hall Golf Club – the beneficiaries of a talent first unearthed at Middleton Golf Club which Conlon was devastated to see closed.

Explaining how the golfing love affair first blossomed, Conlon recalled: “I’ve got a dog Odie and I used to take him for a walk down Middleton Golf Course with my mum.

“I used to stop and watch all of the golfers and I always used to say to my mum ‘I want to do that.’

“Then I went one day with my dad, and asked if I could have a go and I hit this ball and I hit it straight down the middle.

“The swing was there, the posture was there and everything.

“We’ve still got Odie who is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel but Middleton Golf Club got closed and that was heart-breaking to be honest.

“It was the first course that I started playing on where I learnt to play so it was absolutely devastating when it closed. Now I play up at Oulton Hall where I am coached by Phil Akers and I couldn’t ask for a better coach.

“This time last year I was a high handicap – 32 – but since last year he has taken 16 shots off.

“I can’t really thank him enough and he is always there for me supporting me. He’s brought me on really well.”

As have Conlon’s parents who represent a true South Leeds working class background.

Dad Craig works nights operating the staff bus for the local bus service while mum Debra operates the tills at the Middleton Asda branch.

But there’s a fair chance their offspring’s future will come in sport with 13-year-old son Thomas a goalkeeper at York City and his older sister taking golf by storm.

Conlon recognises none of her progress would have been possible without the help of her parents, the many fund-raisers – and of course The Hunslet Trust.

“If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to go to America,” admits Conlon, who had the best girls’ net at Moortown Golf Club last year and is a past winner of the Sandburn Hall Junior Open and Hanging Heaton Junior Open, plus the Wee Wonders British Champions Yorkshire qualifier.

“But we have also raised our own funds with all the fund-raising that we’ve done and my dad’s friend, Dave Creaser, did a sponsored sky dive for me.

“We have just done cake sales, raffles, coffee mornings at church and things like that.

“I’m just happy that I’m representing south Leeds and also Yorkshire and England as well.”

And also women’s golf, in which Conlon hopes her long-term future is destined with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko the current sensation, sat number two in the world rankings at just 18 years of age.

Conlon pondered: “In five or ten years’ time hopefully I’m still playing golf and on the LGA Tour and playing with all of the other professionals.

“But if I don’t make it I still want to have a career around golf like being a golf coach or something like that.

“I think that women’s golf is getting better but it’s still a bit sexist because males get more money than females. But it’s getting better!

“My favourite female player is Charley Hull who is English but I have got another favourite women’s player called Laura Davies.

“I also like Lydia Ko – who was the world number 1. She’s only 18 I think.

“But I wouldn’t fancy playing her at the moment – maybe in a few years’ time when I get better!”