10 Feb 2023 | Professional golf |
Four rising stars join GA Rookie Squad
by Dane Heverin
Four of the brightest young talents in Australian golf have been rewarded with selection in Golf Australia’s Rookie Squad for 2023.
West Australian rookie professionals Kirsten Rudgeley, Connor McKinney and Hayden Hopewell along with second-year Queensland professional Cassie Porter are the new additions to the squad following their amateur careers and an exciting start to their professional journeys.
The new quartet follow in the footsteps of the likes of Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Cameron Smith and Lucas Herbert as a Rookie Squad member after Golf Australia implemented the program several years ago to help young professionals during their early years on tours around the globe as well as the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia and the WPGA Tour of Australasia.
Rookie squad players receive a level of funding to help them through the period of establishing themselves as travelling professionals as well as holistic support from the Golf Australia high-performance team.
That support includes coaching, strength and conditioning, biomechanics, sports psychology, physiotherapy, nutrition from some of the best PGA professionals and high-performance experts in the world with the aim of producing golfers who are capable of winning major championships, Olympic medals and top-100 world ranking positions.
Those objectives are the most effective means to boost participation and attract funding to golf in Australia because of the publicity such success attracts.
Seven other players make up the current crop including LPGA players Steph Kyriacou and Grace Kim, recent Asian Tour Qualifying School winner Jack Thompson and last season’s ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner Jed Morgan – who will not receive financial assistance but will receive holistic support.
“This year we have assembled a really talented squad and the four new players are great additions,” said Brad James, Golf Australia’s General Manager of High Performance.
“Kirsten, Connor, Hayden and Cassie are all brilliant players and they have shown that already through their amateur careers and in the early stages of their professional careers. What we need to do as an industry is ensure that as they take these initial steps as professionals, they have support and we put appropriate resources in place so that they can make the most of their potential.
“The first five years on tour as a pro are quite often the hardest. Travel is expensive and the curve is not always going upward, so to speak, in every single case. There are playing rights to be earned and retained and lessons to be learned about playing for your living and being on the road.
“That’s why the rookie squad is one of the most important programs we deliver in Australian golf. We try to operate as a team, an Australian team. We have mentoring systems in place for the younger players to connect with established players on tour, practising together and hanging out. We have the Australian Golf House in Florida where so many professional and amateur players come to meet with other Australian players and connect and engage.
“We do not want the players to feel alone out there, and we want them to know that they have the support of the nation as they try to navigate the substantial challenges that exist for a young player.”
Mount Lawley Golf Club’s Rudgeley was Australia’s top-ranked amateur ahead of turning professional prior to the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in December.
As an amateur, the 21-year-old represented Australia, chalked up victories at home and aboard, played in a major at the 2021 AIG Women’s Open, played in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and held a Karrie Webb scholarship.
She kicked off her professional journey on the WPGA Tour of Australasia this season and next month she will make her Ladies European Tour debut as a member after she earned her card via Qualifying School late last year.
Hopewell and McKinney will also head to Europe this year as they play the Challenge Tour – the secondary tour to the DP World Tour.
The pair of 21-year-olds represented Australia and Western Australia together as amateurs and they turned professional at the same time ahead of November’s Fortinet Australian PGA Championship.
McKinney won the Australian Amateur, the St Andrews Links Trophy and a First Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School event in 2021 and the Joondalup member has played on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia this summer.
So too has Hopewell and the Royal Fremantle product has registered a top-15 finish in each of his last four starts. He is a proven performer against the professionals having won the 2020 WA Open and coming runner-up at that same event and TPS Murray River last season.
Porter meanwhile began her year by ticking off her first professional victory at the Drummond Golf Melbourne International.
The 20-year-old is headed to the United States this year to try play her way onto the LPGA via the secondary Epson Tour like Kim did last year and Green did in 2017.
From the 2022 group, Karis Davidson and Travis Smyth have graduated from the program after being a part of the squad for five years.
Some of the nation’s best young professionals including the likes of Australian representative as an amateur Kelsey Bennett and 151st Open-bound Haydn Barron will continue to be supported by the Golf Australia high performance team without being selected in the Rookie Squad.
2023 GOLF AUSTRALIA ROOKIE SQUAD
Louis Dobbelaar, 2nd year in the program, Challenge Tour
Hayden Hopewell, 1st year in the program, Challenge Tour
Grace Kim, 2nd year in the program, LPGA
Steph Kyriacou, 4th year in the program, LPGA
Connor McKinney, 1st year in the program, Challenge Tour
Jed Morgan, 2nd year in the program, DP World Tour
Cassie Porter, 1st year in the program, Epson Tour
Kirsten Rudgeley, 1st year in the program, Ladies European Tour
Gabi Ruffels, 3rd year in the program, Ladies European Tour
Elvis Smylie, 2nd year in the program, Challenge Tour
Jack Thompson, 3rd year in the program, Asian Tour
Blake Windred, 4th year in the program, DP World Tour
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