First, look at it from the pride point of view. We’ve got a lot of young girls coming through at the moment playing on all the tours around the world, a lot of good amateurs too, so from the high end side of it I’d say we’re producing some fine players. But competition is intense. A lot of girls I know want to play football now because of the Lionesses and what happened at the Euros. You’re always battling against other sports. Obviously it helps if parents are into golf, but otherwise it can be difficult for girls. Golf isn’t an elite sport, but compared to others it can be very time consuming. You’re pretty much on your own, it’s all a little bit different, so it has to be the case that some potentially very good players slip through the cracks. So you just have to hope that golf is seen enough on TV and youngsters get excited by watching, because that’s the best way to inspire them, by seeing their heroes on their screens.
In a long and very distinguished career, what is Laura’s standout moment?
For me it has to be the US Open in 1987. I was playing on the European Tour, I’d done well and got a spot in the US Open, and I went out there and won it, to everyone’s surprise, including myself. That was the catalyst for my career. It got me on the LPGA and once I was out there I won pretty quickly, and suddenly I was thinking to myself and believing in myself that I could mix it with these great stars of the day - Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Patty Sheean, Beth Daniel, the list goes on. Nowadays these are golfers who are a little bit forgotten about, which is a shame because they were incredible talents, and their games would have translated really well into the modern era.
Laura still competes, but cherry picks the events she takes part in…
That’s right. I’m doing a lot more TV commentary and media work now, but I like to compete when I can. I’ll play about ten events, seven of which will be LPGA, so American events, though the British Open is considered an LPGA event, the Scottish Open the same, so I’ll play them and just enjoy the competition. I’ve got my World Hall of Fame status from 2015, so I can play a few events here and there. I love the British Open, it’s always been one of my favourites and I can play in that for two more years so I’ll keep doing that. I’m not thinking too hard about winning anything now, but I can certainly go out there without making a fool of myself.
What can we all learn from the women’s game?
The men’s game is the men’s game and it’s all power related, and if you don’t hit it 320 plus you really are up against it. These guys are flicking wedges into par fours that are five hundred and more yards. The women’s game is nothing like that, but that doesn’t mean women are not great hitters. I played with Lydia Ko last year in one round, and there’s nothing of her, she really is quite slight, but she hits the ball a long way, and that’s because it’s all about timing and where she gets that clubface and her rhythm, which propels the ball out there 280 some yards, and she’s not the only one. There are quite a few who are very long, and there are a lot of male and female amateur golfers who really can learn a lot from the way women swing a golf club and strike the ball, rather than watching those guys all the time like Bryson DeChambeau who can hit it 400 yards. It’s great fun I know, but hardly any human beings can do it.
Laura is a huge sports fan in general, with a particular affection for football and Liverpool FC. Her enthusiasm once got her in trouble…
It was the Evian Masters in France and England were hosting Euro 96 and playing Spain in the quarter-final at Wembley on the last day of the golf tournament. My caddie at the time was my cousin Matthew, and we had this little telly, you couldn’t watch anything on your phone back then obviously. So I said to him, ‘Put that in your bib and we can watch the England game as we go round.’ I had a good lead and it was Sunday afternoon so I was relaxed enough, so we watched the game and I held my lead and won by four. I mean, we weren’t watching the football all the time, but if there was a bit of a wait while someone was preparing to hit their shot then we’d get the little telly out and have a look. When I got in I was presented with the trophy, England had beaten Spain in a penalty shoot-out after a nil-all draw, and everything was great - until the following week when I got a letter saying I was being fined for unprofessional conduct.
Laura will be at Royal Liverpool in July as a member of the Sky Sports commentary team. What does she make of the historic Hoylake links?
I think it’s one of the tougher golf courses. Likewise Royal Lytham. I’ve played Hoylake several times, and I suppose I think of it as being pretty relentless, all the holes out there which demand you are really precise, any wild shots are absolutely punished. I’d say it’s a really tough test. St Andrews is my favourite of all the golf courses, but on a good day it’s very playable, I think everyone would agree about that, it’s probably the most scorable. But get to Hoylake, even on a decent, calm day, and if you don’t hit the shots you want to hit you’re not going to score at all. It asks you to play every shot in the book, even though, at first glance, you might say the course is kind of flat apart from a bit of elevation here and there. It’s not always easy to find the fairways, which is kind of essential if the rough is a little bit brutal. I’d say The Open 18th is the most miserable tee shot in the world because you’ve got that out of bounds all the way down the right, and you don’t want to go too far left because the rough is too long there. So as a finishing hole that has to be the most scary in an Open set-up.
And what about the new hole, The Open 17th called Little Eye?
I’ve played it and I loved it. It’s a very short par three and it’s precision golf, and all the great par threes in the world that you can talk about - Augusta, the 12th, it’s only something like 140; the Postage Stamp at Troon, a tiny little hole, just a wedge - the great par threes are often I think the shorter ones, and Royal Liverpool’s new one is going to fit into that category. It’s going to wreak havoc, absolute havoc, without a doubt, because if you don’t hit a precise shot you’re going to get all sorts of trouble from it, and I loved the hole and I’m excited to see how The Open competitors deal with it. It’s going to be the standout hole of the week, not just because of how it’s played, but also how it looks with its elevated green looking across the estuary. People will see a lot of birdies, but they’ll also see lots of other goings-on that are much less successful, which is kind of exactly what you want - especially if that Hoylake wind is blowing a bit.
How is Laura enjoying her broadcasting career?
I found broadcasting pretty easy, because as you know I love watching all sports, and you’re always kind of commentating, aren’t you? The game’s going on and you’re having your say about what did happen or what should have happened, and golf to be honest is just sitting there talking about what you’re looking at, but with a bit more information than the average member of the public, because you’ve been there, you’ve been in that position under pressure, you’ve hit this shot, that shot, so you try to shed some light on what’s really happening out there, and the guys I work with are absolutely brilliant, they're great fun. Ewen Murray, Coulthard, Beemer, Wayne Riley, they all made me really welcome, because it’s a bit intimidating at first, you turn up to a new job, but they are all so brilliant I just tried to fit in as best I could and learn from them.
I love commentating on The Open, it’s got to be a joy because it’s such a great championship and all the team knows the courses so well, the weather’s always a massive part of it and needs understanding and explaining, so it’s pretty much the top job; but I did the Masters last year for the very first time and that’s a bit special, you know - Augusta, it takes some beating.
As far as football goes, Laura is a no-nonsense diehard Red despite being born in Coventry and raised in London. Why Liverpool?
It was the 1971 Cup Final when we lost to Arsenal 2-1 after extra time. I was eight at the time, and there were the Liverpool lads, all in red, and beaten, and I felt sorry for them and that was that. Since then I’ve never not known a result, I watch every game wherever I am in the world, in the middle of the night if necessary. And it’s good being a Reds fan because when I go to Anfield I can always think about popping across the Mersey and having a round at Royal Liverpool.
Like I say, it’s a bit scary, but that’s a good thing - the greatest players can make some golf courses look a bit silly, but I don’t think they’ll make Hoylake look silly.
I’m really looking forward to being there.