Royal Cromer star Amber looking forward to European Tour challenge
- Credit: IAN BURT
It was the ultimate pressure putt - and Amber Ratcliffe holed it to set up what promises to be an exciting year at the highest level of European women's professional golf.
After five gruelling days at the Lalla Aicha Tour School in Morocco last month the 19-year-old from Royal Cromer saw all her hopes and dreams rest on one shot from around eight feet after a nerve-shredding final hole.
Amber teed off at the 18th at the Samanah Club near Marrakech knowing a par four would be enough to clinch her a place on the main European Tour - but there was a sting in the tail for the former Norfolk amateur champion when she found a greenside bunker with her second shot.
Suddenly a place in the top 30 was by no means guaranteed, and there was a chance she would have to settle for a lower category of membership that would have got her into fewer tournaments. The challenge was clear – get down in two or face another year of toiling just below the highest level of the game, where the rewards can be limited to say the least.
A few weeks later Amber can still vividly remember the mixture of delight and relief she felt after safely extricating herself from the sand and then holing the putt that ensured she qualified right on the mark for a crack at the big time.
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'I knew exactly what I had to do on the final hole because I had seen a leaderboard and I must admit my knees were shaking a bit when I lined up the putt,' she recalled.
'There was so much riding on it but I just tried to block that out and fortunately it went in. Obviously it was a great moment because it's something I have been working towards since I was 12 years old.'
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Finishing in the top 30 in Morocco means Amber can play on the European Tour as a category 8a member, which will get her in most tournaments in 2015, although she will still need to qualify for major events such as the Ricoh Ladies British Open and the Evian Championship in France.
The Norfolk teenager has now started planning what promises to be an exciting schedule, although finances will still need to be taken into account. Like all tournament professionals she knows all too well that although there is good money to be earned on Tour it can be expensive to compete and nothing is guaranteed.
'The season gets under way in February with tournaments in Australia and New Zealand but I won't be going out there,' she said. 'It would be very expensive to travel and it's not really something I can afford at this stage.
'There is a tournament in Morocco in March (The Lalla Meryem Cup) and that's where I plan to start. That gives me plenty of time to prepare and by the time it comes around I'm sure I will be well prepared.
'Since Tour School I have been back home chilling out, because it was a really hectic year for me, but the clubs will be out again soon and I will be working on my game.
'Georgia Hall (another promising young English player who turned professional last year) is coming up to practice with me and hopefully there will be a few matches between us, which should be fun.'
Amber feels her experiences last year on the second tier Access Series, which took in events across Europe, will stand her in good stead as she prepares for the big challenges that tie ahead.
'It was a tough schedule and the rewards weren't great,' she said. 'I did okay but I ending up spending more than I earned and I seemed to be playing almost non-stop.
'But the most important thing was that it was a good standard of golf. I learned a lot and my game has certainly improved as a result.'
The proof came at Tour School - and while she has worked hard over many years for her success the Royal Cromer teenager knows she has many people to thank for her elevation to the big time.
'First and foremost I have my mum and dad (Emma and Byron) to thank because without their support I would never have got this far,' said Amber, whose cousin Callum Taylor made it a year to remember for the whole family by earning a professional contract with Essex County Cricket Club.
'Then there's everyone who supported me when I was an amateur in Norfolk, and in the England set-up, and the people at Royal Cromer, who have always been great to me. And last, but by no means least, I am very grateful to everyone at Sheringham High School who were always very supportive when I asked for time off to play in tournaments when I was younger.
'I think they always knew that being a professional golfer was what I wanted to do.'