Amber comes through first stage of Tour School

Top Norfolk professional golfer Amber Ratcliffe has linked up with Sprowston Manor Golf Club in a sp

Top Norfolk professional golfer Amber Ratcliffe has linked up with Sprowston Manor Golf Club in a sponsorship deal which includes coaching sessions with head pro Guy Ireson.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Cromer golfer Amber Ratcliffe has something to smile about after a tough first season on the Euroean Ladies Tour.

The 20-year-old professional put a disappointing year behind her in impressive fashion when she travelled to Morocco and qualified for the Lalla Aicha Tour School Final with something to spare.

Scoring was generally high in often testing conditions, and Amber had one round in the 80s, but she played well enough over the four days of competition to finish in a tie for 18th position, six shots inside the qualifying mark. The youngster now has an exciting pre-Christmas challenge to look forward to, with the Tour School Final being staged at two courses in Morocco between December 18 and 22.

Having gained entry to just five events during her rookie season – and made only one cut – Amber went into the pre-qualifier with a serious lack of competitive action, and not surprisingly there was a lack of consistency to her scoring.

She opened with a 77 before bouncing back on day two with a 74 that left her reasonably placed at the halfway stage.

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On the third day the scores soared in tricky conditions and Amber came in with an 82, by no means the worst round but enough to put her under some pressure going into the final day. Another poor 18 holes could have ended all hopes of another season on the full tour, but Amber rose to the challenge superbly, with a one over 73 including three birdies leaving her comfortably inside the mark. The quality of her play was emphasised by the fact that there were just four better scores all day in the 70-strong field.

The Cromer youngster, who turned 20 last week, hadn't tasted competitive action since narrowly missing the cut in the Helsingborg Open in Sweden almost two months ago, and only played in five tournaments in total after earning her full card last December.

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'It has been a really tough year for a number of reasons - but mainly because there have been so few tournaments for me to play in,' said Ratcliffe, who learnt her trade at Royal Cromer but now represents Marriott Sprowston Manor. 'When I won my card I was really excited about it but I just haven't been able to play on a regular basis, and that has been incredibly frustrating.

'There's been the occasional tournament – and then a long gap until the next one. It's certainly given me a lot of time to practice – but I have a Tour card and I want to be competing.

'I just couldn't afford to go out to the tournaments early in the season (in Australia, New Zealand and China) and in others I wanted to play but I couldn't get in because of my ranking. The basic problem is that there are too many gaps in the schedule.'

Even when she has played it has been a frustrating time for one of the youngest players on the European Tour. She performed solidly to finish tied 37th in the Deloitte Open in Holland in June but has missed the cut in her other five events, with an agonising near miss in Sweden in early September neatly summing up a hugely disappointing campaign.

'I was in the last group on the second day and we had to complete our rounds in virtual darkness after starting at 4pm,' said Ratcliffe. 'I had putts that fell just short on the last three holes and ended up missing the cut by one shot.

'That was a real blow - because I knew it was going to be my last tournament for a while.

'The Ladies Masters at the Buckinghamshire earlier in the season was another big disappointment. I knew the course and was really looking forward to playing there but a wrist injury flared up again and I had to withdraw after one round.

'But, as I said, the main thing is the schedule. It's ridiculous to be playing every now and then and then having three or four weeks off. You just can't build up any momentum and I don't think I have really been given a fair chance to show what I can do.

'It costs a lot to go through Tour School - and to be honest I don't think I have got my money's worth this year.'

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