Amid a world class field of competitors from 35 different countries, 17-year-old amateur Aditi Ashok has created history by becoming the youngest and first Indian player to win the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Aicha Tour School, in Morocco.
After rounds of 68, 69, 62 and 68 over the Samanah and Amelkis courses in in Marrakech alternately, Ashok chipped in for birdie on the final hole, the par-4 18th, in the fifth and final round at Samanah Golf Club for a closing 70 and a five round total of 23 under par, 337.
The score gave her a three stroke win over Daisy Nielsen of Denmark, with overnight leader Karolin Lampert of Germany ending two strokes further back in third place.
The victory was a massive accomplishment by the Bangalore student, who is still to sit her final high school exams in March 2016.
Ashok said that she has dreamed of becoming a professional golfer since starting to play golf aged five and a half and was inspired by watching Laura Davies and Gwladys Nocera compete in the 2007 EMAAR-MGF Ladies Masters in her home city as an eight year old. Now she will have the opportunity to write her own story and she said: “I’ve always wanted to be a professional because I just love playing golf. It’s been my dream ever since I was a kid so it’s great to make the first step in getting there. I’m really happy.
“It’s an amazing feeling because I came into the tournament obviously wanting to give myself a chance to win but also just wanting to play consistent enough to get a card. Winning it and getting a card is just that much better.”
Ashok started the final round one stroke behind Lampert and she bogeyed the second and third holes to fall further behind, but the pair were tied at 20 under par after Lampert double bogeyed the ninth hole.
Ashok had missed a number of chances but she moved ahead when Lampert bogeyed the 10th. With a birdie on 11, Ashok went three strokes clear after Lampert bogeyed the 12th.
Ashok then converted a birdie putt of 15 feet on the 15th before finishing in style on the course where she recorded a women’s course record 62 in the third round.
“On 18, there was a lot of wind coming in and I underestimated the wind so it ended up four yards in front. It was a front pin so I was just playing a few feet to the hole but it just went in, so it was lucky there,” she said.
Another young player with a bright future, Nielsen ended on a high note with seven birdies in a final round of 66. She said: “I played really solid and I only left one putt out there. I’ve had a tough year and it’s really nice to play well and maintain my card for next year.”
Although Lampert lost her lead on the final day, she said: “I played four over par and didn’t make any birdies so I was not really happy with that, but being in the top five should get me into a few more tournaments and I can’t wait to play next year on the LET.”
Nurria Iturrios of Spain ended in fourth place on 15 under par, with England’s Annabel Dimmock and Kelsey MacDonald of Scotland sharing fifth spot. Emily Talley of the United States tied for seventh with Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh, followed by Noemi Jimenez Martin of Spain in ninth and Justine Dreher from France in 10th.
There was also reason for the home nation to celebrate as Morocco’s Maha Haddioui fired a final round of 69, to share 11thplace on nine under par with England’s Rosie Davies and Anaelle Carney of France, who signed off with a 63.
Reflecting on the five round marathon, Haddioui said: “It’s a lot of pressure, because you know you can lose everything in one week. It has to be a good week, you have no choice. It’s different from other tournaments. I’m really happy, my game was solid. It wasn’t too good, nothing crazy, but solid and I held on after a few bad shots so that was good. It’s a sense of relief and I hope to play a full season next year.
“My goal for next year is to be in the top 30. I still need to focus on short term goals with my coach and that’s something we’ll do in January. I’ll try to get as many top 10s as I can. I haven’t had any yet on tour but I know my game is good enough. I just need to be stronger mentally.”
Carnet, who has played one season on the United States-based Symetra Tour, posted her career low round of nine under par. She said: “It was an incredible day. I started with a par and a bogey, so difficult, but afterwards I just played shot by shot and made every putt. I’m so excited because it will be my first year on LET and I really want to try that. I’m very happy.”
There was also positive news for Great Britain with two Scots and one English player in the top eight places. Dimmock, who tied for fifth with MacDonald, commented: “It feels really good. The last six holes I was tired. I was flagging out there so a massive thank you to my caddie Ollie for getting me through the last six. It was tough. I’m still learning so much so I’m excited to get out there and gain experience.”
MacDonald added: “I had to stick to my routine and the process and hope that the putts would drop. I didn’t really hole too much today but it was all about just keeping it in play. It is a relief but I do not want to come back to tour school again so I think I really need to bring what I’ve done the last two weeks into the rest of the season.”
Dryburgh, who tied for seventh, added: “It feels really great. I feel like I’ve been doing tour schools all year so it’s great to get a card out of it. I played really solid today and made five birdies, so that was nice and calm: not too nerve wracking.”
Also sharing seventh, Californian Talley commented: “It feels pretty exciting. You try not to put a lot of pressure on yourself. It’s a really great feeling to have played well and got my card.”
A total of 31 players finished on three under par or better earning the opportunity to take up Ladies European Tour Membership in Category 8 for 2016 and will return to Morocco with fond memories when the Lalla Meryem Cup takes place in May next year.