Golf: From Argentina to Morocco, these Ladies European Tour players are paving the way for others back home

Morocco's Maha Haddioui is the first Arab woman to compete in a professional golf tournament. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE – Growing up as one of the few female golfers in Morocco, Maha Haddioui had no other option but to participate in boys’ competitions.

Despite being teased when she joined, she remained undeterred, eventually silencing her doubters by winning the Moroccan Boys’ Championship.

She told The Sunday Times: “I used it as a motivation. I was like, ‘I’ll show you guys what I can do’. After I won when I was, I think 16, people started taking me seriously and that made a massive difference.”

The 34-year-old has gone on to become the first Arab woman to compete in a professional golf tournament. She is also the first Arab golfer to have earned full status on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and is a two-time Olympian.

The Agadir native was among a handful of trailblazing women who are paving the way for their peers back home at LET’s Aramco Team Series Singapore this week.

But forging her own path and not having someone to look up to was challenging. World No. 577 Haddioui said: “I could look up to other players on the LET and I also saw a lot of LET players play in the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, but still, thinking no one from Morocco did it before, it didn’t look like an option.

“When you’ve got to build the road yourself, it’s always a bit harder to imagine than just going on the step of a road that already exists.”

It did not take long for Pia Babnik, 19, who has already won twice on the LET, to make her mark as a professional, but the early stages of her career were full of such challenges.

The 74th-ranked Slovenian, who competed at the Tokyo Olympics, said: “You have to learn everything on your own, nobody tells you how things are. There’s so just so many things like how everything works on Tour.”

She had to figure out what events to go for, sort out logistics like the necessary travel arrangements and find hotels.

Funding is another issue, with Babnik highlighting that the local federation in Slovenia is unable to provide much financial support for aspiring golfers. Finances were not a concern for Babnik, whose parents were able to support her ambitions, but she noted that was not the case for many others.

Much of the early years of Pia Babnik’s golf career were spent figuring out things like which competitions to go for and how to settle logistics of being on Tour. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

For Magdalena Simmermacher, the nearest golf course to the farm where she spent much of her childhood was six hours away, so the Argentinian was forced to innovate, creating a makeshift driving range using a mat from which to hit golf balls. She even bought sand and built a bunker with her father, so she could practise.

There were no women’s professional events in Argentina but the 26-year-old counts herself lucky as her family was able to help send her overseas to compete. Her first year as a professional was hard though, and she recalled how there were times when she had no money in her bank account.

Magdalena Simmermacher built a makeshift driving range and bunker in her farm in Argentina as the nearest golf course was six hours away. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

After turning professional in 2019, she played in Europe on invitations because she did not have a Tour card. She also played on smaller circuits, but the limited purses meant that she sometimes could not cover the expenses of competing.

“We just don’t have the money to come out, try Q-schools, and just try the first three to five years, so people struggle with that,” said Simmermacher. “That’s why there are not many golfers from Latin America, especially from Argentina, who get out and try to turn professional.”

While her country still does not have many golfers, Babnik, who harbours ambitions of being world No. 1, has noticed that more children are picking up the sport because of the media attention.

Haddioui, meanwhile, is no longer the only Arab golfer on the LET. In 2022, Ines Laklalech became the Tour’s first Moroccan, Arab and North African winner.

Haddioui said: “I see there’s a lot of Moroccan girls for the first time at the Lalla Meryem Cup, it was seven of us and it’s a huge step forward... that’s a huge success for Morocco.

“It takes a lot of pressure off me. I’ve been on the LET for 11 years and for me, there’s a lot less pressure knowing that there’s going to be a lot of Moroccan girls following.”

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