Michele Thomson reckons she has the mental edge to be a winner in her second chance of glory on the Ladies European Tour – thanks to two years facing the harsh realities of life as a female police officer.
Thomson swopped cap and clubs for helmet and truncheon when her form slipped and passion waned.
But months pounding the beat on the streets of Aberdeen instead of strolling sunlit fairways of Mediterranean courses was a brutal wake up call for the former Scottish Ladies Amateur Champion who had to deal with the full day-to-day diet of death, violence, drunken behaviour and intimidation policing a bustling city.
The former Curtis Cup player loved the force, admitting:
“It was always going to be my second career if golf had not worked out.”
But those harrowing experiences have served a greater purpose than testing her nerve as a woman police officer, they helped Thomson re-discover her hunger for the tour, re-inforced her inner steel – and put a life playing golf firmly in perspective.
“That experience in the police made me realise how lucky I am,” she explained. “I probably took it all for granted when I first started playing. I was young and maybe didn’t appreciate what I had got. I do now. Golf is everything for me now. It is my priority.”
“Being in the police is a tough job. You witness some difficult scenes – car accidents, bereavement, drunken disturbances. When you are standing outside a bar in the early hours of the morning, waiting for all the drunken people to leave and knowing that trouble could flare at any time, it puts a bad shot on a golf course into perspective.”
“If I play a bad shot now, I know it is just that. One bad shot. Before my experiences in the police, one bad shot would be the end of the world. I wouldn’t have got over it and I would play the next hole badly too.
“I didn’t realise how lucky I was to be out, playing on tour rather than dealing with what the average policeman or woman has to go through. Some people think all they do is give tickets to drivers using a mobile phone. I saw at first-hand how harsh it can be. It changed me. It helped me grow as a person and I really believe it has had a huge impact on my golf.”
In all Thomson walked away from golf for five years. She worked a variety of jobs from 2009 to 2014 when she re-joined the Ladies European Tour Access series. But it was those two years in blue which have most profoundly changed her view of golf and life.
She said: “Car accidents, sudden death situations, anti-social behaviour – you see some real trauma when you work in the police. You are in situations when the adrenalin is really pumping and you have to cope and handle them.
“That’s helped on the course too. Coping, being strong, and remaining in control. The way I finished off last season proved I can handle those tough situations now. I was really pleased with the way I performed under pressure.”
Thomson’s return to golf ended in 2015 with an eighth place finish on the LET Access Series Tour, thanks to one win and six top ten finishes. She stepped up another level for the 2016 campaign – and needed all that Police Constable mental power to close out the final two tournaments with top five finishes to grab her ticket back to the full tour.
And even her coach, PGA Professional Neil Marr based at Meldrum House has seen how those years in the force have improved her. He said:
“The way she finished those last two tournaments shows how mentally strong she is now. That’s what will stand Michele in good stead next season on the European Tour – she is tough mentally. That’s probably the strongest part of her game now. She has that inner belief. I am sure she will do well.”
“I couldn’t imagine working with any other coach,” Thomson admitted. “Neil knows my game. I am not the kind of player who gets too technical. For me it is more about feel. He knows me.”
Thomson added: “I was coming from behind going into the last tournament. Sometimes that can be easier than leading an event. I went to Spain to compete knowing what I had to do if I wanted to qualify. And I did it. I felt really good now.
“I had to par in from the 14th and I knew I could cope. I felt strong. I felt in control. I think that calm and mental strength came from that time in the police.”
Nine years after she first hit the Ladies European Tour and aged 28, Thomson has earned her second chance to make it at the top of the women’s game. She has stepped up her fitness work in preparation, is working closely with Marr on her game and will spend around a month playing in the warmth of Australia.
“I can’t wait to get over there and play,” she said. “Practising and playing in the heat will be wonderful when you have been used to freezing winter temperatures in Aberdeen.”