Big-hitting teen sensation Lily May Humphreys has her sights set on becoming the Dustin Johnson of women’s golf, and after a breathtaking ’16 season, few would bet against her.
It would take brave PGA Professional Richard Smith to completely rebuild the youngster’s swing - and keep Humphreys on her stellar rise to the top.
The 14-year-old from Channels in Essex has taken the girls’ amateur game by the scruff of the neck this year winning three times and taking third spot in the European Young Masters in Switzerland.
At the recent WPGA International Challenge at Stoke-by-Nayland she fired in two round of 75 and 71 to qualify for the final day – and then produced a 72 to finish tied 25th.
“It was a great event,” she said. “But I could have finished a lot higher. I had double bogeys on the 18th twice in a row. I really enjoyed being out with the professionals.”
Humphreys’ hot streak began in April when she won the Fairhaven Girls Trophy by a staggering eight shots.
She followed that with an impressive European Young Masters, then bagged two more wins – the English Girls U16 Open Amateur Championships by six strokes and the North of England U16 title, again by six shots.
It all adds up to an impressive season for the ambitious teenager who excelled at cricket, tennis and netball before deciding golf was her passion. Her interest was ignited by a trip to local Topgolf centre in Chigwell, when she was nine-years-old with her single figure handicap brother Jack.
She tried her hand at some of the fun golf set up for kids – but Smith quickly noticed that Lily had something special. Smith took her aside for more serious coaching and her handicap was soon tumbling.
By the age of 11 she was playing off 12, and the numbers kept falling.
Smith “What separated Lily was her focus and her desire to learn. For someone her age she could concentrate and stay focused a long time and that makes teaching easy. Also she is very competitive. That was clear from a young age. She wants to learn and do well. Soon after she started coming down with her brother we had her in the academy, videoing her swing, helping her get better. She was a joy to work with.”
Late last year it was clear that if Humphreys wanted to carry on her meteoric rise, she would have to make some fundamental changes to her swing. It was a worrying time for both Lily and her family – with understandable fears lurking about the downside of swing surgery.
But a poor performance in a major event convinced everyone a swing re-build was the only way forward.
Smith explained: “Lily had an out-to-in swing and was hitting everything with a draw. On some holes she was having to aim over out-of-bounds to allow for the draw back into the fairway. We needed to change the path of her swing, quieten her hands. I spoke to her national coach, Roly Hitchcock at Stoke-by-Nayland, and we moved ahead.”
The transition required four months of non-stop work – but with Smith’s guidance and Humphreys’ determination the end result is a more powerful solid swing. She is hitting her drives and irons as far as she did with a draw and the hard work has culminated in a season of success on the course.
Smith, 28, said: “Lily worked so hard. She never questions anything. She listens and puts things into action. There were tough times while the new swing started to work, but Lily never lost faith – she just kept practising and working. From October to February, we worked on so much – her swing, her putting. Now she has a whole range of shots she can play depending on conditions.''
“The swing is working. But she is also mentally very strong. Off the course you could not wish to meet a lovelier girl and when she isn’t working on her game she helps all the youngsters. But on the course she is fiercely competitive and has complete faith in her ability.”
The experience of guiding Humphreys on her fascinating golf journey has convinced Smith, who qualified as a PGA Professional three years ago, to focus more on coaching elite youngsters.
He said: “Helping Lily make the most of her talent was a great experience and we have more youngsters coming through at Topgolf who have a lot of ability. Long term I would love to work with professionals on tour. The PGA training has been brilliant. It is the best system and every pro should go through it. I am always trying to learn more about the swing so I can be a great coach.”
Humphreys has one goal in mind – to be a tour pro and to emulate heroes like Charley Hull and major winner Johnson.
She said: “I love the way Johnson plays. He has the power game, but he also has a lot of touch and a great short game. He goes for things on the course which is what makes him so great to watch.”
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