Women's British Open 2018: Debutant Meghan MacLaren on struggle to break through
Making a living as a professional golfer is far from easy, it is a cut-throat business where pay days are exceptionally hard earned.
Yes, those at the very top are richly rewarded. Prize money, appearance fees and sponsorship cash flow into bank accounts of elite players such as Rory McIlroy in their millions.
But for those further down the pecking order it is a different story, where financial security depends entirely on the process of trying to knock that little white ball into a distant hole as efficiently as possible.
This is why there was so much goodwill felt in the aftermath of Richard McEvoy's maiden Tour win at the European Open on Sunday. The 39-year-old Englishman is a veteran of a dozen visits to tour school and this was his first win - at the 285th attempt.
The 333,000 euros banked by McEvoy now provides plenty of financial security and Tour playing privileges are neatly secured for the next couple of years.
Things are somewhat more precarious in the female game, which sits centre stage this week with the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St Anne's.
Britain's only winner this year on the Ladies European Tour (LET), Meghan MacLaren, plays her home major for the first time and is understandably eager to cash in with a prize fund of $3.25m (£2.47m) up for grabs.
But few know better than MacLaren just how tough life can be trying to establish a career in the paid ranks. Her victory at the New South Wales Open in early March netted just $14,264 and she admits barely breaking even on that trip to Australia.
|Meghan MacLaren career highlights|
|Date of birth: 15 May 1994||Turned pro: 21 November 2016|
|Tournaments played: 15||LET wins: 1|
|Top 10 finishes: 3||Lowest round: 65|
|Current ranking: 274||Order of merit: 16|
This week's major on the Lancashire coast is the tournament she always dreamed of playing. But she also recognises the significance of the purse at stake.
"I've been struggling a bit and money now is a bit more of an issue than it has been before," MacLaren told BBC Sport.
"You can't deny the fact that weeks like this are a massive opportunity financially. I would never think about it out on the golf course, I would never think about this week as being a chance to earn some money - but if you do well you've got this weight off your shoulders.
"It's almost one of those things that you don't realise is adding pressure to you."
MacLaren missed the chance to make money at last week's Ladies Scottish Open after a second-round tangle with a bunker on Gullane's 12th hole. The 24-year-old missed the cut and any chance of a pay day by a single stroke.
This follows a frustrating spell on the Symetra Tour in the United States, the feeder circuit that can lead to a more lucrative card on the LPGA Tour. Maclaren has played nine events, missed six cuts and picked up just $4,462 in prize money.
But this is a player who was capable of closing out that two-shot victory in Australia earlier in the year. In 2017, she came through qualifying for the US Open and a year earlier capped a stellar amateur career by clinching the winning point in the Curtis Cup.
She has documented the early stages of her professional career in a series of searingly honest blogs. In her latest entry, she explained why she is so ready to share her struggles on social media.
"Professional sport, especially golf, is a minefield of pain and doubt and indecision," she said.
"But navigating all of that is what makes it so rewarding. That's what makes it real. And should being real really be the thing we're trying to hide?"
MacLaren is keen to lay bare just how tough but enjoyable the struggle to break through is. "It is an incredible way to make a living and I would not want to change anything about it," she said.
"You know I'm so lucky. But part of what makes it great is the struggles that you have to go through.
"I've just picked up my competitor's badge for this week and it is really exciting, but a few weeks ago I was questioning all kinds of things about my game and about what makes you good and whether you deserve to be competing alongside these players.
"And then it's like well actually I've earned my place here and I'm loving every second of it."
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MacLaren is entitled to enjoy her British Open debut, a bi-product of winning in Australia, because she feels it is somewhat overdue. Arriving at Lytham was "a bit surreal" as she surveyed the stands and infrastructure for one of the biggest dates on the women's calendar.
"I've played final qualifying what feels like a million times," she said. "And you always think it's one round of qualifying and you've got a good chance of getting in and it never happened.
"Suddenly I didn't have to worry about any of that. It was almost like a second thought after winning in Australia - it was like: 'Oh my god, I get to play the British Open now.' So it's pretty cool.
"As a British player you know that you are getting to play on a course that you'll be somewhat familiar with in the sense that it's probably going to be links and home support.
"I already feel more comfortable here this week than in qualifying for the US Open last year where it was all this massive big stage. It feels very different. This is just as big a stage but you feel a bit more comfortable so it is pretty exciting."
MacLaren stayed on to watch a couple of British Opens in the past after failing to qualify.
"You feel a little bit bitter," she said.
"You've been playing with all these people in final qualifying and then you watch them get to play on the biggest stage, and not getting to be a part of it is quite tough to take."
Although she missed the weekend at Gullane, the Wellingborough-based player feels the links experience in Scotland will stand her well for this week's challenge.
"I'm glad I've had a bit of time to get used to how fast and running it's been over here," she said. "Gullane was the perfect preparation for this and sure pretty much every player that has come from there would say the same thing."
Reflecting on her struggles in America she feels that her swing had gone off track and she had not been able to correct the flaws. But since returning, coach Shane Rose has been able to iron out the faults.
"I'm feeling really good actually," MacLaren said. "I'm glad I had Scotland even though the disappointment of missing the cut was still there.
"I felt in a bit of a different place with my game and I felt a lot more comfortable in that environment than I might have expected to given my last couple of months.
"But actually I can see that my game is going in the right direction and it gave me an opportunity to see the little fine-tuning things that I can take into this week. I actually think this week has come at the perfect time for me."
MacLaren will embark on her first British Open with Ariya Jutanugarn having celebrated her third win of the year with her victory at Gullane. The Thai is back on top of the world rankings and more than $1m clear in the money list.
Jutanugarn is where all professionals are striving to reach - so is McEvoy - but as MacLaren can testify, it can be a huge journey to get there.