Oct. 4, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -
A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Mhairi McKay was the first international golfer to be offered in scholarship at Stanford. A three-time first team All-America selection for the Cardinal in 1994, '96 and '97, McKay helped Stanford to three Top-5 finishes at the NCAA Championships before going on to enjoy a successful career on the LPGA Tour.
As a professional, McKay represented Europe on two Solheim Cup teams, claimed her first professional victory at the 2003 AAMI Australian Women's Open and enjoyed three Top-10 finishes at the U.S. Women's Open.
GoStanford.com recently caught up with Mhairi to get her thoughts on her selection to Stanford's Athletic Hall of Fame, her favorite memories from her years on The Farm, her Scottish roots, her LPGA career and more.
What are some of your thoughts about being selected to Stanford's Athletic Hall Fame?
When the phone call came from the athletic department informing me of my selection for the Hall of Fame I remember just being completely stunned and taken aback. Such an honor I had given no thought to. Obviously I was aware of the great Stanford golfers already inducted, Mickey Wright, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods to name but a few; their stratospheric achievements have been an inspiration to me throughout my career. Following in their footsteps is very surreal, flattering and humbling.
The timing of the call came at a particular poignant moment for my family. We had just been evacuated the previous day from our home in Los Alamos, New Mexico, because of the Los Conchas forest fire. At the time we worried as the fire came within 1.5 miles of our home so the call was blessed relief and cause for celebration.
You were the first international player to be offered a scholarship to play golf at Stanford. What were some of the factors that pointed you to The Farm?
I have so many people to thank for their part in my Stanford scholarship all the way from Glasgow, Scotland. Firstly, my parent's close friends, Charlie and Joyce Scott, from our golf club in Glasgow were responsible for making initial contact with Tim Baldwin the then-women's golf coach after a round of golf at the university course. After that chance meeting, Coach Baldwin made contact with me and before I knew it my father and I were headed to the States (our first ever visit to USA) on a recruitment trip to check out Stanford and another prestigious university.
Ironically, the weather was very un-Californian, actually quite Scottish! Not that that bothered me, I was simply in awe of this amazing campus, Palm Drive, the Quad, the people associated with the university, driving range and golf course you could just fall out of bed on to, not forgetting all the other amazing sports facilities. I went to class with one of the girls on the team - psych with Professor Zimbardo - who lectured on his infamous Stanford Prison experiment. This sure doesn't happen in Scotland and how could all this incredible activity happen in one small place? I was overcome, yet in heaven!
The coach from the second university tried hard when I arrived there a few days later, but I already had my heart set on Stanford. Really there was no decision! But I can't thank Tim Baldwin enough for taking the chance on a wee girl from Scotland whom he'd never seen swing a club! Who does that? Hence, I feel this honor is as much to do with Coach Baldwin giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
What are some of your favorite memories as a golfer at Stanford?
There are so many great Stanford golf memories from the silly practice on-goings all the way to winning tournaments. The team always had fun on the road and it was exciting to compete against the best collegiate players every couple of weeks. A unique occasion the golf team enjoyed annually was being part of the Shultz Cup Fundraiser; 18 holes of golf followed by a formal dinner. While the team was excluded from playing, we were invited to join in the evening celebration. There the Honorable George Shultz would address dinner guests with his own version of the "State of the Nation". He always chooses current issues and really invited guests to think hard over the problems he probed. To be privy to such a small address by such an internationally iconic political figure was very special. Even nicer was realizing what a lovely down-to-earth gentleman Mr. Shultz is.
You are the only women's player from Stanford to have won the Pac-10 Championship. What are some of your memories of the 1997 event in Tacoma, Wash.?
Admittedly, my memories of the 1997 Pac-10 Championships in Tacoma are a little hazy now but I do recall really enjoying the look of the golf course when we first arrived. I have always enjoyed playing in the Pacific Northwest, some of my best results as a collegiate player and as a professional have been in that region. I think it's all that green, green grass reminds me of home - after all it's green for a reason, RAIN and lots of it!
The player to beat that year was Marisa Baena from the University of Arizona. That season she seemed unbeatable, but it was my week and my whole game just clicked. My hot putter didn't hurt either! I am most proud of that victory as I remember playing head to head with Marisa (whom I've remained good friends with to this day on the LPGA), as she was just one of those natural flair players who could do the unexpected and could make birdies till the cows came home!
You also thrived academically at Stanford, earning first team Pac-10 All-Academic honors as a senior. Tell us about your academic pursuits and your experiences as a student?
Wow, did I really earn first team Pac-10 All-Academic honors as a senior?!?! My public policy degree is something I truly cherish. While I now know public office is definitely not for me, I really enjoyed my major and appreciated the diversity of the course material. The blend of economics, political science and sociology was broadening, engaging and challenging and my fellow public policy majors kept me on my toes. I'm waiting to see one of my classmates in a high profile political office soon!
Talk about the influences Tim Baldwin and Caroline O'Connor had on your development as a person and player?
From the moment I arrived on campus, Tim Baldwin made me feel part of the Stanford family and opened my eyes to this incredible place. Coach Baldwin's relaxed approach I knew was the perfect fit for me and to this day I can hear him telling myself and fellow teammate and classmate Andrea Baxter, "You can do whatever you want!" Coach Baldwin's trust really allowed me to flourish as a person and a golfer. As much as this was our motto for four years at Stanford it simply defined our mutual respect and trust for each other both on and off the course. As I already mentioned -- who takes the chance on an athlete they have never seen perform in person? Fortunately, Tim Baldwin had that courage and belief in me and hopefully I delivered on my end of the deal. That belief was the start of a magical time for which I am forever indebted.
Caroline O'Connor came to Stanford winter of my junior year, thrown straight into the deep end to hold together and coach a team who were without their beloved coach while he fought for his life following a stroke. Coach Baldwin's six-week fight for life in ICU was one of the toughest, most traumatic times of my Stanford career. Caroline helped us through those dark days, listening to our fears for Tim but keeping us focused on golf and trying to get the results that would make Tim proud. Caroline helped us all rally together, to remain strong and, because of that, we were close to pulling off an upset at NCAA's that year. We were in the thick of the fight coming into the last five holes but our fourth-place finish that year was for Tim. With Caroline's help, it was so close to being so much more. Despite all our woes off the course the team remained realistic contenders for the national championship.
You were a classmate of Tiger Woods. Did you have much contact with him and what were some of your favorite Tiger memories from Stanford?
Tiger was the year behind me at Stanford and while we have not remained in touch personally, messages have been relayed between journalist friends over the years, which was something unexpected but appreciated. We were in a couple of classes together and I remember him analyzing pictures taken during a recent lesson with Butch Harmon. But my favorite Tiger memories are from the times we practiced together at the Stanford range. Then and now he is simply a majestical shot maker. Yes he would work on his swing mechanics and your typical range workout, but he was forever creating shots and challenging himself and others to pull off "impossible" shots. Of course they weren't impossible to him!
Do you keep in contact with any of your former teammates?
Fortunately, I have been able to keep in contact with several teammates and Andrea Bretz (Baxter, '97) remains my closest friend. We talk almost every day. She introduced me to my husband and we were bridesmaids at each other's wedding. Stanford would not have been the same without her and the Baxter family; they adopted me from Day One! She's that crazy, wonderful friend who'll do something that makes you cry laughing. We have lots of great Stanford memories and now that we both have families I am grateful to say the fun is only continuing and passing down to a new generation!
While time moves on from Stanford days I've always found that special connection from playing on the golf team means any reunion with an old teammate is as if it were just yesterday since we were last together. I'm not sure how Tim did it but he brought together an amazing group of people I'm lucky enough to have in my life.
Favorite memories of playing Stanford Golf Course?
It seems so difficult now to reflect and pick one favorite memory playing Stanford Golf Course. Winning the Peg Barnard Invitational on home turf was pretty special. However, I really enjoyed the times Andrea Baxter and I would go out and practice on the course preparing either for a qualifier or tournament. Usually we'd have some crazy bet going (loser would buy a 49-cent McDonald's ice cream cone) but I remember one wet winter day determining it would be a good idea to play the course with only our 6 irons off the back tees! Tim Baldwin again reiterated we could do whatever we wanted while retiring to the clubhouse rolling his eyes. I don't remember the outcome only that the course played REALLY long!
Toughest hole at Stanford Golf Course?
There have been a few changes to the course since my time on the golf team but Stanford remains a wonderful course and a great test. During tournaments and qualifiers I always felt that if I could get past the second hole with a par I was off to a good start. There is just something about that hole, often it played into the wind and the bunkers always seemed to be too well placed for my drive. At times it was sneaky long and you had to play a tricky long iron for your approach into the green.
Tell us about your introduction to golf growing up in Scotland?
Golf has been part of my family life for as long as I can remember. My mum was the keen golfer in the family and my dad claims he had to take up the game to court her! My brother and sister are five and four years older than me respectively, so when they were learning to play the game I didn't want to be left out. Luckily, they were patient and kind enough to have their wee sister tag along. My first golf club was a cut down hickory shafted club, with no grip only a nail protruding where the grip should have been. I've been reminded recently that I claimed golf was an easy game and I remember just trying to hit the ball as hard as possible. Family holidays always involved golf and some of my fondest memories are playing with the family on the west coast of Scotland. It's a great game and the perfect way to spend time together as a family. Hopefully, I'll be able to create similar memories with my husband and son on the course.
What courses did you play the most before arriving at Stanford?
Turnberry on the west coast of Scotland is my home course and the course I played most often prior to Stanford. It remains my all time favorite course and place to visit. The Ailsa course is wonderful, an Open Championship venue but a fair test that plays slightly different every day. The scenery is simply stunning, with views over to Ireland and several islands. I feel so at home and at peace whenever I am there and fortunately my husband has just as big a love for this special place.
Play tour guide for us and put together Mhairi McKay's dream Scottish golf getaway package?
How much time do we have? There are so many fabulous courses to play in Scotland and I would recommend not just visiting the typical Open championship venues. Of course Turnberry's Ailsa course is top of my list and a must-stay and play. A perfect blend of scenery and golf so play the Kintyre course on site while you're there too. Don't forget to visit Wildings restaurant in nearby Maidens, fabulous food and atmosphere.
Royal Troon is within easy striking distance of Turnberry. It's a formidable challenge although not nearly as scenic as Turnberry. Nearby Prestwick Golf Club held the first Open championship in 1860, another of my favorite courses. The blind holes make it challenging and exciting, not to be missed! Oh and watch out for the railway next to the first fairway, aim left! Try Scott's restaurant in Troon, good food after a tough round!
If you're feeling adventurous take the boat from Troon to Campbelltown and play Machrihanish golf club. You'll hit you first tee shot over the Atlantic Ocean. While you're there you should play the delightful Dunaverty Golf Club where you put your green fee in a honesty box! Fly back to Glasgow and drive east where you should take in the military tattoo and festival in Edinburgh before playing Carnoustie and Muirfield, but whatever happens don't miss St. Andrews. The home of golf, while it might not be to everyone's tastes with its double greens and copious pot bunkers the unique atmosphere of this university town and first tee shot under the shadow of the R&A clubhouse cannot be beat. Beware of the Road Hole #17, should you come a fowl of the road hole bunker, there will be plenty of spectators to witness your downfall!
Some of my favorite lesser known links courses to play would be Gullane, North Berwick and Archerfield all on the doorstep of Muirfield. A little farther north there is Cruden Bay (a favorite of Tom Watson's), Royal Aberdeen, Nairn and Royal Dornoch. While Scotland is renowned for its links courses I wouldn't forget to visit both Gleneagles and Loch Lomond both fabulous inland courses but providing world-class golf experiences. Now that will take care of your first trip there are plenty more for a return visit.
You played on two Solheim Cup teams and claimed your only professional victory at the 2003 AAMI Australian Women's Open. Catch us up on where you are at this point in your professional career?
It's been 14 years since I graduated from Stanford and qualified for the LPGA and LET tours on my first attempt. My 2003 AAMI Australian Women's Open victory is my career highlight, my putter was on fire on the last nine holes and I managed to overcome European legend Laura Davies to win. At the turn I agreed with my caddie not to look at the scoreboard over the back nine so I was really shocked to see my name top of the leaderboard when I holed out on the last!
Since then, I have been runner-up five times on the LPGA tour, including narrowly missing out to Annika Sorenstam the week after she played against the men at Colonial. Next to my victory in Australia, I relished my good runs during the U.S. Opens at Blackwolf Run my rookie year and Pumpkin Ridge in 2003. Part of me feels like these are the events that slip through my grasp, but to have three Top 10's in the greatest women's event is something I'm very proud of.
To name one last career highlight would be my 11th-place finish in the 2007 British Women's Open Championship played over the Old Course St. Andrews. I closed Sunday with a course record-tying 67 in front of my family and then fiancé, now husband Dave Smith. It's extra special to play well in front of home support. Since 2007, times have changed most definitely for the better - but it has meant more challenges on the course. Becoming a mother has definitely limited my practice and playing time, however I refer to Angus as my little major!
The LPGA has suffered from the economic downturn and there are fewer events to play in. While I still feel capable of competing at the highest level, a limited tour schedule over recent years has made it hard to get into a good rhythm. That being the case, I was really pleased with my ninth-place finish this year during the Ladies Scottish Open with husband, Dave on the bag!
Any special memories from your Solheim Cup experiences you would like to share?
I am proud of my two Solheim Cup appearances, once winning and once losing. Results never tell the full picture, we were so close to winning in Interlachan in 2002. I played and lost to Pat Hurst in our singles match. She chipped in twice against me while winning 3 and 2, but it was calculated had I come up against any other U.S. player that day I would have won - it was a great match. The following year, I was proud of my win over LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, another great match with birdies flying in all over the place.
Where is home for you now?
I never envisioned this, but home now is Los Alamos, New Mexico, where I live with my husband Dave Smith and our son Angus, who is 2. It's a beautiful place, with a wonderful outdoors way of life. Summer and winter at 7,600 feet elevation. A lovely place to raise a family.
What are your interests away from the golf course?
While I'm not traveling and competing, admittedly I love relaxing at home and spending time with my family. Looking after a two-year-old boy is a pretty full time job in itself and I now find myself an expert in Thomas the Tank Engine trivia. I have always loved art and I am hoping that I'll pick up the pencils and paintbrushes again soon. Living so close to Santa Fe, one of the top three art centers in the U.S., I love visiting the galleries with Dave. Through our travels, we have tried to pick up a few interesting pieces but I do love the paintings from the west of Scotland artists we have in our home. It keeps me connected to that wonderful place.
What is the absolute one thing you have to do when you come back to campus in November?
Breakfast at Hobees!
Editor's Note: The rich and proud tradition of Stanford Athletics will come alive on Friday night, November 11 as Stanford formally inducts nine new members into the University's Athletic Hall of Fame. The list of inductees includes Don Griffin (men's basketball), Mhairi McKay (women's golf), Jay Mortenson (men's swimming), Alex Kim (men's tennis), Don Shaw (volleyball), Stan Spencer (baseball), Trisha Stevens (women's basketball), Kerri Walsh (women's volleyball), Bob Whitfield (football),