From the Annapolis Valley to the bright lights of the Big Apple, Heather McLean had a ball during her freshman NCAA Division 1 season at Wagner College.
The 2018 Nova Scotia women’s amateur and junior girls’ champion was the youngest player on the Seahawks’ golf team. But the unflappable McLean played like a crafty veteran. She began her collegiate career with a pair of top 10 finishes, concluded it with a tie for fourth at the 54-hole, Northeast Conference (NEC) championship and earned second-team all-conference honours for the year.
But accolades aside, her fondest memory of her first year at the Staten Island university was experiencing all that The City That Never Sleeps had to offer.
“Being in New York is so cool; I really like it there,” McLean, a biology major, said in a recent interview.
“The college is so near to everything. It seems like almost every weekend, when we weren’t in season, I tried to get over into the city just to get my mind off school and golf and have some fun. I love being in the city.”
Her TLC for NYC was certainly enhanced by playing some of her best golf at 18 years old.
“I was really proud of how I played,” said Ken-Wo’s McLean. “I got to play in every single tournament we had and tied for tops on the team at the conference championship. I was happy with that.
“My coach at Wagner helped me a lot with my short game. That part of my game got a whole lot better,” she added. “I really liked the whole team aspect of college golf, too. There definitely was an adjustment going from playing as an individual to playing as a team. But I liked it. We came third in our conference, which tied the school’s best finish ever. That was great for us.
“It really makes me excited for next year.”
Before she returns to Wagner at the end of August, she has a summer chock full of provincial and national tournaments.
McLean started her season with a tie for fourth at the Future Links Quebec championship last month.
She, again, tied for fourth at the recent Nova Scotia women’s amateur championship at Greenwood.
Although she didn’t successfully defend her amateur title — Chester’s Allison Chandler won by two strokes over McLean’s sister Meghan — she heads into this week’s Nova Scotia junior championship at Truro as the reigning champion.
When she won last year’s junior event by 12 strokes at Northumberland Links, McLean became just the third golfer to win both the women’s amateur and junior girls’ championships in the same year.
Rita Lohnes did it three times (1955, 1957, 1959) while fellow Ken-Wo member Laura Harris pulled off the feat twice (2004, 2007).
McLean would like nothing better than another provincial title in her junior swan song.
“It’s pretty crazy that this is my last year in junior,” McLean said. “I feel like I’ve done this for my whole life. It’s the end of a chapter. So I definitely want to go out and have my best season and hopefully do really good at juniors.
“Knowing how well I played at a collegiate level definitely gives me a lot of confidence. I’m a lot more confident over the ball and I feel like I have a lot more knowledge of the game.”
And she has plenty of course knowledge of Truro Golf Club to fall back on. The challenging 5,778-yard, par-71 track was the site of her ’18 amateur victory.
“I love Truro,” McLean said. “When I think about Truro I have happy memories. I’m probably biased because I won the amateur there. But I’m definitely excited to play the juniors there.”
A new junior boys’ winner will be crowned this year with the graduation from the junior ranks of three-time defending champ Shaun Margeson.
Chester’s Mark Chandler, who was runner-up to Margeson by two strokes last year at Northumberland Links, is one of the favourites in the boys’ division. His older brother Matthew won the event in 2015.
“My game held up last year and I was really happy with the result,” Chandler said of his runner-up finish in 2018. “I hope I get to play some really good golf at Truro.”
Chandler is coming off a tie for 17th at the recent Nova Scotia men’s amateur at Abercrombie.
Other junior girls’ players to watch are Ashburn’s Haley Baker, who last week successfully defend her New Brunswick junior championship title, and Ken-Wo’s Sara Cumby. On the boys’ side, contenders include Ashburn’s Jake Smith, Kieran Allain and Ewan Kelly Jr., Andrew Cash of The Lakes Golf Club and Truro’s Owen Mullen.