WA’s Kirsten Rudgeley, Connor McKinney and Hayden Hopewell have been selected in Golf Australia’s Rookie Squad for 2023.
The trio all turned professional in late 2022 after glittering amateur careers. They take their places in the 12-strong Rookie Squad, a concept established by Golf Australia in 2009 to help young professionals during their early years on tour.
Squad players receive a level of funding to help them through the period of establishing themselves as touring professionals, as well as holistic support from the Golf Australia high-performance team, including coaching, strength and conditioning, biomechanics, sports psychology and physiotherapy.
The ultimate aim is to produce golfers who are capable of winning Majors, and Olympic medals, and establishing themselves in top-100 world ranking positions. Players can remain in the Rookie Squad for up to five years.
Mount Lawley Golf Club’s Rudgeley was Australia’s top-ranked amateur ahead of turning professional just prior to the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in December. As an amateur, the 21-year-old represented Australia, chalked up many significant victories at home and aboard, played in a Major at the 2021 AIG Women’s Open and held a Karrie Webb scholarship.
She kicked off her professional career on the WPGA Tour of Australasia this season and will make her Ladies European Tour debut next month after earning her card via Qualifying School late last year.
Hopewell and McKinney will also head to Europe this year as they play the Challenge Tour – the secondary tour to the DP World Tour. The pair of 21-year-olds represented Australia and WA together as amateurs and turned professional at the same time ahead of November’s Fortinet Australian PGA Championship.
McKinney won the Australian Amateur, the St Andrews Links Trophy and a First Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School event in 2022, and the Joondalup member has played on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia this summer.
Royal Fremantle’s Hopewell has also been competing on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia this season and has registered four consecutive top-15 finishes. He is a proven performer against the professionals having won the 2020 WA Open as an amateur, and coming runner-up at that same event and the TPS Murray River last season.
The WA trio are among four new additions to the squad, the fourth being second-season QLD pro Cassie Porter. Other squad members include LPGA players Steph Kyriacou and Grace Kim, recent Asian Tour Qualifying School winner Jack Thompson and last season’s ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner Jed Morgan. Previous players to be part of the Rookie Squad include Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Cameron Smith and Lucas Herbert.
Speaking about the squad’s new additions, Brad James, Golf Australia’s General Manager of High Performance, said: “Kirsten, Connor, Hayden and Cassie are all brilliant players and they have shown that already through their amateur careers and in the early stages of their professional careers. What we need to do as an industry is ensure that as they take these initial steps as professionals, they have support and we put appropriate resources in place so that they can make the most of their potential.
“The first five years on tour as a pro are quite often the hardest. Travel is expensive and the curve is not always going upward, so to speak, in every single case. There are playing rights to be earned and retained and lessons to be learned about playing for your living and being on the road.
“We do not want the players to feel alone out there, and we want them to know that they have the support of the nation as they try to navigate the substantial challenges that exist for a young player.”
2023 GOLF AUSTRALIA ROOKIE SQUAD
- Louis Dobbelaar, 2nd year in program, Challenge Tour
- Hayden Hopewell, 1st year in program, Challenge Tour
- Grace Kim, 2nd year in program, LPGA
- Steph Kyriacou, 4th year in program, LPGA
- Connor McKinney, 1st year in program, Challenge Tour
- Jed Morgan, 2nd year in program, DP World Tour
- Cassie Porter, 1st year in program, Epson Tour
- Kirsten Rudgeley, 1st year in program, Ladies European Tour
- Gabi Ruffels, 3rd year in program, Ladies European Tour
- Elvis Smylie, 2nd year in program, Challenge Tour
- Jack Thompson, 3rd year in program, Asian Tour
- Blake Windred, 4th year in program, DP World Tour