The 2023 Nomads SA Girls champion’s year got even better when she won the English Girls’ Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship at The Caversham Golf Club
THE GOLF MAG caught up with Gia Raad after her impressive performance in England where she discussed her win, her love of golf and how she keeps a balance between school and sport.
How are you feeling after winning the Nomads SA Girls and now the English Girls’ Open Championship?
It’s been really nice. I think I’ve had a breakthrough this year. It’s been quite busy with lots of tournaments this time of year, but I’ve been pretty consistent which is nice. I also had my personal best for scores at the tournament which is great!
What do you think the breakthrough comes down to?
I’m actually not sure. I’ve put in a lot of hours this year practising, probably more than my schoolwork! It’s nice getting all this experience. I played in England in April actually and I think that helped me for this tournament. It gave me experience with the girls and the competition. So I didn’t feel too worried, I knew what to expect.
Did winning the Nomads SA Girls gave you extra confidence going into the event in England?
Yes, I think it helped a lot. I was writing exams and I wasn’t playing so well before the event, I had to practise really hard for SA Girls. Winning it was a shock because I wasn’t even in the leading threeballs; I just played well in the last round, which is a good thing! It definitely boosted my confidence knowing I can beat all the girls and play with the best.
How did you manage the pressure of being the only South African competing at The Caversham, the conditions which weren’t great all the way through, going into the final day with a lead and then playing 36 holes on the final day?
Well, I got quite lucky, I played with a really nice girl [Mia Ingham]. It was great because we talked throughout the 36 holes. We just kept lifting each other up, so it wasn’t too stressful to play with her. I think if you’re playing with someone who’s not very talkative or is too serious you worry too much about your game or you overthink everything. But I just tried to be as relaxed as I could be and remind myself that I had played that golf course five times. I focused on playing my normal game and not trying too hard. I was struggling to sink putts in the third round but then in the last 18 I managed to get a few putts in. I was really nervous those last four holes, though!
What did you do to handle those nerves?
I kept on drinking water and distracting myself, and then just thought about that shot only and not the four holes I had left. I was actually only one or two shots ahead going into the last, then I made birdie. It was a better finish than I expected.
Besides winning, what was your biggest highlight and what did you take away from the tournament?
Definitely shooting my best round under par. In the last round I made two eagles which is also a first, that was pretty cool. Those players are very good and I think it’s quite nice to know I can play against them. They’re really talented.
that winning feeling
See how Gia Raad won the 2023 Nomads SA Girls Championship.
What kind of support team do you have when you play overseas? Who travels with you?
Only my dad comes with me. He’s the reason I play all these tournaments, which is pretty cool. I’m lucky. He was very happy when I won, he was messaging the family after every shot I played! It’s good to be with the team at home and it is an adjustment when I have to play by myself and only have my dad with me when I travel. But it’s still nice, we bond when we’re away.
What was your family’s reaction to your win?
They were all so happy for me, they were sharing my scores on the family group and sending me messages telling me I’ve got this.
How valuable is the experience you gain playing internationally?
I think it’s very valuable. We don’t have a huge field when we play in South Africa. There are lots of really good players but not enough compared to the standard of the Europeans or the Americans. You win in South Africa or come in the top five then you go play overseas and you shoot two or three over par and finish 20th or 30th. It’s a different field.
How old were you when you first got interested in golf and started playing?
My dad started taking me and my sister to the range when we were six just for fun. He was a big golfer. I played my first SA Kids tournament when I was about nine years old. I like golf because it’s competitive. I used to play hockey and golf is the opposite – it’s individual and you have to be mentally strong. I’ve been inspired by my dad, he was a really great sportsman and golfer, he’s the reason I think I play.
How has been part of the GolfRSA National Squad benefited you as a person and as a player?
It’s definitely helped. Being part of an exclusive team makes you want to be better and improve all the time, not for yourself but for your team and whoever you’re representing. We do all mental and skills games which help quite a lot. It’s also nice to go on the camps and help each other grow. In the South African tournaments you always have friends you’re supporting in the Squad team. They sent me such a nice video congratulating me because I missed a camp while I was in England.
How do you balance your schoolwork with your golf and how often do you get to practise?
I try to practise five times a week. But it’s not always that easy because sometimes I have to pick between my golf and my academics because when it comes to exams I have to focus hard on my academics. I often fall behind. Right now I’m missing school [Grade 10], when I get back I’ll be on holiday so I’ll have time to catch up. I need to divide my time equally. It’s not too stressful. Most of my teachers understand that I’m always travelling and hopefully now they’ll see it’s worth it!
What advice would you give to other youngsters who want to pursue sport seriously and try to balance it with school?
They must just know that they can do it. It’s possible to play well and still get decent marks. Sometimes you have to pick what you want and which are the most important times to play good golf and get good marks. They must practise hard for the tournaments, it’s worth it. You’ll see the results and if you’re struggling just be patient because everyone goes through patches. It took me a long time to shoot the scores I am today. I couldn’t break 70 for ages even though I was playing well.
Do you have plans to pursue golf further?
I’m taking it as it comes but I really want to try to get into a good college overseas, that’s my first goal. I’ll see how well I’m doing and then hopefully turn pro. There are so many options, especially if you get into a good college then you can decide what you want to do.
Gia Raad gets one step closer to victory at the English Girls' Open Championship.
Credits: Leaderboard Photography / England Golf / Gia Raad / Ernest Blignault