IT'S been so long since a Scot won the Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open Amateur Championship, the engraving of the name ‘Heather Stirling’ on the trophy’s plinth band is just about covered in a layer of stoor.

“Maybe this year?,” said Stirling with quiet optimism as she mulled over the prospects of the current crop looking to emulate her success of 20 years ago at Troon this weekend.

There’s certainly no shortage of talent. The likes of Louise Duncan, the reigning Women’s Amateur champion, Scottish champion Chloe Goadby and the in-form Lorna McClymont are at the vanguard of a robust Scottish posse looking to bring the Helen Holm, well, home.

Stirling will be keeping an eye on proceedings from afar. If she has time to lift her head out of the books and revision notes that is. “I’m in the first year of my PGA qualifications and have four exams at the end of the month,” said the 45-year-old who is now a teaching pro at The PGA’s headquarters at The Belfry. “The last time I studied was 26 years ago at college in America. But you’re never too old to learn new things in this game.”

Stirling’s success in the Helen Holm Championship in 2002 was the start of a prolific haul of silverware which must have left her requiring a mantlepiece the size of the Hoover Dam to display the shimmering plunder. 

The Scottish Championship crown and the St Rule Trophy would follow as the Bridge of Allan golfer underlined her status as one of Britain’s finest amateurs.

Behind the triumphs, though, there was personal tumult. In that same year, Stirling would reveal her battle with alcoholism. “It was a big burden lifted,” she reflected. “Twenty years on, I’m still ok. I’m good.”

Following her amateur dramatics, Stirling turned professional. The destination was, ultimately, the LPGA Tour but Stirling never made it despite embarking on the kind of epic road trip that Jack Kerouac might have scribbled about.

“I was playing on the second-tier Futures Tour and I bought a Chevrolet Astro van, put an air bed, my clubs and some suitcases in the back and off I went,” recalled Stirling of her quest to gain a foothold in the paid ranks with an intrepid, DIY approach. “In between events I’d stay in it. Some of the girls thought it was quite dangerous. And it probably was in certain places. I’d stay in the rest areas on the roads but you’d hear some dreadful things about them. I was driving to El Paso and I stopped off in Georgia and someone had been murdered in the rest area.

“One journey took me from El Paso to New Brunswick. It took three days. When I’d finished with the van it had done 260,000 miles. I sold it for peanuts but I had quite an emotional attachment to it by the end.”

It was the end of the road, too, for Stirling’s LPGA Tour ambitions. “It was hard going and it can be a lonely life too,” she said of this hand-to-mouth existence. “I tried for five years with no real break. When I wasn’t golfing I was caddying to make money to try to keep my playing career going.

“By that point I was just burnt out. I’d gone straight from the top end of amateur golf and playing all the time and into pro golf trying to make it to the tour.

“Pro golf is a tough slog. You need some guidance and a management team to steer you. I was doing it all on my own. I wasn’t sure what the best avenue was. In hindsight, I should’ve tried to get on the Ladies European Tour and stay at home instead of going from event-to-event across America in a van.”

The trials and tribulations are all part of life’s rich tapestry, though. With her various experiences behind her, Stirling is enjoying a fresh chapter in her golfing career.

“I needed a new lease of life,” said the former Curtis Cup player, who is back to full fitness after an operation on a shoulder injury. “When you’re a tour pro you’re very much focussed on yourself. Now, I’m giving something back to beginners, juniors, women golfers, everybody. It’s very rewarding. I feel like I’m starting again. And it’s a lot less stressful.”