Lydia Hall spent much of the pandemic delivering parcels but now the Welsh golfer is enjoying improved returns on the Ladies European Tour, thanks in no small part to the Aramco Team Series.
When Covid-19 shut down much of sport in early 2020, Hall was forced to put her clubs to one side and turn her occasional off-season sideline as an Amazon delivery driver into something more permanent.
Like many of her peers, Hall cannot afford not to earn when tournaments stop and the prize money dries up as her sponsorship deals do not cover all of the expenses of competing, which can be around £30,000 a year for LET players.
But normal service has resumed on the tour this year, with its biggest schedule yet and a prize pool swelled to record levels by the addition of the $5m Aramco Team Series, allowing Hall to stick to the day job.
“It was tough for a couple of years with Covid and all the travel restrictions, so to be back competing now and having lots of tournaments to play in is really nice. I feel like I am a full-time professional golfer again,” Hall told City A.M.
“A lot of the LET players have second jobs in the winter time, when we don’t have many tournaments. We still have bills to pay and we don’t have the luxury of the LPGA girls who are playing for $1m every single week. We’re not at that level yet.
“Pretty much every year I’ve done something, and then during Covid everyone was stuck at home ordering on Amazon so that seemed the obvious choice to me and the safest choice, just dropping off parcels and not having to interact with people face to face.
“It’s to one side at the moment. Having a decent year last year helps a lot, and it also makes a massive difference when we’ve got a lot more events to play in and we’re playing for a lot more money.
“In years previously you’d pretty much have to finish in the top 20 every single week to even make a profit, and you’re talking about 136 players in the field so it’s a lot of pressure that people don’t see, having to perform every single week.
“The schedule now is looking really strong so it enables girls to make more money, invest more money into their game, improve their game and then hopefully get better performances in the long run as well.”
The introduction of the Aramco Team Series last year and its subsequent expansion to five events this season, each worth $1m in prize money, has been a major factor in the LET becoming more lucrative than ever.
It has proven especially rewarding for Hall, who finished in the top 10 of the individual competition at the very first event in London last summer and third in the series finale in Saudi Arabia, where she also captained her team to a playoff.
“It’s been huge. It’s given women the opportunity to make a lot more money. That’s made a huge impact and hopefully we can get many more companies supporting the women’s game going forward in Europe,” she added.
“It makes a huge difference to perform at those tournaments where the prize fund is a lot bigger, for obvious reasons. Because you’ve got to remember it’s not just about the top end.
“Girls who have maybe just got their tour cards, it keeps them afloat and keeps their opportunity of making money a lot more realistic rather than scraping the barrel, playing €200,000 events and you make the cut or finish 40th yet lose money some weeks.”
Hall says she relishes the collective aspect of competition at the Aramco Team Series, where players are allocated to teams of four via a draft and play as a unit for the first two days of the tournaments.
“It makes a huge difference when you’re playing for others. We always see in Solheim Cups and Ryder Cups, players like Ian Poulter and Bronte Law who may have an average season but as soon as they get there their performance elevates,” she said.
“There is obviously something in that. You feel you are able to get to another level of performance when playing for a team rather than just yourself. But it can sometimes go the other way – we had a young amateur girl who had just started playing golf so didn’t have much experience of the game so it was really hard for her.
“Another time I had a guy who was an ex-NFL player off a handicap of six who could reach every par five, so that obviously helped team morale. The amateurs are improving, which helps the performance of the pros in the team as well.”
Hall is currently enjoying some upward momentum, climbing 200 places in the women’s Rolex Rankings since just before the pandemic halted play, and made her debut in an overseas major at the US Women’s Open earlier this month.
“It’s been pretty good in the last couple of seasons performance wise,” she said. “It’s a goal for me now every time I turn up to a tournament to get a minimum of top 10, and that’s been my main focus over the last two years.”
Having finished in a share of eighth in the individual competition at the London leg of the Aramco Team Series last year, Hall is eager to tee off at Centurion Club again on Thursday.
“It was such a great event and the golf course is awesome – I really enjoy playing Centurion,” she said. “And the whole infrastructure – it’s a proper tournament, everything going on for spectators, lots of food outlets, grandstands around the 18th and a couple of the other holes as well. I can’t wait to get back there.”