30 Mar 2022

Chiara Noja aiming for World No.1 by 2027

Dubai’s Chiara Noja secured her best Ladies European Tour finish to date with a share of 13th at last month’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International, but the youngster showed how determined she was to make it to the very top after ruing a host of missed opportunities to finish higher up the leaderboard.

The 16-year-old had enjoyed a solid opening three rounds, despite the challenging conditions at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, to sit in a share of seventh with 18 holes to play. But a three-over par 75, which included two double bogeys, saw her drop down the leaderboard in King Abdullah Economic City.

Despite the blip on Sunday, Noja still finished a career-best 13th on a leading tour event, but she wasn’t too impressed with her putting display in just her fourth Ladies European Tour start.

“I’m going to go and hit the putting green!” said Noja after coming off the 18th.

“Usually putting is one of my strengths and I can usually rely on it but the number of putts I’ve missed from within 10 feet this week is astounding! I would have finished higher on the leaderboard if I had my usual putting game. It’s an encouragement to know that I could have been higher if I had putted better but it’s also a disappointment at the same time as it’s such an incredible event and being able to perform against such a strong field is an honour, so I wish I could have putted a bit better.”

Despite not bringing her putting ‘A’ game, Noja was still able to reflect on what she had achieved just days after celebrating her 16th birthday with some French toast because the hotel she was staying in didn’t have any cake.

“If you’d told me at the start of the tournament that I’d finish 13th then I would have been happy but if you’d told me after the third round I would have thought you were an idiot!” she chuckled. “It was a tough week. The wind really started blowing on the back nine so it was all about playing the course strategically and trying to keep the score together. Finishing 13th is an achievement and I’ll make some great steps forward in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. It’s been a really cool week and I have enjoyed it despite the missed putts!”

Whirlwind five months

The impressive result comes just five months after turning professional at the age of just 15, earlier than both Tiger Woods (20) and Rory McIlroy (18). Many heads were turned at the decision to join the professional ranks at such a young age, but Noja quickly justified her decision on her first outing at the Saudi Ladies International last year.

After struggling to find form over the first 21 holes, the teen sensation superbly bounced back to play her next 15 holes at five under par, with three birdies and a sublime eagle, but most importantly, no dropped shots, to make her first LET cut right on the line.

“A good score always feels good, but at the end of the day, it’s golf,” said Noja, reflecting on making that cut. “You can play 6-under one day and shoot 4-over the next. There’s nothing that says ‘I played well today, I’m going to play well this time’. So, I sort of went in not expecting too much. I knew, first start of the season, I’m a little rusty still. You know, just play golf, not try to stress out too much. But it was a really good experience getting a good result there.”

It’s hard to fathom that Noja, with all the talent she possesses, is still just a schoolgirl. With that in mind, it makes it even more impressive that she managed to finish as high as she did in Saudi given that golf is not her full-time job. But having turned professional there are bound to have been some changes to her training schedule in a bid to keep up with some of the game’s best players.

“My day-to-day training schedule has definitely become more professional in the sense that I do everything with a lot more accuracy,” said Noja, who can often be found honing her skills at Jumeirah Golf Estates. “So, whenever I go practice, it’s not about constantly hitting. It’s about chasing percentages and less about doing stock drills and stock practice. Just trying to understand myself a little better and getting better at the things I need to improve.”

Jaw dropping

Playing against the likes of Lydia Ko and Georgia Hall is still new territory for the German-born youngster, but one she is starting familiarise herself with as she looks to make her mark in the women’s game.

“Talking to players is really awesome, they are an inspiration,” she said, “I look up, and that’s where I want to be at some point in my career. So, it’s a really cool experience, and seeing the biggest names in golf is always a little jaw-dropping.

“I played with Lindsey Weaver in Saudi, and she was absolutely lovely. She’s an LPGA girl. I did ask her a lot of questions. I asked her for some advice and her opinions on things like how are the courses? How are the girls? What is it like? Are the girls like super smiley? Are they super competitive? Just something that I want to get used to and something I want to make myself more aware of.”

Does Noja see herself joining the likes of Weaver on the LPGA Tour in five years? Or maybe ten?

“Five years, 21 and 26 – that’s where I see myself,” she chuckled. “This is a little difficult for me to answer. I guess LPGA, hopefully World No. 1. That’s the goal. That’s the basic, very straightforward answer, and everyone still says it but I believe in that and I want to make it come true.” World No.1 by 21? “We’ll say 21, yeah. That works.”

For now, all Noja has to worry about is receiving invitations to more Ladies European Tour events and fitting them in around her school schedule.

The goal this season? To play well enough in LET sanctioned events to automatically secure her playing privileges without a gruelling trip to Qualifying School in December – something Noja would have done last year had she not been too young.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to play in the other Aramco events,” said Noja, referring to the Team Series tournaments in Bangkok, London, Sotogrande, New York and Jeddah.

“That’s something I really look forward to playing, we’ll see how that develops. But with COVID, everything’s a little up in the air still. We’ll have to see what comes up, what fits my school schedule as well.

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