CARA Gainer is still pinching herself following a debut season to remember, writes JAMES ROBERTS.

The Frilford Heath golfer’s glittering 2017 included winning the English Women’s Amateur Matchplay Championship and the Oxfordshire County Championship, with an Oxfordshire Sports Award nomination the icing on the cake.

Gainer decided to concentrate on golf after graduating from Cardiff University in 2016 and admits success took her by surprise.

She admitted: “The season went way beyond how I would have expected.

“When I was at university I wasn’t thinking of golf as a career.

“Once I had a few wins early in the season I got a lot of momentum and thought turning professional could be possible if I work hard.”

Gainer’s highlight of the season was her amateur matchplay championship victory at Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club in July.

The 22-year-old handled the pressure like a seasoned professional, beating England international Lizzie Prior in the final.

She said: “It was one of those weeks when everything came together.

“We had a lot of people watching – for the final we probably had 150-200 people walking round with us.

“It’s quite an intense situation and that has given me the boost to go on and win even bigger events.”

Gainer has progressed rapidly since she started playing golf at the relatively late age of 15.

Throughout that time she has been a member at Frilford Heath, the same club as fellow sports awards nominee Eddie Pepperell.

And Gainer believes both players are reaping the benefits from their grounding at the south Oxfordshire club.

She said: “As a kid getting into golf, Frilford is the best place to be.

“They’ve done enormous amounts for me so I appreciate all their help and support.”

Although she continues to play for Oxfordshire when possible, Gainer is now setting her sights further afield.

After focusing on the England Golf order of merit events last season, she will compete against the best amateurs in Europe in 2018.

More success could see Gainer turn professional in 2019 – one step closer to her ultimate aim of reaching the prestigious LPGA tour in America.

She said: “It’s a lot more competitive over there.

“They’re more willing to pay to watch women’s golf and sport in America is bigger in terms of media.

“If you want to compete against the world, you have to be in America.”