CHRISTMAS came early for golfer Lauren Taylor with the best present ever, when she was crowned BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2011.
In front of a star-studded audience at Salford Quays and millions of television viewers, the 17-year-old received her award from world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis and Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini on Thursday evening.
The Rugby Golf Club member, who became the youngest ever Ladies’ British Amateur Champion in June when she was just 16, was shortlisted for the award alongside cyclist Lucy Garner and swimmer Eleanor Simmonds.
Ecstatic Lauren said: “Words can’t describe how I felt when my name was called. I was in shock and just couldn’t believe it.
“My favourite golfer Rory McIlroy was sitting near me so all I was thinking as I walked up to the stage was I mustn’t fall over!
“He came up to me afterwards and congratulated me and so did Luke Donald, the world number one. It was crazy just to be in the same room as them. Darren Clarke introduced himself to me because I won the title at his golf course.
“There was a big party afterwards and it was just amazing to be mixing with the most famous people in sport. It was fantastic to meet the greatest golfers in the world - all the people I admire and look up to.
“A lot of people were coming up and saying how well I’d spoken, even Gary Lineker said he was really impressed, which was great because it was the most nerve racking thing I have ever done. Knowing there were millions of people watching at home as well as everyone in the studio was unbelievable.”
The former Ashlawn School pupil was accompanied by her parents Martin and Jackie and sister Charlotte.
“It was wonderful to be able to share the moment with them,” added Lauren, who also plays at Woburn. “When I was making my speech I looked up and saw my parents had tears in their eyes. It’s a shame I couldn’t thank them all - I could only really mention my dad as he caddies for me, but I’m really grateful to my whole family, Nan and Pap too, for all the support and sacrifices they make for me.
“And I’d like to thank everyone who has sent me congratulation messages since - I really appreciate everyone’s support.”
The award was decided by a panel chaired by BBC Sport presenter John Inverdale. Previous winners include diver Tom Daley, tennis player Andy Murray, footballers Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott and swimmer Eleanor Simmonds.
It concluded an incredible year for Lauren, who played in the senior Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, represented Europe in the Junior Solheim Cup and is ranked 20th in the women’s amateur world rankings.
She hit the seventh hole-in-one of her career in a memorable debut on the Ladies European Tour, the Slovak Open.
A student at Moulton College, Northampton, Lauren has won a sports scholarship to study at by Baylor College, Texas next autumn.
Speaking to the BBC, Ryder Cup player and world number 25 Ian Poulter said: “Lauren is not only a great golfer but an extremely well-rounded young woman.
“She is a deserving winner of the award and has my full support as she moves forward with her golfing career.”
Steve Robinson, English Women’s Golf Association national coach, added: “Lauren has always impressed me with her work-rate, attitude and ambition along with her desire to compete - the attributes all top-class athletes require.
“Lauren is a very talented, down to earth sportsperson and has a very bright future ahead of her.”