There was a bit of a Staffordshire blitz in Biarritz the other week as a load of intrepid senior souls, amateur and professional, headed for south-west France – never a hardship – to compete in the Trophee Simone Thion De La Chaume. The event is hosted by Catherine Lacoste and her daughter Veronique and named for Catherine’s mother, who won the British Girls’ title in 1924 and the British Ladies’ Championship in 1927.Catherine’s sporting pedigree is hard to beat: her father Rene was a tennis champion of some renown, winning Wimbledon twice, the US Open twice and the French Open three times. He was one of the Four Musketeers – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet were the others – who helped France win the Davis Cup in 1927 and 1928 and the Lacoste polo shirt, with its trademark croc, was the foundation of an enduring brand.
Catherine, born in 1945, was never one to do things entirely conventionally and in 1967 she won the US Women’s Open in Hot Springs, Virginia, the first, and so far the only, amateur to take the title. Two years later, she won the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, the title that she probably coveted more than any other, simply because her mother had won it too, at Royal County Down and they became the first mother and daughter to win the championship.
Catherine won at Royal Portrush, beating Ann Irvin by one hole after what my father always claimed was an outrageous piece of luck. One down playing the 10th, Lacoste’s second was heading for deep rough when it hit a spectator and ricocheted back onto the green. The Frenchwoman holed the putt for a birdie and went on to win at the last. Mind you, Irvin had been lucky to beat her fellow Englishwoman Dinah Oxley in the semi-finals, when Oxley, one up, missed a knee-knocker at the 18th, then lost the 19th to a par. Thanks to Kath Stewart-Moore’s excellent book, Royal Portrush Ladies – a backward glance, for the details.
Of course, having looked a few things up (there is sometimes some research involved in this blog), I get distracted, sidetracked, intrigued, amazed, awed, interested – and that’s always dangerous. I look at all these names and realise that I’ve met a lot of them. They’re not just names in the record books, they’re people I’ve spoken to as though they’re perfectly normal people, albeit not quite golfers like the rest of us. In that regard they’re exceptional, champions, dedicated, skilful and ruthless enough to take most players to the cleaners time after time. But there’s the rub, when it comes down to it they are just people too, then you look them up and think……..Blimey. (I was looking for the asterisk but couldn’t find it.)
Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that Dinah won the title at Gullane the following year (beating Belle Robertson by one hole) and Ann won at Carnoustie in 1973 – hope she’s a special guest at the Open this year. Anyone who wins anything at Carnoustie should be carried back there shoulder high and celebrated at every opportunity. Have you seen those finishing holes, let alone played them?!!
Another question: will a Frenchman win the Open at Royal Portrush next year? Might be worth a punt. As well as Lacoste and her mother winning in Northern Ireland, the sainted, late lamented Lally, then the Vicomtesse de Saint Sauveur, won the British at Royal County Down, as did Brigitte Varangot, who also won the title at St Andrews and Walton Heath; and in 2015, at Portstewart, our home club, Celine Boutier became the first French champion since Marine Monnet won at Royal Birkdale in 1999.
France’s women have always been at the forefront of European and world golf and the men have more than held their own, so if anyone questions why the Ryder Cup is going to France this year, just ask them why it’s taken so long!
Talking of long, Jordan Brooks plays a game with which few of us are familiar. Not even his brother Ryan, who is the club champion at Whittington Heath, hits the ball a long way and has hopes of a professional career nor Dan Whitby-Smith, one of our professionals, who is no mean golfer and is also on the tournament trail. Jordan accepts that scoring is not his forte and is playing to his strength – which is length.
He’s around at the right time because there’s now a Long Drivers European Tour, which means that there are big bruisers bashing the ball miles elsewhere in the world too and, of course, there’s big money to be made in America. “Far and True” was one of the early golf mottos and it’s still a recipe for success, well over a hundred years later.
Jordan came second in his last outing, in Belgium – his longest drive there was 383 yards – and he’s off to Sweden now for the next bash. At the moment he’s using a driver that is 48 inches long, has a loft of 4 degrees (the 2 1/2 degree is waiting in the wings) and an XXX stiff shaft. Mmmm. Don’t think I’ll be taking him on any time soon. Good luck Jordan, give it some welly.
P.S. The wee photo at the top is of yours truly (left), Eileen Geddes and Jenny Smale, winners of the South Staffs past captains’ outing at Druids Heath on Monday. It was cold and windy and I doubt our combined Sunday Best drives would have troubled Jordan at all.