I know where I wish to visit next and which golf course I’d like to play. Yes, it’s time to think of hitting the M6 and going north again to Scotland, this time to the Kingdom of Fife and Dumbarnie Links.
Dumbarnie Links, a handful of miles from St Andrews, near Leven, has been open for a whole 14 months so must surely qualify as the UK’s newest links course. It looks like it’s been there for years and last week it played host to the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open. The television pictures really did paint a thousand words and it was certainly to the liking of 34-year old American Ryann O’Toole, who won for the first time in her professional career. A co-sanctioned Ladies’ European Tour (LET) and Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) event, it was O’Toole’s 228th start as an LPGA Tour player but the first time she had led after 54 holes and only the second time time she’d played in the final group in the final round.We get accustomed to seeing a smiling face and tears of joy on a Sunday at the end of a tournament but very nearly all of these players have an interesting backstory. Ryann’s first year on tour was 2011 when she was plucked from relative obscurity by Rosie Jones, the US Solheim Cup team captain, who awarded her one of her captain’s picks. Even the Americans didn’t know this rookie. It looked like they’d found a potential regular in the side when she played in four out of the five matches, recording two wins and two halves. Her half in the singles cut deep however. When bad weather led to a suspension of play the American was two up and two to go on Europe’s Caroline Hedwall. When play resumed Europe won the closing two holes and halved that match, ultimately winning the trophy by the slenderest of margins. It was a long time before we heard of Ryann O’Toole again.
The intervening years saw her lose her card, fight back and change coaches and it was when she started to work with the uber-talented Jorge Parada in 2014 that she felt she could turn things around. Her final round of 64 on Sunday was as close to flawless as it is possible to be and despite admitting she’d been very nervous on the Saturday evening there was no trace of that the next day. She even stopped to pat a spectating dog on her way to the 72nd tee.
A closing par and a cosy three-shot victory was achieved and then followed a winner’s speech as eloquent as her golf had been elegant. The last decade, the hours spent practising, the grind, the constant travel were all worth it, she said, “for this moment”.The instant she finished she FaceTimed her Mum, who had been nervously watching at home back in California. I’m not sure Mother O’Toole was awfully impressed with a Scottish links, declaring that Ryann looked like she’d “been playing on the moon!” Just wait, Mum, until you see Carnoustie!
Ah, Carnoustie – often considered the most ferocious, the most unforgiving of all major championship venues. This week it’s the test that faces the women in the AIG Women’s Open, the last of the five majors in the annual female golf calendar. Someone will have gone to bed two nights ago little realising they are about to follow in the footsteps of the greats.
Fair to say, it’s a pretty exclusive club, including Ben Hogan, who won in 1953, his only appearance in the Open, Gary Player who won in 1968 and in 1975 it was Tom Watson winning on his Open debut, beating Jack Newton in the 18-hole play-off. Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1999, Paul Lawrie realised every little Scottish boy’s dream, winning the greatest prize of all on home turf. Padraig Harrington opened the floodgates to Irish major championship success with his extra holes win over Sergio Garcia in 2007 and in 2011 it was the incomparable Yani Tseng who stormed to victory, successfully defending her Women’s Open title procured the previous year at Royal Birkdale. Finally, 2018 saw Francesco Molinari hold off Tiger Woods, amongst others, to etch his name on the oldest trophy in the world, the first Italian to do so.Carnoustie is not for the faint-hearted and it is more than fitting that the best women players in the world get to tee it up at one of the most exacting venues. It gives credibility to the women’s game and it gives a fitting stage to these athletes. Cool, drizzly weather with a bit of a breeze is the forecast – foreign conditions indeed for many of the LPGA players accustomed to following the sun.
And for anxious Mums watching on from California it might just look exactly like the players are on the moon.