Calling all Royal Portrush members of a certain age! Here’s a wee challenge for you. How many can you name in the photo below? Let’s see if between us we can manage a full house by the 125th celebrations on November 5th. I think the date is circa 1959.
It took 92 holes to separate the two young women at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin in 1998. One became the youngest US Women’s Open champion and a golfing legend, credited with changing the face of the game; the other gave up golf altogether and became a nurse. Is that one of the small margins that coaches and sports psychologists are fond of talking about?
Jenny Chuasiriporn, born in America to Thai parents, was still an amateur, a student at Duke University, when she holed a 40-foot putt on the 72nd hole to tie Se Ri Pak, of South Korea. The two 20-year olds were still tied after an 18-hole play-off but Pak eventually took the title with a birdie putt at the 92nd hole. It was her second major championship of the season and the LPGA rookie had lit the blue touchpaper that caused the explosion of women’s golf in her homeland.
Pak, who’ll be 40 next year, has just retired from competitive golf amid emotional scenes in Incheon, South Korea. There were three South Koreans on the LPGA Tour in 1998; in 2009 there were 47; in 2016 34. Six of the top ten in the Rolex World Rankings are from South Korea and Lydia Ko, the world No 1, is a New Zealander who was born in South Korea. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s down to the impact of Pak, who is revered at home. Inbee Park, one of the current stars inspired by Pak’s exploits, once tried to explain what it was like: “You know Coca Cola? That’s Se Ri in Korea.”
That sort of mega adoration hasn’t made Pak’s life easy and she now stresses the importance of balance in a player’s life but she learned to cope. She threw herself into learning English after deciding that an early interpreter wasn’t getting things right and she was a wonderful interview, if not always easy to follow. It was worth trying to make sense of the sometimes tortuous construction because her grasp of nuance, her ability to express emotion and give life to her feelings was exceptional. She knocked many of her English-speaking colleagues, whose use of their native language never rose above soggy bottom, into a cocked hat. In short, she was a joy as well as an inspiration. Thanks Se Ri.
Chuasiriporn tried professional golf briefly but realised it didn’t suit her and had the nous and intelligence to change tack and study nursing. She, too, has made a huge difference to people’s lives. Thanks Jenny.
Thanks also to Beth Ann Baldry (Golfweek), Randall Mell (Golf Channel) and Lisa Mickey (New York Times and others) for keeping us all up to date and well-informed. Keep up the good work!
Congratulations also to the five people who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year: Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, Davis Love III and Henry Longhurst, the late great writer and broadcaster.
Modestly, I claim to have played a part in Ochoa’s victory in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews in 2007. The year before, at a very windy Royal Lytham & St Annes, we played together in the pro-am (and won, as I recall) and I, a child of seaside links, employed the chip and run to unusually good effect. Lorena was intrigued, took note and, lo, became champion at the Home of Golf. That’s my story anyway.
With all the understandable hullabaloo about the retirement of the great Se Ri Pak last week, it was easy to forget there was actually a golf tournament going on. The Sky 72 Golf Club Ocean Course in Incheon, South Korea, played host to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship and, in my opinion, as one star exited stage left, another entered stage right. Carlota Ciganda chalked up her maiden win on the LPGA Tour.
For the 26-year old Spaniard from Pamplona it has been quite a long wait. She’s in her fifth year playing full time in America with two Solheim Cups under her belt and many people – I am one of them – thought she would win at the highest level sooner rather than later. Sport is many things, however. Predictable is not one of them.
I first saw Carlota play as a 15-year old in the Girls’ European Team Championships in Lucerne back in 2005. She topped the individual scoring with rounds of 70 and 68 to help Spain lead the team qualification by a huge 11 shots. The automatic draw meant they would play Wales in the first round of the knockout. I was coaching the Welsh side at the time and told the girls not to worry that we were a massive 34 shots adrift of the Spaniards in the qualifying. We agreed the early start might not suit the Spanish and so it proved, with Wales winning both foursomes and then sneaking a singles win to take the tie 3-2 under the inspired captaincy of the late Sue Turner. It was one of our best-ever results against a top quality team and we ended up with a bronze medal.
Right from that moment, however, there was something that marked Carlota out as special. She didn’t go beyond the 14th green in any of her singles matches and remained completely unfazed when the president of the Spanish Federation, the redoubtable Emma Garcia Ogara, clubbed her over the back of the 18th green, out of bounds, into the bar, in one of the foursomes matches.
Carlota’s long, flowing, willowy swing has always led to wayward shots but her short game is of Seve-like proportions and her mental strength is simply awesome. At the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado she won three matches out of three despite barely being able to keep the ball on the course. It was one of the most compelling performances I have ever seen. It’s not nearly as difficult to get the results when you are in control of your swing as it is when you have no idea where the ball is going. A mind like a steel trap, guile, quality course management and total self-understanding, along with supreme emotional control were in evidence to a remarkable degree. In other words, all those things that go into making a player great.
Carlota has had to overcome the loss of her lifelong coach, Rogelio Echeverria, in 2014, and the last two years have been particularly hard. She is resilient, however, surviving the bumps in the road of a professional athlete and I am sure this will be the first of many wins around the world.
Salud, Carlota. It has been fun watching you for the past eleven years. I’m looking forward to the next eleven.
Why don’t you write about Tiger, Maureen said, as I pondered this week’s offering. You know, Tiger Woods, the 14-time major champion who has postponed his return to competitive golf yet again. Well, I won’t be adding my supremely uninformed take to that debate, not least because – and I never thought I’d write these words – I feel sorry for Tiger Woods. Above all else, the man loves to play golf, he loves to compete, he loves to conceive and hit exquisite, breathtaking, mind-boggling shots that defy belief; in short, he’s a golf tragic, hopelessly addicted and for the time being golf, at the highest level, the level he used to boss, has given him up. That is sad.
Perhaps he’ll be heartened by Jose Maria Olazabal’s return to the fray at the Grove this week, in the British Masters supported by Sky Sports. The Spaniard, who won the Masters (Augusta version) twice, has been out for 18 months with some sort of rheumatoid arthritis. He’s now 50 and is playing this week and next, in Portugal, to assess if he can cope with the demands of tournament golf. Buena suerte Chema.
Far, far, far down the skill level, where expectations are lower but competitiveness and passion are still rife, ding-dong battles rage at courses up and down the land. Mo and co, who operate at a less lofty level than they once did, hindered by hips, feet, frozen shoulders, backs and sundry other ailments, are playing some of the best courses in the world this week; they may even be playing some of their best golf.
I, on the other hand, am at home and the golf has ranged from the near sublime (it’s all relative) to the totally ridiculous. Whittington Heath, my home course in Staffordshire, is a Harry Colt creation (or revision; we were 130 yeas old this year and Colt came in to work his magic in the late 1920s), so it’s a wonderful place to play and here we’re going to stay, even when HS2 cuts the course in half and demolishes the clubhouse. Not even an ill-advised high speed train will make us abandon prime heathland golfing terrain. The golf goes on!
On Monday, there was the annual needle match between the seniors (men) and the ladies (sic). We lost, as usual (we know our place and how to keep the peace!) but there were some tight, tense matches as we employed a better ball stableford matchplay format with the men and women taking their strokes from their own card, 9/10ths of full handicap [non-golfers need make no effort to understand that, even golfers shouldn’t contemplate reading it again].
My partner and I won on the 17th after a match that was littered with birdies (yes, really) and outrageous putts that recalled the Americans’ efforts in the Ryder Cup (almost). Our handicaps ranged from 9 to 14 and when we totted up at the end – we played the 18th – we reckoned that the best ball between the four of us was 66 gross. Blimey! No wonder we enjoyed it so much.
The next day, playing the Heathland course, which is our shorter version, with a par of 68 and no par 5s, my golf and putting were unrecognisable and I did well to amass 28 points (the winner, who is on her way down rapidly, had 45). Vive le golf.
Yesterday, Jenny Smale, my partner on Monday, captain of the Staffordshire Veteran Ladies’ Golf Association, hosted her lady captain’s lunch at WHGC. It was quite a year for the Staffs Vets, who swept all before them and this week added the Midland Vets County Team Championship to their list of honours. Success on the course is great but the lunch also celebrated the friendships that have been made over the years and the enthusiasm and drive of women like Doreen Banks. A member at Oxley Park in Wolverhampton since 1961 she is, she says, part of the furniture and the fittings there and she’s certainly part of the fabric of Staffordshire golf. A true inspiration. Keep swinging.