Our golfing pals in the south of Ireland are champing at the bit -nay, frothing at the mouth, some of them, at still not being allowed back on their golf courses. So thank goodness they had some homegrown talent to follow from their armchairs last week.
First up was Olivia Mehaffey who, for a large part of the final afternoon, was in with a realistic chance of winning the second edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. With Brian McKinley, a regular Augusta National Golf Club caddy who had steered Jennifer Kupcho to victory in 2019, at her side Olivia looked very much at home on the rolling green swards of Augusta. Ultimately she ran out of steam and a double bogey at the 12th meant she missed a play-off by two shots, eventually finishing ninth. It was a creditable performance and she now joins that very, very exclusive club of players from the Emerald Isle who can say they were in contention for a title over the back nine at Augusta.Only nine players have made the cut in both editions of the ANWA and while Olivia finished in the middle of the pack last time out this was a very different experience for her. Playing this iconic course with that level of adrenalin running through you will provide you with an experience money can’t buy and hopefully she will enjoy the benefits of that in the future when she turns professional. Meanwhile, golf-mad Japan celebrated the victory of their own Tsubasa Kajitana, who recovered from the trauma of a double bogey at the 17th, first of all making and then winning the play-off with America’s Emilia Migliaccio. It was a good watch.
Switching to watch the women’s professional game provided me with a brand new experience. An Irish player was at the head of affairs in a major in the early part of the second round! Leona Maguire was centre stage in the television coverage doing her thing and looking very much at home. I think this is the first time an Irish woman has led a major. I know Steph Meadow finished solo third in the 2014 US Women’s Open the week after she turned pro but If memory serves me correctly I don’t believe she actually led at any point. I’m happy to be corrected on that.Leona fought like a tiger to keep in touch but lost too much ground in the latter part of the second and then third rounds to mount a serious challenge at the end. In fact, Steph, her fellow Irish international, closed with a magnificent 67 to best her by a couple of shots and finish in the top 20.
There was no one, however, who could live with the very special and supremely talented Thai sensation Patty Tavatanakit who led from start to finish. Not even the fast-finishing former world No 1 (and favourite of this blog) Lydia Ko could derail Patty’s inexorable march to her first LPGA win and first major title. Ko’s performance had Europe’s former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn taking to social media to urge folk to turn on their TVs to watch the Kiwi. Nine under par for eleven holes stirred thoughts of a “59 watch”, but an “ordinary” finish of seven pars and one birdie “only” added up to a 62. It was incredible stuff and testament to all the hard work Ko and her coach Sean Foley have put in.To avid golf fans Patty T, as she is known, is not a completely new name. She was a three-time winner on the Symetra Tour in 2019 and coincidentally was the low amateur at that year’s ANA Inspiration. This was the second occasion in her fledgling rookie year in which she had teed it up in the last group on Sunday. Last time she blew out early but not this time. Having led since Thursday and started the final round with a five-shot lead, she avoided looking at leaderboards and so was largely unaware of Lydia’s charge that at one stage got her to within two. Had the tournament been played out in front of a normal major gallery, it’s likely the attendant, excited buzz through the desert air would have alerted her to Ko’s phenomenal charge. We’ll never know if that would have thrown her off a little. As it transpired, she was able to deal with everything the week threw at her and her work with Vision54 coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson equipped her with the mental skills to prevail. Patty looks the real deal in every way. She hits it miles, is good through the bag and putts beautifully. Bogey-free in the final round of a major at the age of 21 is impressive and she knows now she can close it out on the biggest stage. I wonder, just wonder – and I don’t say this lightly – if we in the women’s game are witnessing the arrival of our version of Tiger Woods? Let the major count begin?