By the time this post hits the unsuspecting public it will all have kicked off.
By “it”, I mean the Solheim Cup, one of the world’s greatest female sporting contests. It’s all about Europe versus America; it’s about golf; and it’s all happening for the first time in Spain at the Andalucian course, Finca Cortesin, which handily enough, happens to have an adjacent five-star hotel where the two teams will be staying.
This is the eighteenth playing of the match with the United States leading the way with ten victories to the Europeans’ seven, but on this occasion it is Europe who are hoping to achieve three consecutive victories, something which, hitherto, has been beyond their reach. The Americans have accomplished this feat twice.A few months ago, when the two teams were shaping up, I boldly predicted a European win but, as is normal for me, I am now second-guessing myself and wondering was I a little too cavalier with my prognostications. The next three, nail-biting, exhausting days will reveal all. How can you be exhausted when you have no intention of leaving an armchair for three solid days? Except, perhaps, to have a little nervous pacing when critical shots are being assessed and re-assessed……..and re re-assessed. Goodness, I hope the pace of play is on the brisk side of glacial.
Mind you, from what I’ve read of the golf course – built on the site of an old vineyard – it’ll be a tough ole slog for the spectators with some dreadfully long walks from greens to tees, so perhaps the armchair is not a bad option. The players will be transported in buggies, of course, so good luck to those who wish to follow a particular match.I remember working at the Ryder Cup match in 2016 at Hazeltine and being struck by the fact that so many of the greens were on plateaus, resulting in the spectators rarely seeing a putt at all. They could view the players from the knees up and that was about it. It was a difficult course to commentate on and I recall saying to Padraig Harrington, one of Darren Clarke’s vice captains that year, that despite all the forensic planning that went into such an event, very little regard seemed to be given to the spectators. Padraig looked at me in a mildly surprised fashion and said with no little irony, “Maureen, what on earth would make you think the fans are considered?”
I have experienced the Solheim Cup in so many different ways – but alas, never as a player.
When the Europeans won at Dalmahoy in 1992 I was playing full time and the team members were all my friends. We were collectively incensed when it was reported at the beginning of the week that the Americans had stated that, with the possible exception of Lotte Neumann and Laura Davies, none of the other Europeans would have had a sniff of making the US team. True or not, it was a grave error on their part and provided motivation and determination on a different level for the home side. It was rumoured that the Europeans covered a dart board in their team room with the photos of certain American players. I couldn’t possibly comment. The result was a European victory, arguably one of the greatest sporting achievements in decades.
Four years later, at St Pierre, I was on duty for Radio 5 Live in the very early stages of my commentary career. I was in the booth at the back of the final green with the inimitable Tony Adamson when the network came to him for an update on the current scores in a series of fourball matches. As Tony opened his mouth to begin his report all the computers went down. He never missed a beat. Without a single note he had perfect recall of who was where on the course, who they were playing with, what the score was and what was the overall match score. What a masterclass in broadcasting – certainly the most impressive thing I witnessed that week.
The match at Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago saw me take on a different role – or, rather, an extra one along with the usual commentary job. The captain, Alison Nicholas, asked me to be part of her back room team, taking on the responsibility of liaising between the players and the media. My duties included ensuring the individual players were at the right place at the right time for various press interviews – a little trickier than it may sound. The most challenging part was shepherding/persuading a beaten team to the media centre for a final full-team press conference. In the aftermath of a defeat it was understandably the last thing any of us wanted. It may or may not surprise you as to who were the bolshie ones!
The last Solheim I attended was the Gleneagles one in 2019 where Suzann Pettersen cemented her name in golfing history by holing a seven-footer on the final green for a stunning victory. She had been one of captain Catriona Matthew’s picks – quite controversially in some quarters, as she’d hardly played in the preceding eighteen months having just had her first baby.
It was so, so memorable but also unforgettable for me for another reason. It was the last time I worked alongside Peter Alliss, a broadcaster of legendary reputation and status. It was the final week of enjoying entertaining evening meals in his company, discussing a range of topics on this and that. Every time I see Suzann’s final putt played out on television I think back to where I was at that moment – sitting right beside Peter in the commentary box.
The Solheim Cup has been good to me and it’s been a big part of my life. My golf never made the grade but I’ve been privileged and lucky to experience this special week so many times in differing roles. Oh, and the fun you can have when you don’t have your clubs!
Now for the armchair and the Do Not Disturb sign!