There are days when I wish I knew more about golf and was paying more attention to what exactly is going on these days – where, when, WHAT? I was watching the last knockings of the US Women’s Open from the Olympic Club in San Francisco last Sunday and, although it wasn’t that late, I mooched off to bed assuming that Lexi Thompson was a lock, a cert to win the second major title of her career.
Shockingly, when I had a look for the results the next morning, there was no sign of Lexi holding the trophy. Turned out she’d lost the plot over the last nine holes, driving like Reginald Molehusband (you have to be VERY old to understand that reference but suffice to say it has nothing to do with precision or the straight or narrow). She’d also putted like a drain and bogeyed two of the last three holes to miss out on a play-off.
In the end the new champion was Yuka Saso from the Philippines, of all places, not regarded as a hotbed of golf but that could change now. Saso, at 19 years 11 months and 17 days, is exactly the same age as the sainted Inbee Park was when she became the youngest winner of this title in 2008, at Interlachen.Saso, who is a Rory McIlroy fan and has modelled her swing on his (think it must have been an earlier version, when he was in his pomp), had messages of support from the Ulsterman when he became aware of the connection: “Rory said, ‘Get that trophy’, and I did. So thank you Rory.”
Saso, who had two double bogeys in the first three holes of her final round, rallied to post a 73, two over par and shared the 72-hole lead with Nasa Hataoka, of Japan, (68) on 280, four under par. Thompson, gutted, finished third, a shot behind. It took three more holes for Saso to prevail and the crowd – there was a crowd – went wild. Apparently, Daly City, not too many miles away, has the highest concentration of Filipinos in the United States, so Saso was not short of support.
Talking of Daly City, that’s where the LPGA players are this week, competing in the LPGA Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced and it was Leona Maguire who led after a first round of 65, seven under par. There is every sign that she is not just flattering to deceive but could be the person to put Ireland’s women professionals up there with the world’s best. And who knows where that might lead. Look what happened when Padraig Harrington started winning majors: he opened the floodgates.I suppose I’d better explain the photo which appears (fingers crossed, technical glitches permitting) at the top of the blog. It’s Alison Nicholas, winner of the US Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon in 1997. Nicholas defeated Nancy Lopez, the darling of American golf – and in all honesty, world golf – in one of the best performances ever by a European golfer, man or woman. Seve, Faldo, Woosie, Sandy, Dame Laura, Padraig, Rory; Big Al’s win was up there at the top.
I’m reminding you all of this because at one stage last week, Sky told me that Mel Reid was the first Englishwoman to lead the US Women’s Open since Laura Davies, who won the title in 1987, at Plainfield, New Jersey. “WOT?” I screamed at the telly (it’s dangerous living on your own, worrying, not least for the neighbours….). “NOOOOOO. What about Big Al? She definitely led going in to the final round….”
And she did. Reid, who, I think, shared the lead this year after the first round, faded but Nicholas was three shots ahead of Lopez with a round to play. They were paired together, there were at least 40,000 spectators (ah, the good old days), all but one or two of whom were rooting for Lopez, who had never won her national Open despite coming close several times. The American started like a dream, with three birdies in the first four holes – and was still three behind.
It’s impossible to overstate the magnificence of that Nicholas performance. It was, undoubtedly, her finest hour as an individual golfer and shouldn’t be forgotten. So much so that I’m using another pic of her!
What to talk about next? Jon Rahm, who tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the Memorial after 54 holes despite leading by six strokes? Patrick Cantlay beat Collin Morikawa in a play-off to win the tournament – and $1.67 million, plus shedloads of world ranking, Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup and other assorted points.
Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson are worth a mention, as co-hosts of this week’s Scandinavian Mixed at Vallda Golf and Country Club in Kungsbacka, Gothenburg. There are 78 men and 78 women in the field, playing together on the same course – more or less – for one trophy, with one prize fund of one million Euros. At the end of the first round Christine Wolf, of Austria, shared the lead with Sam Horsfield, of England, on 64, eight under par.The hosts, playing together with Thomas Bjorn, were a little more rusty, with Stenson the best of the trio on 70 and the others on 73.
I can’t not mention Marcus Armitage, who won his first European Tour title, the Porsche European Open, in Germany last Sunday. It was appropriate that a speedy car was involved because a couple of months ago Armitage and Paul O’Neill (a BMW touring car driver) got themselves into the Guinness World Records (trademark) for the “Farthest Golf Shot Caught In A Moving Car”…..Yes, well, I suppose somebody’s got to try it and the feat is documented in a slightly (?!) bonkers video on the European Tour website if you want to have a look. They beat the old record by 30 yards.Finally, I’ve always thought that golf was the ideal sport for Muslim girls and women, not least because they can wear traditional dress if they wish and the Muslim Golf Association and love.golf agree. They held a taster session at Stonebridge GC, near Coventry, recently and were oversubscribed. Fahra Bhatti, one of the participants, said, “I have always thought of golf as a sport for white, middle-class men but today has shown me that it’s not and anyone can enjoy it.”
How wonderful (though I must admit that some of my best friends are white, middle-class men). And I do look forward to the difficulties this might cause the keepers of the sacred dress code…