This is not the way to start a piece that you want people to keep on reading. Intros are meant to engage the reader, draw them in, intrigue them or at least inform them, keep them wanting more, keen to read on. If I tell you that this shows every sign of being about me, me, me (what do you mean, what’s different from every other week!), you can move on to something else with a clear conscience, no offence taken.
I was delighted to see that on Monday defending champion Sergio Garcia hung on to win the weather-disrupted Andalucia Valderrama Masters, hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, at Real Club Valderrama. The event was reduced to 54 holes – it does rain in Spain – but Sergio coped well and won by four shots from Shane Lowry (hooray), who finished with a 66. I’m a Sergio fan still and am happy to take every opportunity to show him, beaming, clutching a trophy. Shane, I hope, will be winning more trophies soon.
On Monday I was playing at Delamere Forest in Cheshire, which is always a treat to play, not, for once, with Maureen, who is a member there (hooray) but with the AGW (Association of Golf Writers), contesting the Michael Williams Hogget. Michael, who died, far too early, on his home course of Chelmsford, was the golf correspondent of the Daily Telegraph for many years but I had to look up hogget in my trusty Chambers Dictionary and am now, I confess, none the wiser. A hogget is, apparently, “a yearling sheep or colt”, so who knows what it has to do with Michael or golf. I await the answer with some trepidation.
Rob Perkins, who’d travelled up from Somerset, claimed the title and pretty well wrapped up our Race To Wentworth and the Etiqus Golfer Of The Year award with only the AGW Championship, at Hoylake, to come. No longer required to be hot on detail, I believe he could have given Royal Liverpool a miss and gone home and still come out as No 1.
As it happened, Hoylake, the sainted home of Royal Liverpool, one of the oldest and most historic courses in all Britain (I quote from The Shell International Encyclopedia (sic) Of Golf, edited by Donald Steel and Peter Ryde, advisory editor Herbert Warren Wind – all three men are worth looking up). In England, only Royal Blackheath and Royal North Devon (Westward Ho!) are older. Bernard Darwin was a fan, though he conceded that it is not the most scenic of links: “…this place of dull and rather mean appearance is one of the most interesting and most difficult courses in the world and pre-eminently one which is regarded with affection by all who know it well.”
I’ve always liked Hoylake – even when there were places where women could not tread in a clubhouse that is a treat in itself, full of photographs and portraits that could keep you engrossed for days. On Tuesday, it was too tough for the likes of me, blowing a hooley that might have been stronger than the one at Royal St George’s when Darren Clarke won the Open Championship. On the 1st tee I thought that amassing double figures in points for the 18 holes would be a good effort. I’m not joking; it was that windy. One thing that Hoylake lacks is one of those wind thingys (have forgotten its official name) that tells you just what you’re having to cope with – zephyr, storm, gale, hurricane, whatever. The club history is called “Mighty Winds … Mighty Champions”.
We could just about stand up, so it probably didn’t quite reach gale force, though some of the gusts might have – my trolley blew over four times – and I clocked up nearly 19,000 steps (about 11 kilometres), tracking balls that were blown to blazes as they soared in the wrong direction; at Delamere it was 16,000. I managed 11 points going out (hooray) and wondered why I couldn’t see properly before realising that salt blown in from the Dee Estuary was mucking up my glasses. Regrouping and drawing on my formative years at Portstewart and Portrush , I amassed 17 points, little short of miraculous, on the back nine, including one blob, at the 15th. It was into the teeth of the wind, I didn’t have a shot and knew I was toast when I put my second shot into a fairway bunker. Don’t think I ever got out. So now I know why Tiger went to such great lengths to stay out of the buggers when he won the Open so emotionally in 2006. Anyone who thinks he found it easy-peasy didn’t see him fall into Steve Williams’s arms when the last putt went in. Tiger, whose dad had died earlier that year, was a man who’d put every last ounce of skill, effort and emotion into every shot. He’d given his all. Easy it was not.
My three partners and I staggered in as darkness was falling and it turned out that my valiant total of 28 points had won by four points. So I became the first person to win the AGW Championship and the coveted Fred Pignon Trophy four times! Even more amazing, this victory came 27 years after my first triumph and 16 years after my third (hooray)!
I couldn’t help thinking about my first win, way back in 1991, at The Wisley. Foolishly, because the club handbook recommended that only single figure players should attempt the course from the back tees, the men played off the tips – and the golf writers, for all their qualities, are not, in the main, even in their dreams, frustrated tour pros. I, the only woman, played off the red tees, which we sometimes couldn’t find because they’d been plonked so far up the fairways. My course, as it turned out, was 1,000 yards shorter than the men’s, which, even allowing for everything you could allow for, was pretty daft.
Anyway, I blobbed the 1st and the 18th and came in with 38 points just as husband Dai was being hailed as the champion. He’d played out of his socks, spikes, everything and come in with 36 points, a magnificent effort deserving of the trophy and a first victory in the championship. And I snatched it from him. It would not be an understatement to say that my reception (not just from my ever-lovin’) was glacial – and this was long before we were taking global warming seriously. It was COLD.
The following year, at Brocket Hall (some things stick in your mind), Liz Kahn and I were made to play off the same tees as the men, with a few extra shots thrown in as some sort of inadequate sop. Our protests came to nothing, especially when Liz finished respectably in the middle of the pack and I won, again. Oops – or do I mean hooray!
Sorry Dai, you probably did deserve to win at The Wisley and at least you once got your hands on the original Henry Cotton Salver, the solid silver one that is now at the bottom of the Thames – but that’s a story for another day.