Thanks to Global Golf Post’s indefatigable Colin Callander, a Scot who, through experience and necessity, understands the vagaries of sporting life, I discovered that the Sunningdale Foursomes took place last week. I used to cover these things in the dim and distant past when the event itself, with its unique format, was crammed full of big names getting in a bit of pre-season competition at one of the world’s great golfing venues.
It all started in 1934 and any old combination of men, women, amateurs and professionals will do – providing they can play a bit. Nowadays, the male pros play off plus 1, the male amateurs are scratch, the women pros 2 and the women amateurs 4. Same tees, full difference.
Peter Alliss won it twice, with Jean Donald, who had also won twice with Tom Haliburton. In 1968, Max Faulkner, Open champion in 1951, at Royal Portrush, which makes its comeback as an Open venue this year, was runner-up with his son-in-law Brian Barnes, who won the Senior Open at Portrush in 1995 and 1996. They were soundly beaten by a very young Warren Humphreys and a slightly older John Davies, a Sunningdale member of some renown and no little skill. Remarkably, Max had won the Foursomes way back in 1950.
This year’s winners were the Swedish amateurs Linn Grant and Maja Stark, the first Continental pair ever to win the title and the first women since Julie Hall and Helen Wadsworth in 1997. In fact, the Swedes became only the fifth all-female pairing to win and it was a damned close run thing. In the final, they beat 16-year old Joe Sullivan, from Chartham Park in Sussex and his professional partner Louis Hirst, from Banstead Downs, on the 18th and in the semis they were taken to the 20th by Cameron Clark, of Moor Hall (Sutton Coldfield, just down the road from here) and David Higgins, of Waterville.The first women to win the title, in 1982, were Christine Langford and Mickey Walker, who beat Mary McKenna and Maureen Madill by one hole in the final. The same four reached the final again two years later and this time the all-Ireland combo won 3 and 2. Mo and Mary, who’d established themselves as Sunningdale specialists, reached the final yet again in 1986 and lost, by one hole, to Ronan Rafferty and Roger Chapman. In 1988, they lost in the final again, beaten 5 and 3 by Carl Mason and Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler. Not a bad run.
In her heyday, McKenna could hit the ball miles, not always in the right direction but she had the perfect approach to foursomes. Having launched a massive drive off in to the boondocks, she’d pick up her tee and say, simply, “Yours, partner.” If anyone wants to know the secret to playing foursomes, that’s it, encapsulated.
Of course, McKenna, an outwardly gentle and affable soul, was also, like her partner, fiercely competitive. One year, they were in prime form and mangling some poor father and son combo on the New Course so badly – 8 up after nine – that Mo began feeling sorry for the opposition. Her partner put her right. “Don’t be ridiculous. No letting up. I’ve always wanted to win a match by the sausage hut.” They duly won the 10th hole to win 9 and 8.
McKenna was leaning against a post, munching her sausage sandwich contentedly when Sam Torrance, who was playing with John O’Leary on the Old Course, leaned against the other side of the post, sarnie in hand and said, out of the side of his mouth because he didn’t know if the opposition were about or not, “How are you doing, Mary?”
”We’re finished,” McKenna said in a similarly conspiratorial tone, without looking round.
Sam nearly choked.
Corinne Dibnah and Dale Reid, who both knew how to play a bit, won in 1990 and for us nerds it’s fascinating scrolling through the list of winners and runners-up, coming across familiar names like Gillian Stewart, Luke Donald, Trish Johnson, to name just a few. It’s a hard old trophy to win, given the vagaries of the weather, 18-hole matchplay and the foursomes format itself and long may it last.
Earlier this week it was announced that the Senior Open Presented by Rolex will be back at Sunningdale (Old) next year and there are few better places to play or to watch golf. The seniors are at Royal Lytham this year and the women are at Woburn and they’re fortunate that they’re not restricted to the strictly links rota of the Open. They – and we, the spectators – can enjoy the best of both worlds.