My step count barely registered on my phone over last Saturday, Sunday and Monday. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t working at all. It peaked (or troughed) on Monday at a massive 350 steps – and who knew sitting could be so exhausting that it’s taken me the rest of the week to recover? Actually, I wasn’t just sitting – I was immersed in every putt, chip and swing of the two teams vying to win the 17th edition of the Solheim Cup, played at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. All the shouting at the television was worth it in the end, however, as Europe battled to a 15-13 victory to win for only the second time on American soil.
Catriona Matthew has now achieved God-like status for being the first European captain to win successive matches and, so far at any rate, she has sensibly declined to lead the side for a third term.This was a match that Europe had no right to win. It’s notoriously difficult to win on foreign soil in normal times and the visiting side were without their friends, families and faithful Solheim Cup supporters because of ever present travel restrictions regarding the States. Perhaps it made the small number of Europeans an even more cohesive unit, if that were possible, but there’s no doubt the Americans will go away scratching their heads and wondering what kind of sorcery goes on in European team rooms at Ryder and Solheim Cups.
I mean, blending and moulding EIGHT different nationalities (ten, if you count the captain and assistant captains) should be akin to solving a fiendish sudoku but Europe seemingly have the key to unlocking these mysteries. The Americans will be sick to death of hearing about European team spirit and suggestions that there is a magic formula that they are lacking. There’s one sure thing, though – the more they try to come up with their own “magic formula” for success the more elusive it’ll become.You will forgive me for confirming there was much joy in this household over Leona Maguire’s spellbinding display and seemingly bottomless well of grit and resolve into which she dipped to enable yet another clutch putt to find the bottom of the hole. We have waited 31 years to have an Irish player in the blue and gold colours of Europe in the Solheim Cup and it certainly proved worth the wait. Just imagine – four and a half points out of five, a feat never before achieved by a European rookie. (Caroline Hedwall won all five of her matches in Colorado in 2013, on her second appearance.) At this point I would like to sound a note of appreciation for everyone in the country who has ever had anything to do with Irish golf – and girls’ golf in particular. By that I mean all the volunteers who have run junior sections at their clubs; the parents who have criss-crossed the country taking their little ones to club matches, scratch cups and the like; and the governing body who have grown into a tour de force in delivering world-class coaching programmes. Over the decades great Irish players have been nurtured, winning first at home, then abroad. Eventually these class individuals were backed up by strength in depth and team victories on the international stage appeared. After that it was forays into college golf in America, then the Ladies’ European Tour, then the LPGA and now Leona has taken us all to new heights. All along the way there have been inspiring people and players that sowed a seed of ambition for the next generation and so it has gone on.
I can’t help but think back to my own early days at Portstewart and Portrush and the junior sessions run by one of the members, Dorothy Glendinning. It was her encouragement to me to swing at a daisy with my 9-iron and not spend the WHOLE time making daisy chains that created a spark in me for this sport that lives on to this day. And, of course, we will never know the sheer grind of the thousands of hours put in by Leona herself to bring her to this point, but, as well as paying tribute to her, I want to pay tribute to generations of people who have given time and effort to the game they love, with no thought of reward.
Leona stands on the shoulders of many, many people which is one of the reasons the entire country is bursting with collective pride in her accomplishments.I don’t suppose that for Catriona Matthew anything could surpass captaining the Europeans to victory last time out in her home country but this must surely come awfully close. It’s also possibly the first time ever that women’s golf has gone head to head over a similar time frame with an important men’s golf event and merited the lion’s share of the attention. In case it escaped your notice, the culmination of the PGA Tour season took place with the final event of the play-offs resulting in Patrick Cantlay pocketing $15 million. Honestly, I hardly noticed, so captivating, so all-encompassing was the Solheim Cup – and that’s even allowing for the poor television production from the American host broadcasters.
Two talented, evenly-matched teams were showcased at The Inverness Club; the spotlight settled on the Europeans at the end of three glorious days; and there, centre stage, drinking it all in, head and shoulders above all the rest, was Leona Maguire.
Simply the best.