I don’t know about you but I thought the US Open was terrific, compelling stuff. Any number of people were still in contention with nine holes to play and it seemed that it was anyone’s to win. It also seems like a long time ago now, even though it’s not even a week since Jon Rahm snatched his first major title.
Amazingly, he became the first Spaniard to win the US Open and boy (or nino), did he do it in style. Tiger would have been proud of the ferocity of the fist pumps that followed the birdie putts at the last two holes. And what putts. They weren’t straightforward by any means, fast, downhill, curly jobs that were hard enough to read, let alone hole. Sinking one of them would have been impressive enough but both?….Wow.
(This is where a well-organised blog would have a wonderful photo of Rahm uppercutting madly or beaming broadly holding the trophy. Sadly, I couldn’t get a single one of the appropriate photos to transfer, so I’m hoping you’ve all seen the images somewhere and will forgive the technical ineptitude. I was going to tell you what putter the new champ used but…no pic, no namecheck…)
Instead here’s a pic of Rory McIlroy, who was in contention throughout the championship – shock, horror, hooray – and only fell away over the last few holes. He three-putted the 12th and had an untimely and rather unlucky double bogey at the 13th, to scupper his chances. I think those were the critical holes but I must confess that I dozed off – one minute Rory was on the leaderboard, well in the mix, the next time I looked he’d disappeared. Such are the perils of late-night golf watching. Anyway, a revitalised Rory is scheduled to play in the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club from July 8-11, along with Rahm and any number of stellar names. Tickets (strictly limited, so hurry, hurry, hurry, as the ads say) are available.It’s the club championship at Whittington Heath this weekend – from the sublime to the slightly more ridiculous, admittedly – and I’m hoping the greens will be less speedy than the ones at Torrey Pines were. My spies tell me that the rough has shot up, so from the sound of things I’ll be lucky to find my ball let alone the greens. I had a club fitting last week but haven’t ordered new clubs yet, so will just have to blame the old ones – and the new trolley Maureen and Brian bought me for my birthday. Hope I can assemble it in time for the first round tomorrow.
The big day was yesterday, so the big yellow Open scoreboard (pictured at the top of the piece I hope) is sheer indulgence but I couldn’t resist it. I also got a video message from Hugo Lloris, the Spurs and France goalkeeper (no name check, though he has been a bit busy not saving Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalties) and the promise of a free Aperol Spritz from my local ASK Italian. I knew there was a reason for signing up to everything and sundry. Thanks also to everyone for their cards and good wishes. Also, belated happy returns to two proper players who were born on the same day a few years after me: Karen Stupples and Juli Inkster.
Another player who is really starting to pack a punch is Leona Maguire, who is now, surely, a virtual certainty to become the first Irish player to play in the Solheim Cup, this year (all being well, pandemic variations permitting, fingers crossed), at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Leona was a close second to Nelly Korda, who is now the world No 3, in the Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan last week and yesterday had a solid opening round of 72, level par, in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia. Lizette Salas was leading on 67, one ahead of Woburn’s Charley Hull.Still on a bit of an Irish theme (would you expect anything else!), Padraig Harrington has selected Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer as vice captains for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September. They have both won major titles and holed the winning putt at the Ryder Cup and join Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson in a formidable line-up.
Maureen has done a tip this week, the first for a while and she assures me that it’s one of the simplest, most straightforward ones she’s come across. However, a word of warning: it is not quite foolproof, not least because Mo has found a fool uncomfortably close to home. I’ll leave you to guess just who that might be.
If there’s a wrong way to do something, I’ll find it. I’m inclined to think it’s a skill, a God-given talent but suffice it to say that my sister cannot believe that any of you out there can be as clueless….
Finally, apologies to Suzanne Rundle for not naming her last week. I was told off by the coach, who said such a magnificent effort deserved proper recognition. So here’s Suzanne in glorious, free flowing action again, an inspiration to us all.
Scotland is hosting both The Amateur and the Women’s Amateur this year and home fans were delighted with last week’s result in the latter, which was played at Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club. Louise Duncan (above), a 21-year old from just up the road at West Kilbride became the first Scottish winner of the title since 1997 when Alison Rose won an all-Scottish final against Mhairi McKay at Cruden Bay. Not that that particular fact was on Louise’s mind at all during the match – she wasn’t even aware of it but was delighted when told of her feat.
She said, “I wasn’t even born in 1997; I wasn’t even a thought. So I am unbelievably proud to be the first Scot to win the Women’s Amateur Championship in that amount of time. I am happy to have brought it home.”
Duncan lost the opening hole in the 36-hole final but after that everything turned to gold as she romped to a 9 and 8 win over Johanna Lea Ludviksdottir, Iceland’s first-ever finalist in this venerable championship. As always, to the victor the spoils and the Scot can now look forward to teeing it up in three professional majors – the Women’s Open and the Evian this summer and the US Women’s Open next year – as well as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur next April. That will certainly keep the Stirling University student and R&A scholar busy.
I wonder if she’s the first Scot to win the biggest title in women’s golf this side of the Atlantic in her own county, never mind country?In total Iceland had three players in the Championship and they can be justifiably proud of their collective efforts. Ragnhildur Kristinsdottir topped the 64 qualifiers after the 36 hole strokeplay section with fine scores of 74, 66 to be six under par. Unfortunately for her the curse of the top seed was reinforced when she fell to Ireland’s Aine Donegan of Lahinch in the opening round of the matchplay. It was bad luck, too, that the other Icelandic players met in the first round with Ludviksdottir beating her fellow International, Hulda Clara Gestsdottir on the final green.
A number of Johanna’s matches went to the wire and she just seemed to run out of steam in the final. However, she was still delighted with her week in Ayrshire and with making a little bit of Icelandic golfing history . “I am very happy with myself and proud of myself to achieve and go this far.”
I can’t help but think back to my first ever Ladies’ European Team Championship for Ireland back in 1979, at Hermitage in Dublin. It was also Iceland’s first time to play in the championship and their team arrived with cobbled together equipment and only one set of playing uniform each for the entire week. I remember the team being welcomed and supported by all the other teams, as well as by the host club and union. Any good performances, whether an individual strokeplay round or a good individual match score, were made a fuss of and highlighted.
We welcomed Iceland as they took their first steps into the golfing world abroad and it’s a joy to see their players now cropping up on every tour in the world. Some wonderful teachers from the UK travelled over to live in Iceland and share their knowledge. My pal Pat Smillie, ultimately the England coach for so many years, was an early pioneer who laid strong foundations there for the growth of the game. It must be a wonderful thing to reflect on your career and realise that you helped introduce so many to the game in a non-golfing country and then helped keep the interest alive until it became self-perpetuating and rolling along, more or less, of its own accord. That takes sustained effort on the part of many.
Sustained effort is something Jonathan Caldwell knows all about. It has been a long, slow and frequently unrewarding grind for the Ulsterman to the summit, which he achieved last Sunday when he won the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika. In a groundbreaking venture 78 men and 78 women played the same course for the same trophy and it took a very special final round of 64 by Caldwell to edge out Spain’s Adrian Otaegui by a stroke. Alice Hewson was the highest-placed female a shot further back and the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
I first saw Jonathan play in the 2007 Walker Cup alongside Rory McIlroy. Ulster, Irish and British & Irish teammates, the players’ paths diverged drastically after that Walker Cup. Rory amassed four majors and a number of other wins in very short order but Jonathan struggled to gain a sound footing on tour. He lost his playing rights, bounced around on a few mini-tours and had to work in a golf store to finance himself to get some starts in the minor leagues. He stayed in the arena, however, and Sunday was the reward for all that unseen work, toil, effort and doggedness. No wonder his eyes were damp as he told the members at his home club of Clandeboye to get a tab started at the bar and “crack on” with the party. I suspect they didn’t need telling twice!Kudos too, to Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam for hosting this unique event, giving the women’s game an amazing platform to show just what they can do. When the professional men players see the women as simply “players” we are making great strides and wider recognition will surely flow from the rest of the golfing and sporting worlds. And the good news is Annika and Henrik will host the event again next year. We should all be very thankful for Sweden’s contribution to our game. This small country punches mightily above its weight and has done so much for golf over the last 40 years and this innovative tournament hosted by two of its greats is another example of that. And, a fellow Ulster golfer has won his first tour event………so, a pretty perfect week.
Now, how quickly can I get to Clandeboye Golf Club?
We’re starting at the bottom this week, with a reminder, if one is needed, that this is International Flip Flop Day. Don’t tell me you didn’t know that on the third Friday of June every year, you can wear your flip flops everywhere – even at the golf club? It’s a pity the G7 summiters aren’t still in Cornwall, where they could have appeared properly dressed for all those photo shoots on the beach.
Ten years ago Gandys started their business with flip flops and they’ve been expanding their range ever since. If you don’t know the story of how the founders survived the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka – their parents died – have a look at gandysinternational.com.
To quote: “When we returned from Sri Lanka…..we had nothing; not even a pair of flip flops on our feet for the flight home. Now, we are designing flip flops in Sri Lanka where the first Gandys kids campus was built.
“We started a company to give back and continue our parent’s legacy. As we continue to provide travel gear, we will continue to give back by providing underprivileged children with equal opportunities and safe space to grow and develop.”
It’s worth reading their amazing story.
Now, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Call me old-fashioned, out of touch, overly conservative, whatever (dress code excepted) but there’s one word that springs to mind when I read about the spat between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau: PLONKERS. As in clot or eejit or ass.
Don’t give me all that guff about growing the game or fostering a rivalry, this is just downright childish and unedifying in the extreme. Two of the best golfers in the world sniping like schoolboys, thinking they’re being clever but showing an alarming immaturity, wrapped up in their respective bubbles and social media ratings.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, lucky you! I’ve already read – and now written – far too many words about it.
To be fair to DeChambeau, who is defending his US Open title this week on the South Course at Torrey Pines, the cliff-top municipal in San Diego, California, he’s mainly been responding to barbs from Koepka. The burly US Open champion of 2017 and 2018 (and US PGA champion of 2018 and 2019) just seems to have taken a scunner agin DeChambeau, the burgeoning superstar with his crazy professor approach to the game.
It may not be the industry standard – and it’s certainly not for everyone – but it’s far from daft and can be maddeningly effective. And it attracts a lot of attention. And so many sponsors that DeChambeau uses up a lot of precious interview time thanking them all one by one.
It’s unreasonable to expect fierce competitors always to be all sweetness and light with each other and fans have their favourites and their bogeymen too. When Jack Nicklaus, big and brash and monstrously long, first appeared on the scene and started threatening the dominance of the charismatic Arnold Palmer, the people’s champion, Arnie’s Army were outraged. They were vocal in the extreme and even stood in the rough with signs saying, “Hit it here, fat boy.”
In the end that fat boy became the winningest (sorry, should have resisted that awful word but it’s getting late and, sure, it’ll do) major champion so far and a strong contender for the title “Greatest of All Time”. With apologies to all goats, especially the wonderful kefir-producing ones at Chuckling Goat in Wales, I absolutely refuse to use the ghastly acronym because I hate it, find it demeaning and completely inadequate – so there! Someone please come up with something better, classier and more fitting.
Back to golfing antagonisms: there’s a cracking story from the 1913 US Open at Brookline, the one where Francis Ouimet, a 20-year old amateur, became a national hero when he defeated the Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, giants of the game, in an 18-hole play-off. After two rounds – it was 36 holes a day – Vardon was sharing the lead with Wilfred Reid, another Brit, two shots ahead of Ray, who had won the (British) Open in 1912.
At dinner that night, there was some sort of argument about taxes (ah, politics, politics, always a dodgy subject), tempers frayed and Ray, a big bloke, bopped Reid so hard that he fell to the floor with his nose bleeding. Reid got to his feet and was heading for Ray until the head waiter, a brave man or one worried about his tablecloths, got between the combatants to prevent further damage before their friends and fellow competitors pulled them apart.
So much for the good old days and deteriorating modern manners….
I’m indebted to The U.S. Open, Golf’s Ultimate Challenge by the late, great Robert Sommers for that tale. His book, published in 1987, is wonderful but of course it pre-dates the Tiger Woods era, a volume on its own.
My thanks to Alistair Tait, whose daily blog is a tour de force, for pointing out that Old Tom Morris was born in St Andrews on 16th June 1821, 200 years ago. The St Andrews Links Trust have planned various celebrations and golfers who played the Old Course on Wednesday received a commemorative certificate to mark the day.
In case you’ve forgotten, Old Tom won the Open four times, in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867 before his son Young Tom took over and won the title in 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872.
The person below is not an Open champion but she is a member of Whittington Heath and played the Old Course on Tuesday, 15th June. Whether she got a certificate or not, it’s hard to fault the swing and the concentration. Looks like a proper player.
Finally, just a reminder to break out the flip flops today, whatever the weather. Mine are posing in the garden with Kerikeri the Kiwi, who came all the way from the Bay of Islands, right up there in the north of North Island, New Zealand. She came back as hand luggage, well wrapped, via America many years ago. Doubt I could manage that now.