I know I’m getting older – along with everyone else – and time is rattling past a darned sight quicker than a Solheim Cup fourball but I can’t believe it’s already two weeks since Europe’s teetering-on-the-edge win in Perthshire. Suzann Pettersen’s clubs will probably be on eBay by now, Charley Hull has got married – congratulations to Mr and Mrs Smith, wishing you every happiness – and everyone else has scattered far and wide, clubs in tow, airlines permitting, swinging away wherever they can find a fairway.
All the people involved will remember the great last gasp at Gleneagles for as long as they have a memory but it’s already being consigned to history as golf moves on, the Rugby World Cup attempts to muscle in on football’s dominance and apparently there’s a lot happening at Westminster, involving Supreme Court rulings a lot more calm, considered and impressive (unanimous even) than the unedifying cat-calling – and worse – on the floor of the House of Commons. Just because rugby’s become obsessed with big hits do the rest of us have to spend our time being unremittingly confrontational? I still talk far too much but I’m trying to listen more – honest – and learn what’s behind any apparently nonsensical, indefensible opinion……Going well so far….Nelly Korda, who was one of the US stars of the show at Gleneagles, along with her big sister Jessica, moved on to the Continent where she won the Lacoste Ladies Open de France at Golf du Medoc, near Bordeaux, by a whopping eight shots from Celine Boutier, the Frenchwoman who won all four of her matches on her Solheim debut at Gleneagles. Korda won 48,750 Euro and Boutier 29,250, so bear in mind that not all golfers are being showered with gold. Of course, if they got their weight in wine as well, that’s not to be sneezed at, even if the winner is a slim Jim. Useful for presents if the players are teetotallers themselves.
It’s back to business this week for Catriona Matthew, Europe’s Solheim Cup captain, whose post-victory interviews included an appearance on Woman’s Hour, where she coped womanfully and diplomatically with Dame Jenni Murray’s obvious disinterest in golf. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all. Catriona usually presents a quiet, calm, reserved face to the world but she has passion and competitive fire in abundance and even she couldn’t hide that as her team pulled off an incredible win on her home turf.
I hope she’ll be in charge again at Inverness in Ohio in 2021 and I hope Juli Inkster, captain of the USA for the last three matches, will stick to her decision to stand down. She’s been terrific, winning twice and losing narrowly in Scotland but she has the sense to know when enough is enough and it’s time to train up her successor.
Let’s also hope that Tiger Woods has enough sense to ignore the siren voices that are encouraging him to be a playing captain at this year’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne. Surely no captain in their right mind would pick Tiger, the reigning Masters champion admittedly but a man with a body so broken that even his iron will couldn’t guarantee it would stand up to the rigours of team matchplay. If he adds himself to the team roster, he’ll be handicapping himself as a player and a captain and confirming that the whole thing is just an expensive exercise in – well, in nothing whatsoever. Tiger was once unbeatable, the superman of swing but those days are gone and he should concentrate on being a super skipper, non-playing.Inkster and Woods may – or more likely may not – be heartened to learn that the USA mangled Europe at Whittington Heath last Saturday, on Ladies’ President’s Day (there should be enough apostrophes there to satisfy Lynne Truss, author of the best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves and confuse any greengrocers still taking on the supermarket’s*). It was a bit odd waving the Stars and Stripes and shouting USA, USA, USA instead of Ole, Ole, Ole but my partner and I tried our damnedest, played well and won a golf ball. Well, two golf balls – one each. And we were a long way from winning the bucket and spade awarded to the player who was in the most bunkers.
A few days later, after a month’s rain in ten minutes, or some such statistic, we played a Texas scramble at Drayton Park GC in Tamworth and the bunkers, oh happy day, were out of play because most of them were flooded. The course itself had coped remarkably well and we didn’t come off mud up to the eyeballs. We all came off dry, smiling and feeling we’d played nicely but we didn’t come within a sniff of a prize. It was a shotgun start but none of us heard the shotgun (or the hooter or whatever was meant to let us off the leash) – water in the works perhaps. One of the rules was that the person whose drive was chosen could not hit the second shot, so it meant that you had to think about where you wanted to use your big bombers – if you were lucky enough to have any. It was designed to give the shorter hitters a chance and had the added advantage of speeding up play. Another great day.
Finally, please give a cheer for the club professionals who will be having their nerves shredded in the PGA Cup in Austin, Texas this weekend. GB and I are going for a hat trick of wins against the USA and the visiting captain Cameron Clark is from Moor Hall GC in Sutton Coldfield, just a few miles from where I’m writing this. Cameron was playing in 2015 when GB and I won in California and he was a vice captain at Foxhills in Surrey two years ago. He and his team are now used to winning and the Americans are so worried that they called in Austin native Ben Crenshaw, twice the Masters champion and the winning Ryder Cup captain at Brookline, to rally the troops.
*Is this a deliberate mistake, a shameless smart Aleck’s idea of joke or is it just a weary error, missed by an editor longing for her bed?
It’s been quite a year! Twelve months ago the cheers of Ole, ole, ole were ringing out around the Golf National Golf Club near Versailles as Europe romped to a terrific Ryder Cup victory. April meant Augusta in the spring sunshine and the extraordinary 15th major win for the injury ridden Tiger and then……. well, then July and the Open at Portrush – for me, arguably the absolute pinnacle of all my years of playing, watching and working in golf. But the game has kept on giving and last week Europe squeaked home in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, against the US, by the narrowest of margins. Ole, ole ole indeed.That was the 16th edition of the Solheim Cup and between us Patricia and I have been present at 14 of these encounters. Our roles have altered over the last 30 years. Patricia has morphed from a supposedly unbiased, sensible, considered golf writer for the Times into a bona fide European supporter, actually (whisper it quietly) sporting a Scottish ginger wig one day. Of course, that WOULD be the day she chose to drop in to the TV compound, popping in to the BBC production office to say hello to Peter and Jackie Alliss. I, meanwhile, have moved from being fellow tour player and friend of the players to broadcaster, member of the back room team and then back to commentator. My own blue and yellow wig is not far away, I think. You have to accept that at the moment Europe and the US are not exactly the powerhouses of women’s golf. That accolade lies a little further east but you don’t necessarily need the best teams to get the best contests and I don’t agree with those who say the Solheim Cup is no longer relevant. The BBC highlights programme peaked at over 650,000 viewers. Add in Sky’s live coverage averaging 250,000 and that’s considerable interest for what some commentators have called a second rate contest. And let’s not forget the 90,000 spectators actually at the match.
I confess I still find it difficult to get past the R&A’s decision to remove the Open, the Women’s British Open, the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup from terrestrial TV. Obviously none of us was party to the behind-the-scenes discussions that took place but the net result is golf on television is only available to those who can afford a hefty monthly subscription. Those people tend to be avid golfers and already hooked on the game. Slim chance of inspiring interest in non-golfers. Funny way to “grow the game” isn’t it? If the R&A felt the BBC coverage of the Open was tired and dated, why not make more stringent demands on the Corporation? Was it REALLY only ever about the money on the table?
I’d like to emphasise here that I think Sky do an excellent job but their reach is small and I don’t believe that is good for golf. It certainly won’t help the Ladies’ European Tour who will be desperate to capitalise on this great win in a very uncertain commercial climate.
One of the downsides to doing a highlights programme is that I do not get much of an opportunity to get out on the golf course during the matches. I’m buried away in the TV compound commentating from a TV monitor. I do, however, get to sit next to Peter Alliss for a straight eight to ten hours and I can tell you that is never dull! I do, occasionally, escape to do a small piece to camera with Eilidh Barbour, our presenter, and it’s great fun getting prepped for the camera by one of the make-up artists. They are magicians!
Opportunities to bump into old friends from tour days are therefore limited but a great week came to a perfect conclusion for me when I spotted a familiar figure as i was leaving our hotel on the Monday morning – the always elegant Swede, former European Solheim Cup captain, Lotte Neumann. Lotte had been supporting the team all week and was looking forward to a few rounds of her own in Scotland. She was off that day to play at St Andrews and had Muirfield on the list for later in the week.
I came away reflecting yet again on all that golf has given me across most of my life – competition, fun, friendships, principles and a living, to name but a few things. All I really want is for others to have a chance to know and love this game as I do and it’s imperative we keep striving to be all-inclusive and welcoming. Time to ditch the exclusivity label that sticks to our sport and the outdated views that hold us back. Time to welcome all with arms outstretched.
I was standing behind the 8th tee at Gleneagles last Saturday – yes, I was there – waiting for Lizette Salas or, more specifically, her coat, when I spotted a text. The phone, on silent, was poised to snap said coat – I’d been tracking it for two or three holes with a marked lack of success – and as I read the message I nearly exploded.
The text, from a friend in the county of Antrim who is not renowned for restraint or political correctness, read as follows: “Hi. Will you FFS take a hot poker to some well upholstered backside out there and tell them to get a bloody move on. Three hours for 9 holes? Yer da is spinning in his grave. I can play 18 holes in that time. It’s a shocking advert for women’s golf and will only produce a circus of jokes about ‘female indecision’. Never mind losing one hole: three strikes and you’re out. Loss of match and point. Yours, Bored of Portrush.”
I responded (I had plenty of time): “Your message arrived just as I was behind the 8th tee watching Lizette Salas!”
“Nearly burst out laughing at v inappropriate moment.”
“Wonderful! As it says in the Good Book (The Rules of Life by the R and A): And the Lord said: ‘Lo, I shall smite the po-faced and the over-cautious while they go about their putt putt’.”
Don’t worry, once this friend gets on a roll, no one has a clue.
Salas wasn’t the only slowcoach on display – Carlota Ciganda’s habit of backing off, as though hoping to take the ball by surprise, is beyond irritating – and if as distinguished a fan as Rory McIlroy is moved to admit he found some of the golf unwatchable, there’s a problem. Golf nerds will, despite themselves, come back regardless, the less committed will switch off or over and go elsewhere, probably for ever.
The players claim to be keen to improve the pace of play but they’re not; they don’t give a toss; after all, it’s their job, so what else do they have to do all day? Anyway, they say, it’s up to the officials to enforce the guidelines but that’s just refusing to accept responsibility.
They’ve forgotten that golf is a moving game, it’s not static, despite the fact that you do stop to hit a ball that is lying there waiting for you to give it a skelp. They’ve stopped calculating on the move, assessing the conditions, considering their options as they approach the ball, almost making a decision on the type of shot, even the club, before they’ve come to a halt beside their ball. It’s the old paralysis by analysis, by the very people who should, given the hours they put in on the practice ground and their ridiculous levels of skill, know their capabilities inside out and be the speediest of us all.
They’re looking for perfection but didn’t someone once say that “golf is not a game of perfect”? Didn’t someone write a book about it? And can we blame the advent of another book, the yardage book, for slowing things down to start with? Gene Andrews, an American amateur, who disliked the fickleness of “feel”, played by yardage and had a little book for all the courses he played. Deane Beman, who became commissioner of the US PGA Tour, picked up on the idea and so did Jack Nicklaus, who could also turn to stone over his putts. Trouble was, he holed most of them and players all over the world gave up missing ’em quick in an attempt to emulate Jack. At least he knew what he was doing; most of the rest of us don’t have a bloody clue.
Come Sunday, Gleneagles was at its glorious best and the golf couldn’t have been more compelling. Most of the matches were too tight to call and the thousands of spectators who pounded their way round some challenging terrain were on tenterhooks. Europe edging on top? No. USA all the way? No. Advantage Europe? No, Stars and Stripes for ever, heading for an unprecedented three Solheims in a row. A European BBU (brave but unavailing). We’re fecked (as they say in Ireland), all impartiality ditched. The USA, the holders, only need a half to retain with three matches still out on the course. Europe still have a glimmer but they can’t do it, surely?
Anna Nordqvist, playing in splendid isolation, more or less, in the last match, always had the better of Morgan Pressel and won on the 15th, away from the mayhem that was brewing further ahead. Bronte Law, all passion and bounce, shrugged off some shocking frittering to finish with a flourish that Ally McDonald couldn’t match and they then stood on the 17th green and watched the denouement on the big screen.
I’d been following Bronte with two friends from Cheshire who’d known her since she was a wee lass and after we’d stopped clapping her victory, we and hordes of others stood looking at Suzann Pettersen standing over a putt on the 18th green. “What’s this for?” we said to the man next to us. “It’s for the match,” he said. “It’s for the whole thing.”
“What!” we said. ”You’re joking!”
I thought of Bernhard Langer at Kiawah but Pettersen had left herself an uphill putt and in it went, right in the middle, no messing. Cue more jumping up and down, screeching, general mania and disbelief. Even Catriona Matthew, the calmest, least demonstrative of captains, went bananas.
Blimey. How did that happen? How did we do that? How did Pettersen even hold the putter? It was Killeen Castle without the rain. (I still don’t know how Europe pulled off that win in Ireland.) Unbelievable.
The bottom line is that my boots (see top) are still unbeaten; whenever they tramp the fairways Europe win. They made their debut at the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010; sloshed their way around Killeen Castle at the 2011 Solheim; Maureen wore them at Gleneagles in 2014 at the Ryder Cup; and here they were again, back in Scotland, where Europe have now won three Solheim Cups.
I’ll leave the last word to my mate, transformed from Bored to Potty of Portrush:-