It was raining yesterday morning when I got to the golf club, that mizzling stuff that’s not heavy but persistent and very, very good at making you feel damp and miserable. I used to call it ‘wetting rain’, much to Dai’s irritation. “All rain is wetting,” he’d say. So I was gratified when a friend – English, not Irish – described it that way. I think she also called it “that Welsh rain”, which was even better. Perfect, really, because Dai, who was born in Crewe, felt very Welsh.
I believe it was a rugby master at school who first called him Dai (the Welsh diminutive of David) and, with a paternal grandfather who was born in Swansea or thereabouts, that was it, the deal was done, the boy was Welsh. His sister and brother were afflicted differently – they’re English but there’s no accounting for taste.
Dai used to win a lot of rugby bets with an English friend who persisted in backing England during the then Five Nations even though Wales were in their pomp. Year after year Dai won the money by backing Wales and then, when the tide turned and England started punching their weight and making proper use of their resources, he stopped backing Wales and still won the money. His friend was aghast, horrified, mega annoyed at this treachery and his failure to win back any of his money. Where was blind national pride when you needed it!
Well, both England and Wales supporters are in for a nervous weekend, with England playing New Zealand, the defending champions, in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in Japan and Wales playing South Africa. I’d like Wales to win the whole thing, not because I am, as Dai used to say, Welsh by insertion but simply because they’d be a new name on the trophy but I won’t be putting any money on it.
I’ll have a relatively relaxing weekend because Ireland, world No 1, according to the rankings, a few weeks ago, were taken to the cleaners by the All Blacks, outplayed, mangled, stomped upon, however you want to describe it. Funnily enough, a hammering is much easier to take than a BBU (brave but unavailing), a narrow loss, where you know there were moments that could have made all the difference….if only, if only. There were no if onlys for us last weekend. We could have lost by quite a lot fewer points if we hadn’t made some crass errors – unforced they’re called in tennis but they weren’t unforced, they were forced by the excellence, the relentlessness of the opposition; our minds had turned to mush. Ah well, given our resources reaching the quarters is pretty good.
Rory McIlroy, a keen rugby fan, was at that match against New Zealand because, in a smart bit of scheduling, he was in Japan to play a skins game against Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day. Day, an Australian, won most of the money but Rory got to watch the rugby and play a bit of golf with BOD, Brian O’Driscoll, one of Ireland’s greatest ever rugby players. Nice work, even when Brooks Koepka is reminding you that you haven’t won a major since he came on tour…..
I’m not convinced that Brooks’s jibe, gentle enough though it is, is a good idea. Rory’s no Tiger, a single-minded obsessive intent on world domination – which he achieved at no little personal cost. But Rory is a competitor and Brooks might just have ignited a slow-burning fuse. Let’s hope there are plenty of fireworks for us to enjoy.
At a vastly lower, more or less subterranean level, I once won a long jump competition because one of the other competitors got so far up my nose that I jumped two feet further than I’d ever jumped before. She had jumped further than anybody else and was going round asking everyone what their best jump was, knowing that she was way ahead of us all. She was an arrogant little sod and inspired me beyond my capability. Two feet is a hell of a long way, the sort of improvement that would have the drug testers knocking at the door the next day. Except that we had no drugs testers at schools level in those days and no drugs cheat would be idiotic enough to improve by that much in one go – surely?
Anyway, I’d like to see Rory win more majors, perhaps even a Masters, though that may be the one that eludes him, simply because he wants it so much. Barring accidents and injury he’ll be competing for an Olympic medal in Japan next year and he’s confirmed that he’ll be representing Ireland. Being from Northern Ireland, he could choose GB or Ireland and he avoided making a decision by not competing at the last Olympics in Rio because, he said, of the danger of the Zika virus. Justin Rose won the gold and the whole event took on a different aura.
Rory has now committed to playing for Ireland, the country he represented throughout his amateur career and the thought of him and Shane Lowry, the Open champion, teaming up is mouth-watering. Except that Olympic golf is not a team thing – yet. Individual strokeplay has its place but Olympic golf needs to be different and introducing a team element would be a good idea. Even better, make it a mixed team event. You could still have individual events for men and women but a mixed team event would pay more than lip service to the mantra ‘growing the game’.Japan is a country so golf mad that it inspired Tiger Woods to a first round of 64, six under par, in the Zozo Championship the other day and encouraged all those who think the former world No 1 should choose himself, the US captain, to play in the Presidents Cup in Melbourne in December. Fine. If Tiger chooses himself he consigns the Presidents Cup, which is currently less competitive than me against Tiger head to head playing level from the same tees (I exaggerate but not by much) to eternal nothingness, a non-event sans pareil.
Your choice Tiger.
Aboyne. A place I’ve known of and been aware of for many decades but had never visited until a couple of days ago, but let’s take a moment to rewind.
It was 1980 and I was playing in the second round of the Women’s British Open Strokeplay Championship at Brancepeth Castle in Durham. My partner was a shy, quiet Scot from Aboyne named Pam Wright. And, oh yes, she was only 16 years old. This precocious kid shot 5 under that day and displayed a talent and all round game I hadn’t seen before. We had a lovely week together and have been friends ever since despite seeing each other only once in a blue moon. Pam ended up going to college in Arizona and playing successfully on the LPGA tour, representing Europe three times on the Solheim Cup team and being a vice-captain on a further two occasions. She is now back in Arizona and a successful teaching pro but it was Pam who put Aboyne on the map for me all those years ago.
Mind you, the golfing genes were spectacularly good. Pam’s Dad Innes was the pro at Aboyne for many years having built up a tidy record himself. He represented Scotland at boys and full international level, was a Walker Cup reserve and played in a couple of Open Championships. Her Mum Janette was a four-time Scottish champion, four-time Curtis Cup player and winner of a host of accolades. With that background it really would have been careless of Pam and her brother Innes if they hadn’t been able to swing a club!
And so it was that Gillian Stewart, Mary McKenna, Sandra “I’m from Nairn” Ross and I arrived at Aboyne ready to play the other day. If you haven’t been, do go if you get the chance. The welcome is warm and friendly and the course, particularly the back nine, is terrific, with the most spectacular scenery. There are lovely photographs of Innes and Janette on the wall going up the stairs to the bar with their impressive list of golfing achievements itemised in detail. Our only disappointment was there was no history or record anywhere of Pam’s achievements. We did find one photo in the locker room but nothing to celebrate Aboyne’s most famous player. A member who is a three-time Solheim Cup player is a rare beast for any club and is of huge interest to any visitor. Hmm, maybe time for an extension and a few spare walls ready to be filled with photos of Pam and her record?
Another candidate for space on Pam’s wall was sharing the photo with her down in the locker room – Julie Forbes. Ah, Forbsey – another high-achieving Aboyne player, universally popular in the amateur and professional ranks alike and mere mention of her name always brought delighted smiles to many faces. Her brother Stevie caddied for me for a couple of years on tour – at least he did until he wrote off my sponsored car whilst travelling from one tournament to another in Europe – but that’s another story! Another brother Colin is head greenkeeper at Aboyne and obviously resoundingly good at his job, if the condition of the course is anything to go by. Gary, a third brother, is pro at Murcar, I believe, so the golfing genes are strong in this family too.
The air at Aboyne is obviously conducive to producing top-class female players. As we played the front nine we looked across to the practice ground and saw a couple of players hard at work. Kimberley Beveridge is the current Scottish champion and Shannon McWilliam is bidding for a second consecutive Curtis Cup cap next year. They are following in the inspiring footsteps of these strong, resourceful female players who have been such ambassadors for their club worldwide – I’m confident they will continue the trend.We ended our day by calling in at Janette’s home for a cup of tea and a much-needed catch up – we had last seen her, with Pam, at the 2012 Curtis Cup at Nairn. I sent the picture below to Pam in Arizona and, time difference notwithstanding, she was on the phone to her Mum in a jiffy so we all had the added bonus of a chat with her. The inter-connections in golf are many and varied and the years have a habit of rolling away no matter how seldom our paths cross.
For me it was the perfect end to the day that I finally made my acquaintance with Aboyne.
Quite a few years ago now I played golf with a good friend at Handsworth in Birmingham, home club of the sainted, much-garlanded Bridget Jackson. We were about half way round when he said, slightly shamefacedly (though I may have misinterpreted his expression): “You know, you’re the first woman I’ve ever played golf with…..”
“Oh, really?” I said, fairly non-committally but really I was thinking: “Blimey, how odd is he? Weird.”
In my defence, growing up, all the men I knew had played golf with women – well, girls, females of the species – so I’d thought nothing about it; it was just the natural order of things. Maureen and I played with Dad and his friends in matches where no quarter was given and concessions were rarer than hen’s teeth. And they could have taught Stephen Potter a thing or two about gamesmanship. That training has come in useful in matches where the opponent’s attempts at putting you off are so pathetically unsubtle and crude that they almost work because you’re laughing so much…
I mentioned Stephen Potter to a friend earlier this week and she looked blank, she’d never heard of him. Back in the day his manuals on gamesmanship, oneupmanship and golfmanship were required reading – not only for the sneaky ploys and gambits they detailed but also for the laughs and acute observations on the human condition. See if you can root them out and enjoy their evil genius. They’re still funny and I had to exercise considerable self-restraint to stop reading after last night’s photo shoot.
Potter does talk a little bit about mixed golf, mainly of the foursomes variety but I suspect that he could have written a whole book about the subject if he’d put his mind to it. Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson are hosting the Scandinavian Mixed, a tournament for men and women, at Bro Hot Slott Golf Club in Stockholm for three years from June 2020. It’s co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the LET and is yet another noble effort to persuade people that golf is for everyone.
It is, of course but after the Handsworth revelation, I started paying more attention and realised that my mate was not alone. It dawned on me that a vast majority of men had never played golf with women and, in fact, many – if not most – of them regarded us as a completely alien species, especially if we pitched up on the fairways. Not so long ago one of our male members, unforgivably, told one of our older women members, who was just out for a quiet 9 holes with her friends, that she shouldn’t be on the course at all. I’m not sure that she’s played since. Unfortunately, she didn’t discover his name so he got away with the sort of bullying that should be completely unacceptable and beyond the pale. He deserved a suspension.
At Whittington we women have our competition day on a Tuesday and the tee is booked until 1130. The men, most of whom play most days, are massing well before then, pawing the ground, anxious to be off and doing their very best to intimidate the women out last – usually the older members who are just out for 9 holes. Do the men give them a decent start and leave them in peace, secure in the knowledge that they only have to restrain themselves for 9 holes? Do they buggery. Their behaviour is rude and discourteous in the extreme and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I’m thinking of booking the last tee time from now on….
All this is leading up to the sad admission that the Seniors beat – well, mangled more like – the Ladies’ Captain’s team in our annual match on Monday. We’ve tried tinkering with the format but they almost always win – I think we’ve had one halved/tied/drawn match – and this time our last pair prevented the whitewash by halving their match. Those of us who’d been hammered were cock-a-hoop! Phew. Humiliation only. Not total annihilation. We played better ball stableford matchplay, with the men playing off their card and us playing off ours. In the past that had proved quite an equitable system, with most of the matches quite close but there wasn’t much close about the latest encounter. The only conclusion to draw is that we didn’t play well enough!
The next day, it was the Ladies’ President’s team versus the Ladies’ Captain’s team and that was a draw! It was also historic in its way because, if the new club constitution is passed, there won’t be another ladies’ prez; it’ll be the end of an era.Congrats to Helen Alfredsson, the inimitable Alfie, the US Senior Women’s Open champion, who kept on her major roll with victory in the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick, Indiana, on Wednesday. The Swede was the only player to finish under par, on 214, 2 under and finished three strokes ahead of Juli Inkster, back in playing action after being the US captain (non-playing) at Gleneagles last month. It was a less successful, if possibly record-breaking, championship for Lee Anne Walker. “I may have made the Guinness Book of World Records,” she said after racking up 58 (FIFTY-EIGHT) penalty shots over two rounds. Walker hasn’t played competitively for a few years and she – and her caddy – hadn’t twigged that the caddy is not allowed to line the player up any more (unless the player moves away after being helped with alignment). It’s rule 10.2b apparently. Walker’s playing partners on the first day didn’t notice anything untoward but on the second day people were more observant and mentioned the infringement on her 5th hole. After consultation, officials decided that Walker had incurred 42 penalty shots on day one and 16 on day two, giving her scores of 127 and 90. (Walker was not disqualified for signing for an incorrect scorecard because she didn’t realise she’d broken any rules – rule 3.3b.)
“What can you do…?” Walker said, speaking to Doug Ferguson of Associated Press. “It was my fault for not knowing the rules. I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. Big lesson learned.”Finally, Suzann Pettersen and her son Herman are the featured pic because the Norwegian, who holed the putt that won Europe the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles last month, has written a moving and heartfelt letter to her son about the whole emotional occasion, her last act as a tournament professional. It’s wonderful and you can find it on lpga.com, ladieseuropeantour.com and various other .coms. It’s well worth a read but keep the hankies handy.