Calling all Royal Portrush members of a certain age! Here’s a wee challenge for you. How many can you name in the photo below? Let’s see if between us we can manage a full house by the 125th celebrations on November 5th. I think the date is circa 1959.
It took 92 holes to separate the two young women at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin in 1998. One became the youngest US Women’s Open champion and a golfing legend, credited with changing the face of the game; the other gave up golf altogether and became a nurse. Is that one of the small margins that coaches and sports psychologists are fond of talking about?
Jenny Chuasiriporn, born in America to Thai parents, was still an amateur, a student at Duke University, when she holed a 40-foot putt on the 72nd hole to tie Se Ri Pak, of South Korea. The two 20-year olds were still tied after an 18-hole play-off but Pak eventually took the title with a birdie putt at the 92nd hole. It was her second major championship of the season and the LPGA rookie had lit the blue touchpaper that caused the explosion of women’s golf in her homeland.
Pak, who’ll be 40 next year, has just retired from competitive golf amid emotional scenes in Incheon, South Korea. There were three South Koreans on the LPGA Tour in 1998; in 2009 there were 47; in 2016 34. Six of the top ten in the Rolex World Rankings are from South Korea and Lydia Ko, the world No 1, is a New Zealander who was born in South Korea. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s down to the impact of Pak, who is revered at home. Inbee Park, one of the current stars inspired by Pak’s exploits, once tried to explain what it was like: “You know Coca Cola? That’s Se Ri in Korea.”
That sort of mega adoration hasn’t made Pak’s life easy and she now stresses the importance of balance in a player’s life but she learned to cope. She threw herself into learning English after deciding that an early interpreter wasn’t getting things right and she was a wonderful interview, if not always easy to follow. It was worth trying to make sense of the sometimes tortuous construction because her grasp of nuance, her ability to express emotion and give life to her feelings was exceptional. She knocked many of her English-speaking colleagues, whose use of their native language never rose above soggy bottom, into a cocked hat. In short, she was a joy as well as an inspiration. Thanks Se Ri.
Chuasiriporn tried professional golf briefly but realised it didn’t suit her and had the nous and intelligence to change tack and study nursing. She, too, has made a huge difference to people’s lives. Thanks Jenny.
Thanks also to Beth Ann Baldry (Golfweek), Randall Mell (Golf Channel) and Lisa Mickey (New York Times and others) for keeping us all up to date and well-informed. Keep up the good work!
Congratulations also to the five people who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year: Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, Davis Love III and Henry Longhurst, the late great writer and broadcaster.
Modestly, I claim to have played a part in Ochoa’s victory in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews in 2007. The year before, at a very windy Royal Lytham & St Annes, we played together in the pro-am (and won, as I recall) and I, a child of seaside links, employed the chip and run to unusually good effect. Lorena was intrigued, took note and, lo, became champion at the Home of Golf. That’s my story anyway.
With all the understandable hullabaloo about the retirement of the great Se Ri Pak last week, it was easy to forget there was actually a golf tournament going on. The Sky 72 Golf Club Ocean Course in Incheon, South Korea, played host to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship and, in my opinion, as one star exited stage left, another entered stage right. Carlota Ciganda chalked up her maiden win on the LPGA Tour.
For the 26-year old Spaniard from Pamplona it has been quite a long wait. She’s in her fifth year playing full time in America with two Solheim Cups under her belt and many people – I am one of them – thought she would win at the highest level sooner rather than later. Sport is many things, however. Predictable is not one of them.
I first saw Carlota play as a 15-year old in the Girls’ European Team Championships in Lucerne back in 2005. She topped the individual scoring with rounds of 70 and 68 to help Spain lead the team qualification by a huge 11 shots. The automatic draw meant they would play Wales in the first round of the knockout. I was coaching the Welsh side at the time and told the girls not to worry that we were a massive 34 shots adrift of the Spaniards in the qualifying. We agreed the early start might not suit the Spanish and so it proved, with Wales winning both foursomes and then sneaking a singles win to take the tie 3-2 under the inspired captaincy of the late Sue Turner. It was one of our best-ever results against a top quality team and we ended up with a bronze medal.
Right from that moment, however, there was something that marked Carlota out as special. She didn’t go beyond the 14th green in any of her singles matches and remained completely unfazed when the president of the Spanish Federation, the redoubtable Emma Garcia Ogara, clubbed her over the back of the 18th green, out of bounds, into the bar, in one of the foursomes matches.
Carlota’s long, flowing, willowy swing has always led to wayward shots but her short game is of Seve-like proportions and her mental strength is simply awesome. At the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado she won three matches out of three despite barely being able to keep the ball on the course. It was one of the most compelling performances I have ever seen. It’s not nearly as difficult to get the results when you are in control of your swing as it is when you have no idea where the ball is going. A mind like a steel trap, guile, quality course management and total self-understanding, along with supreme emotional control were in evidence to a remarkable degree. In other words, all those things that go into making a player great.
Carlota has had to overcome the loss of her lifelong coach, Rogelio Echeverria, in 2014, and the last two years have been particularly hard. She is resilient, however, surviving the bumps in the road of a professional athlete and I am sure this will be the first of many wins around the world.
Salud, Carlota. It has been fun watching you for the past eleven years. I’m looking forward to the next eleven.