Yesterday was International Women’s Day (among other things; it was also my cousin’s birthday; now there’s a formidable woman if ever there was one) and this blog is keen on women. It thinks, not least because it’s written by two sisters, that women are a good thing. In fact, if truth be told (NEVER trust someone who starts a sentence, “To be honest with you….”), I’m a feminist to my toenails, however fungal those may be, especially at this entombed time of year. I’m also inclined to think, however controversial this may be, that men are a good thing, especially the feminist ones, the ones who have daughters, wives, mothers, that sort of thing and have come to the conclusion that women, however baffling, bewitching or benighted, are people too.
Whatever, before this becomes a completely self-indulgent, hobby-horsey riff, I’d like to pay tribute to one of golf’s great women, who died earlier this month, to wit la grande Lally, nee Vagliano, then la Vicomtesse de Saint-Sauveur, latterly Mme Segard. No one is perfect but Lally was, quite simply, awesome, sometimes scarily so and a lot of us regarded her – and Coco Dupont, who died a few years ago – as the heart and soul of French and, to a large extent, European golf. They were talented enthusiasts who loved the game and spent their lives spreading the gospel of golf, with charm, verve, skill and, if necessary, bloody-mindedness.
Lally won the British Girls’ in 1937, at Stoke Poges, where all the championships were played until after World War II. She won the women’s title, officially the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, in 1950, beating Jessie Valentine, the iconic Scot, by 3 and 2 in the final at Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland. That’s where our grandfather, our mother’s father, fell in love with her. Thereafter, for him, no golfer, man or woman, came close to the divine Vicomtesse. She also won the championships of France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, to name just a few.She merited a solid entry in the original Shell Encyclopedia of Golf, edited by Donald Steel, who’s just published his autobiography (Thin End of the Wedge) and Peter Ryde, who succeeded Bernard Darwin as the golf correspondent of The Times. There’s nothing dry and dusty about the description of Lally’s swing: “….a faultless style with a wide arc and a perfect grip and she swung at the ball with all the controlled force that her lissom figure could muster….in addition to the sound technique she has an attacking spirit which seldom left her short of the hole…”
Lally’s father presented the Vagliano Trophy, now a biennial team event between the women amateurs of Europe and Great Britain and Ireland and these days it’s a major triumph if GB and I manage to win, such is the strength in depth of the opposition. Lally was also to the forefront when the inaugural Espirito Santo, the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, took place in Paris, at St Germain. She chaired the event, in which 25 teams competed and was captain (non-playing) of France, who won by one stroke from the USA, with England third. Catherine Lacoste, Brigitte Varangot and Claudine Cros were the formidable trio who took the trophy and helped establish France as a force in the game. It’s not before time that the Ryder Cup should be in France. Now, what about the Solheim?Maureen and I never saw Lally play in her prime and I don’t think we ever told her that she was Pampa’s pin-up. She was so elegant, so French, so vibrant and so youthful that we thought that we must have got it wrong, this woman was surely not old enough to have won at RCD all those years ago! She couldn’t have been around in our grandfather’s time!
But she was. And wherever she went, at whatever age, she made a lasting impression. It wasn’t only the French who came under her spell, she inspired internationally. Linda Bayman, who played for England and GB and I with great distinction, paid a heartfelt tribute: “Lally was the guiding light of my life. It was entirely down to her that I took golf seriously, that I learned French, worked for Conde Nast. I sometimes wonder what path my life would have taken if we had never met – it would have been completely different. We were like mother and daughter after my mother died. What a lady! I don’t think our generation will come up with a role model like that.”
This year the Espirito Santo (29th August – 1st September) and the Eisenhower Trophy, the men’s WATC, (5th – 8th September) are in Ireland, at Carton House, near Dublin. They’re both in rude good health, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Lally and Coco.Merci beaucoup.