The first match isn’t due to tee off until the morning of Friday the 13th of September, weather permitting – and given the current volatile climate that’s no idle proviso – but I’m already getting excited about travelling to Gleneagles for the Solheim Cup. For the non-golfing reader that’s the biennial match between the women professionals of Europe and the United States of America.
Tim Glover, a Welsh journalist with a way with words, described it as “the Ryder Cup with lipstick”. It’s a phrase that some people loathe but I still love it, it has a touch of genius, even in these oh-so-correct times that ban ads featuring Dads being distracted enough – by what? Cars, chocolate, betting on football, washing machines? – to lose the kids. Nowadays, there’s often face paint as well as lipstick but the rivalry is real and the play as intense as any Ryder Cup.
Celine Boutier, of France, one of Catriona Matthew’s four picks, will be making her debut for Europe and said, “I have been dreaming of playing Solheim Cup since I was a little girl and it really is amazing to know that my dream will come true in a month’s time…..”
That should make me feel old because I was at the first Solheim, a hastily arranged affair at Lake Nona in Florida, in 1990. It doesn’t seem that long ago but it must be if it’s got to the stage where little girls dream of playing in it. It also means that Louise and Karsten Solheim’s dream of making a lasting difference to women’s golf has become a reality. Whatever their other contributions to the game – and there are many – the Solheim Cup has established itself as one of the world’s great sporting contests, a lasting memorial to two great people.
A star-studded (no exaggeration) United States team had little trouble beating an overawed and outclassed Europe in the first match and some commentators reckoned it would be 100 years before the match became competitive. It took two. Well, maybe a little longer before it became seriously competitive but Europe upset all the odds at Dalmahoy in 1992 and won handily. It was one of the great sporting upsets.
“This has to be one of the sporting achievements of the century,” said Europe’s captain Mickey Walker (who’ll be in charge of Europe’s Junior Solheim team this year). An exaggeration maybe but not by much. “It’s unbelievable,” she said in the euphoric aftermath of an amazing victory. “We didn’t just beat them. We outplayed them totally. I really believe that when they came over here they thought they would win comfortably. Now I think they’re in shock. So am I, for a different reason.”
Dottie Mochrie (nee Pepper and now Pepper again), the world No 1 at the time, said that she barely spoke on the flight home. The Americans, with 147 titles and 21 major championships between them, had been taken to the cleaners. Golf, as some underdog once said, is played on grass not on paper and on this occasion the Europeans shredded the form book.
At The Greenbrier two years later, the favourites, still hurting from the humiliation in Scotland, justified their status with a commanding performance, inspired by a ferocious Mochrie, hair dyed red for the occasion. The home side, captained by the iconic JoAnne Carner, were tense, fearing losing again more than anything but they played outstanding golf when they needed to and regained the trophy.The Americans will be favourites as usual this year and they’re going for three wins in a row under the captaincy of Juli Inkster, as ferocious a competitor as you could hope to find anywhere. However, it’s always hard to win away from home and Catriona Matthew, Europe’s captain, a Scot from North Berwick, is also a competitor par excellence. She may be understated but she should never be underestimated.
She’s already made an interesting choice by announcing Suzann Pettersen as one of her picks. Pettersen, who has hardly played any competitive golf since the birth of her son Herman nearly two years ago, was due to be one of Europe’s vice captains but finds herself playing instead. “Catriona knows that match play brings out the absolute best in my game and that I will be ready to deliver points for her come September,” she said. “I honestly believe that my best contribution to our Solheim Cup campaign will be on the course and I am very grateful to Catriona for having the confidence to choose me for this year’s team.”
Well, almost every captain makes a contentious choice – Matthew herself was a surprising omission from Dale Reid’s team at Loch Lomond in 2000 – and they stand or fall by the result. Win and you’re a genius, on a par with the luckiest generals, lose and you’re an eejit, incapable of seeing the obvious hitting you in the face.
Pettersen, a Norwegian who has played in eight Solheims, is a competitive animal to her fingertips and her social rounds probably have the ferocity of a Solheim or Ryder Cup decider but it’s quite an ask to throw her in at Gleneagles so lightly raced. Whatever, I gave up questioning captain’s picks a long time ago because that’s what they are: the captain’s pick. Not mine, not yours, not anyone else’s. Every captain follows his or her gut instinct and they usually plump for the tried and tested, the players they know and feel they can rely on. As a captain, the only thing I’d want is for my players to be playing well on the match days and putting the lights out. If that wasn’t enough to win, so be it but I couldn’t ask for any more.
Bring it on.
To end on a winning note, congratulations to Barb Waite and Mike Jones (below) on their victory in the Whittington Heath Senior Open last Sunday.
Oh, just one last thought on captaincy. I read somewhere that Tiger Woods might pick himself for his U.S. Presidents Cup team to play the Internationals at Royal Melbourne in December because he can no longer qualify as of right. Surely not. He may be Tiger Woods but he can’t be that arrogant or stupid. Unless, of course, he thinks it’s only fair to give the opposition a chance of winning what has become a hopelessly one-sided contest.
That must be it.