You can’t win a tournament at Royal Lytham & St Annes unless you’re a golfer of some substance and Georgia Hall was nothing short of magnificent as she won the Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship there last Sunday. The young Englishwoman, who impressed on her Solheim Cup debut in America last year, had not previously won a professional title of note but displayed the composure and concentration of a veteran as she eventually prevailed in a ding-dong battle with Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand.
Lytham rose to both of them but the home crowd cheered extra loudly for this successor to Tony Jacklin and Catriona Matthew, Brits who won major championships here in the past. Asia is the current powerhouse of women’s golf, with the Thais starting to rival the South Koreans at the top of leaderboards but there’s still room for the rest of the world – if we want to work as hard and devote ourselves to the practice ground and understanding the nuances of the game and our approach to it. Making the hands bleed is part of being a successful professional but it’s only a part. The mind is vital; attitude is key; and a sweet swing is less important than a steely determination; and an understanding of what makes you tick. Oh, and there’s also luck, which is not to be underestimated. Even the best need luck.Hall, who’s only 22, hopes the girls and boys who clamoured for her autograph at Lytham, will be inspired to keep playing the game and, if they don’t become champions at amateur or professional level, they’ll remain fans and perhaps even become sponsors, putting money into the game they love and helping the better players make a living and compete against the rest of the world. Sponsors, of course, come and go and Ricoh are off now, having done their bit for the women’s game – and for themselves. I’ve no idea who’s going to take over but next year’s championship will be at Woburn and in 2020 we’ll be at Royal Troon, not a place I think of as a hotbed of gender equality; it’s where I was once told that “the ladies can walk round and look decorative”…….Perhaps the times they are a’changin’ after all………
The Thais are helping with that shift. The current world No 1 is Ariya Jutanugarn, whose sister Moriya is 11th in the Rolex Rankings, just one place behind the new world No 10, Georgia Hall, from Bournemouth. In the last round at Lytham, the Thais overwhelmed the alphabet (and my computer’s spell check) and tested the leaderboard’s lettering thanks to Phatlum, the Jutanugarn sisters, Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras and Thidapa Suwannapura. Boy, was the trophy engraver grateful to Hall. Oh, and the leading amateur, the only amateur to make the cut, winner of the Smyth Salver, was another Thai, Atthaya Thitikul, aged 15.Golf is, apparently, on the decline but I think there’s hope. My cousin’s son, who has become keen on his golf as he’s got older, sent me a wee video of his curly-headed two-year old son, who’d been watching the Open, saying insistently, as only two-year olds can, “I want to play golf…want to play golf, Daddy…I want to play golf, Daddy.” He now has a set of plastic clubs and let’s hope he gets his three cousins, all girls, interested as well. Mo’s boning up on the best way to teach toddlers!
More immediately, as well as the English, Thais and South Koreans in the mix at Lytham, there were players from Japan, Australia, the Czech Republic, Wales, France, Colombia, Spain, the United States, India, Chinese Taipei, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, China, New Zealand and Canada. Not a bad mix.
Lydia, the other Hall to make the cut, is a talented woman from Wales, whose main struggle is finding competitions to play in on a regular basis. The Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010 was meant to promote the game in the Principality at all levels on a long-term basis but perhaps in these days of ultra-short attention spans eight years is a lifetime. And, of course, professional golf, like all professional sport, is a bit of an indulgence, not a necessity. At the moment, there’s no professional tournament for women in Wales. Scotland, where the government is putting some money where its mouth is, is a different matter, though, of course, its Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was only four years ago and the Solheim Cup will be in Perthshire next year.
Mark Lichtenhein, who is currently in charge of developing the ailing (these days it’s always “ailing”) LET (Ladies’ European Tour), came up with a sobering statistic at Lytham. Apparently, 99 per cent of the sponsorship money that is put into sport worldwide goes into men’s sport…….Gulp. Now, one per cent might amount to a tidy sum but it’s still only ONE per cent – to cover all the running, jumping, shooting, swinging, diving, whatever, that women do all over the world…. Time to scratch the heads, devise a strategy or three, roll up the sleeves and take on that big wall, brick by brick.
Mark also said that there were a lot of Norwegians (or it might have been Icelanders) trying to get their card at the LET qualifying school, so he had a chat with their fathers, who were enjoying a beer as their daughters battled to plant their spikes on the fairway to a professional career. “This should work both ways,” Mark said (I paraphrase). “What are you doing to help me and your daughters? You can’t just send them to me and expect me to provide them with a living without some help. Where are the tournaments in Norway/Iceland?”
The great thing about golf is that it doesn’t have to be hideously expensive – though no tournament will be cheap to stage – and I still see it as inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s a game for all ages and stages and genders. If you can walk, it’s good exercise and even if every joint is creaking, you can devise a method to work your way round the course and, with judicious handicapping, be competitive. Karen Stupples, pre Hall the last Englishwoman to win the British (at Sunningdale in 2004), said on the radio the other night that golf “is no longer a game for wimps. It’s a game for athletes.” Maybe so at the highest level but your opponent, however big, won’t be lumbering towards you with malice aforethought.
[I was going to mention the home internationals at Ballybunion and the European Championships at Gleneagles this week, where Georgia Hall is partnering Laura Davies but that format has me baffled and I’ve run out of steam. Other websites may fill in the details. Or not. That’s another rant for another day!]