The season’s now in full swing for just about every golfer, no matter the standard, age or gender. My old colleague on tour, Laura Davies, has been busy making history in Denmark by becoming the first woman to play in a men’s European Seniors Tour event. She finished 44th, beating Jose Maria Olazabal, Costantino Rocca, Gordon J Brand and Philip Walton, all of them former Ryder Cuppers. Fierce competitors as they all are, that must have smarted.The competition was no less fierce at The Spire Trophy, an annual event held at the incomparable Castle Stuart Golf Links which, for the uninitiated, is situated five miles from Inverness, overlooking the Moray Firth. The match was the brainchild of Simon Chapman, a stalwart of Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey and Stuart McColm, the general manager of Castle Stuart. Simon captains the visitors’ team, the Sassenachs and I was thrilled to be invited to play for the home team this year. Actually going to an airport with my golf clubs brought back memories of those faraway days of tournament golf. I must have got a little over excited because on the Friday I took full advantage of the superb practice facilities with Gillian Stewart who is the resident imparter of golfing wisdom. The shock of this unaccustomed practice was too much for my system with my back locking up completely so I was unable to play at all on the first day.
I did walk a few holes, however, and was delighted to catch up with former Scotland international Sally Watson, who after four years of professional golf has decided to return to her studies to pursue a Masters degree in Business Administration in Chicago. She starts her internship in a few weeks but rusty as she may have been, she still swings it impressively.
The match was 20-a-side with fourballs on day one and foursomes on day two. I did manage to play on the second day and was carried round for the most part by my very able partner Jack Bonner, from Myrtle Beach. We were doing OK – 2 up with 3 to go – but were reeled in by the combined expertise of the London legal duo, Darren Almeida and Alastair Hodge, who won the 16th and 18th to halve the match. Overall, the trophy slipped neatly from the home team’s (the holders) grasp to that of the Sassenachs and our team captain Grant Sword dutifully tried to paste on a bit of a smile as he handed over the magnificent trophy.
Next stop during the week was another of my favourite places, Royal Porthcawl, for a sporadic yet regular fourball match with three illustrious members. Pam Chugg, former tournament professional and founder member of the Ladies’ European Tour as well as former chairman of the Ladies’ Golf Union, has very current skills, however, as regards playing the game. She is partnered by our long-standing friend Tink Graham while my partner in crime is Emer Disley. This means the match neatly falls into a Wales vs Ireland contest but it was a one-sided affair on this occasion as we were no match for the seven birdies our opponents had in the first 14 holes. [Obscene: ed]
Alongside this classy golf there was also the little matter this past week of the US Women’s Open. The championship admirably splashed its way to an enthralling finish despite the atrocious conditions and serious amounts of rainfall. Ariya Jutanugarn, winner of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn in 2016, looked home and dry (figuratively speaking) with a 7-shot lead with only 9 holes to play. A triple at the 10th and a bogey, bogey finish, coupled with a closing 67 by South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim, meant the new two hole play-off format would come into play for the first time. It took until the fourth extra hole before Ariya prevailed, doubling her tally of majors.
Further serious stuff is on the horizon, with the men’s US Open, the second of their four majors, due to start next Thursday at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, New York. More than half the field has to qualify through sectional qualifiers and for former Masters champion Adam Scott, World Golf Championship winner Shane Lowry and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley the challenge of the 36-hole qualifier was not something any of them relished. This trio was all successful but Bradley summed up the whole experience, “It’s awful, really awful. It’s humbling. We get treated so well on Tour, and you can kind of forget what maybe minitour life was like or even Web.com. This is a reminder of how hard you’ve got to work to be out there on the Tour.” I shall look forward to seeing them all in action next week in person.
Finally, enormous luck to Elaine Farquharson-Black, who tweeted out the picture below, and her GB&I team who begin the defence of the Curtis Cup today at Quaker Ridge Golf Club against the United States. More of the same from Dun Laoghaire two years ago please.