No golf watching at all for me this week. There was no tournament on the Ladies’ European Tour for the women in Europe, no tournament on the LPGA for the women in the States, no tournament on for the men on the DP World Tour (i.e. the European Tour). That left the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera. When I looked and saw that there were only four players within eight shots of last-round leader, Joaquin Niemann, I wasn’t tempted to switch on even for a second.
No, I have a new, albeit I suspect temporary love. What do you get when you cross chess, snooker and bowls? Why, curling, of course!!
Step forward the men and women of Scotland who so brilliantly represented Great Britain in the winter Olympics bringing home our only medals of the campaign, a gold and a silver. The poster girl of the whole deal for us has been Eve Muirhead, the 31-year old skip who was participating in her fourth Olympics. I met Eve over a dozen years ago when she was part of our 5 Live commentary team at one of the Opens held in Scotland. At that time she was a one handicap golfer and clearly knew her stuff. She turned down a couple of golf scholarship offers in the States to concentrate on her curling.
Eve is one of these people who seems to be more than adept at everything, including being good enough to play the bagpipes at four opening ceremonies of various world championships. That lung power certainly came in handy for yelling “Sweep HARD!” down the rink in Beijing.It was tense viewing but utterly captivating and similar to golf in that the whole thing is a bit of a slow burn with tightly controlled emotions and focus paving the way to ultimate performance. The road to the top, they tell me, is never easy. It is long and arduous but, boy, the view must be great. All those hours in the gym, the heartbreak of a previous fourth place finish in the Olympics and the worry of a hip replacement a year ago must melt away now for Eve. She had the honour of carrying the flag at the opening ceremony but an even greater honour of leading a team with gold medals around their necks at the closing one. Where would we be without the Scots?
Meanwhile, down in Oz, golf continues to embrace a new dynamic, one unthinkable from even a couple of years ago. There was a mixed gender professional tournament, part of the PGA of Australasia’s schedule, and world ranked No 30 Hannah Green became the first female winner of a mixed 72-hole tournament. Her final round of 66, five under par, in the TPS Murray River event was good enough to see off the opposition and she breezed home a winner by four shots.
Now, this probably won’t rank up there alongside her 2019 major win in the KPMG PGA Championship but it’s not often you get a chance to make history – and it looks as if this trend of mixed gender events could be set to continue. As Hannah explained, ““I don’t think this will be the last time these events keep happening. I can easily see 20 on the schedule coming soon hopefully.” That can only be good for golf in general and women’s golf in particular.Another indication that women are gaining serious traction in the world of golf was the announcement last week that Juli Inkster is the recipient of the Bob Jones Award for 2022. The award, made by the United States Golf Association, “recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, winner of nine USGA championships. It is the highest honor [US spelling] bestowed by the USGA.”
“The USGA is the ultimate governing body of golf,” Inkster said prior to the official announcement of the Bob Jones Award winner. “They always really test you, not only physically, but mentally on the golf course. I got my first case of that playing in the U.S. Amateur. Being able to win three of those…” She continued, “Looking back on my career people ask me, What’s your greatest accomplishment? One would be the Solheim Cup captain [she captained the U.S. team three times, winning twice and losing once]. But the other one would be winning three U.S. Amateurs in a row. Winning 18 matches in a row at three different golf courses in three different years is really hard to do.”This is where I can modestly suggest I had a little bit of a hand in launching Juli off on her road to the top. Those eighteen matches she refers to winning? Well her opponent in the very first one was a young Irish player called Madill, who put up what can only be described as paltry opposition to the about-to-be-great Inkster. I doubt she even remembers it – though I have reminded her of it on occasion.
Ah well, if you can’t be great yourself, it is fun rubbing shoulders with those who are – or are soon to be.