These old handbooks from the early days of the Ladies’ European Tour evoke so many memories, most of them overwhelmingly good, and I’m happy to say I’m still in touch with lots of the folk chronicled within their covers.
I had an email earlier this week from one such player who was on tour with me back in the dim, distant past. Jo Rumsey, from Southend-on-Sea, was one of a band of players who travelled around Europe, from tournament to tournament, in a caravan, sharing with Angie Bell, the multi-talented solver of all problems, who caddied for me for several years. Others eschewing the slightly dodgy accommodation we were faced with in those days included Karyn Dallas, now a revered coach in Scotland, and her husband, and South Africa’s own Alison Sheard, a former winner of the Women’s British Open. Those of us who stayed in an assortment of hotels and guest houses rather uninspiringly called these fellow travellers of ours the Caravan Club, or CC for short.
But I digress. Rumsey, as we call her, had just enjoyed a game of golf in New Zealand with Aine McCoy, from Ballycastle, who’d grown up playing with Patricia and me and the hordes of other juniors nurtured by Aine’s mother Nora and the formidable group of organisers at Royal Portrush. (Have I mentioned that Portrush will be hosting the Open this year…….??!!!) Anyway, it served as a lovely reminder of how the inter-connecting strands of golf reach out and join people who have never previously met. It’s one of the things I love about our game.
Rumsey finished her email with a heartfelt, “Terribly sad news about Debbie Dowling.”
This is the news that has rocked the golfing world of a certain era. Patricia asked me last week if I would write about Debbie but I was too upset and couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s hard to come to terms with a friend dying from a massive bleed on the brain at the age of 57. It matters not a jot that we hadn’t seen each other for 20-plus years. We shared a very special couple of decades or more in the close world of amateur golf and then professional sorties in the early days of the Ladies’ European Tour.
I’m not hot on the detail but Debbie won at least six times in Europe and certainly recorded a minimum of a couple of victories out in Asia. This is pretty remarkable stuff for an incredibly shy person, who never, ever, ever wanted to be the centre of attention. I read a post on Facebook from Vanessa Marvin, another friend from that era, who told the story of Debbie lining her up to do her victory speeches in case she won!
I wonder if Debbie ever knew she was preceding the great Annika Sorenstam, who used to throw winning Swedish squad training tournaments in order to avoid the dreaded victory speech. Once coach Pia Nilsson clocked this she made the top two, and sometimes three, speak, so Annika gave up that trick. She was too talented to avoid a podium finish altogether so decided she might as well win if she was going to have to speak anyway.
Debbie, also, was too talented to avoid winning but she never did grow to enjoy the victory speeches. She did come into her own, however, in the victory celebrations amongst her friends, who numbered players and caddies equally. She was such a talented player, never quite regarding her own game as highly as her peers did. She was funny, generous and very, very kind in her usual, understated and self-effacing way and would probably be amazed at the outpouring of grief at the news of her death.
She was also the fastest player I’ve ever played with. We used to call her Debbie ‘Whoosh’ Dowling, which then became shortened to Debbie Whoosh. This is because she rarely gave the starter on the first tee time to get her full name out. The “whoosh” represented her contact with the ball and “Dowling” would be voiced only after the ball was well on its way down the first fairway. Even though the starters became familiar with her routine she nearly always beat them to the ball, so to speak.
So, for me, Debbie was the first significant “Whoosh/Swoosh” in the game – long before a well-known brand, much reviled by Patricia. In the mid-1990s this company offered Laura Davies, still in her pomp, a derisory $2500 to wear their shoes. Bearing in mind they had just paid one Tiger Woods around $40 million, Patricia asked was Laura’s offer per shoe, per round. We all know the answer to that and not a single article from that particular brand has ever been or will ever be purchased by Mrs Patricia Davies. There’s solidarity with a namesake for you!When looking forward to the future does sometimes seem gloomy after a loss, it can help to look back and reminisce and cherish the good times. But, looking forward in general golfing terms, it’d be great if today’s players would take a leaf out of Debbie’s book re pace of play. If only Bryson ‘I’ve not got enough info yet’ DeChambeau were a little more like our pal Debbie Whoosh, it would inject the game with a little more vitality and spark – watchwords for Debbie herself.