It did my heart good when a friend at the golf club started waxing lyrical about the Open and how much he’d enjoyed it. He’d only been to the first day and he loved it, revelling in the atmosphere and the quality of the golf. His daughter and granddaughter were with him and the latter collected all the autographs she wanted, most of them delivered with a smile. They watched the rest of the championship avidly on the telly and cheered the smiling, joyful champion at the end.
Yes, you guessed it, they’d been to the AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn and this man, a proper golf nut, was raving about a women’s event. He’s already planning his trip to Royal Troon next year and perked up even more when he realised that the AIGWBO will be at Royal Porthcawl in 2021. By then we’ll know more about the unexpected new champion Hinako Shibuno, who’s only 20, was playing in her first major championship and had never before played competitively outside Japan. She’ll have to learn to cope with the attention, adulation and expectation. Let’s hope she’ll keep on smiling and bashing her putts up to – and in to the hole.
From what I saw I doubt that Shibuno left a putt short all week on the treacherous, sloping Marquess greens that made many of her fellow competitors a little tentative. She was unfazed when she four-putted the 3rd green on Sunday, a result of the fearless approach that won her the title. There’s no word for ‘lag’ in her vocabulary and she bashed the winning birdie putt into the hole with such abandon that we didn’t know whether to laugh or gasp at her audacity – so we did both. Then we cheered.
“Give her 10 years, she’ll learn,” said Laura Davies, the dame of the gung-ho approach, who moved to the Sky commentary booth after missing the cut on her 39th consecutive appearance in the WBO. Davies won the 1987 US Women’s Open as a raw youngster, defeating JoAnne Carner and Ayako Okamoto in an 18-hole play-off, not really realising the enormity of her achievement. She went on to have a wonderful career but never won another Open. If Shibuno wins half as much, she’ll be doing well but growing up in the limelight is never easy.
Lydia Ko, the former world No 1, was a teenage sensation but the New Zealander seems like a bit of a lost soul at the moment, changing coach, caddie, clubs, pretty well anything that can be changed on what seems to be a regular basis; or perhaps she’s just experimenting, trying this, then that, perhaps the other and learning as she goes along, doing what most of us do when we’re young.
It must be tough when a game that once seemed so easy becomes more of a trial and the titles stop flowing and you start thinking about the cut and are asked time and time again about what’s going wrong. With luck, the advice has been good – and listened to – and the money has not been frittered away but professional golfers are judged solely on results, on scorecards that don’t list the bad bounces or poor lies or aching wrists or knees or backs. It is, in many respects, a brutal business and an unrelenting grind. Lose your edge and you’ll be trampled into the turf by the latest wave of ambitious club wielders, who’ll grasp their trophies and eulogise you, saying how much you inspired them…..
There is, of course, life in golf after the wins dry up and the broadcasters at Woburn included Davies, Trish Johnson, Karen Stupples and Ken Brown, to name just a few.
The Women’s British Open may be relatively young but it has its own identity and the people in charge, namely the R&A, must be careful to avoid the temptation to turn it into a smaller version of The Open. The WBO has plodded on, forging its own unique history and it shouldn’t forget that just because it’s come into a bit of money and security. Integration is all very well but let’s continue to vive la difference!
Nothing’s perfect of course and slow play continues to be a plague on the game, with even the players starting to get fed up. It’s a bad habit that has filtered down to those of us who don’t play golf for a living, so have other things to do with our days. What happened to rounds that took 3 hours or less? When did we become so slow? Surely two players playing a match should be able to get round their home course in nearer 3 hours than 4 without feeling remotely rushed? We don’t have to mimic the pros when it comes to pace of play.
They’re just lucky that golf spectators are a stoic bunch with a talent for amusing themselves in between shots and hardly anyone follows the example of the sometimes irascible, frequently impatient Pat Ward-Thomas, a former golf correspondent of The Guardian, who once complained very loudly when a player took too long to take a shot: “For God’s sake get a move on….Doesn’t he know that my life is slipping away?”
No diggers in this week’s blog but the photo at the top is the current state of WHGC’s new clubhouse. There are lots of changes afoot and yesterday we had a bit of a do for Trevor Morris, who’s retiring as head greenkeeper after more than 50 years at the club. He’s the one third from left, all scrubbed up and accepting the plaudits with admirable panache. If you’re playing against him, make sure you negotiate plenty of shots – there’s not a blade of grass or a borrow he doesn’t know.
Finally, congrats to the Midlands Vets, including Whittington’s own Sue Spencer and Debbie Warren, who won the Jamboree at Northamptonshire County GC yesterday, finishing ahead of the North, the South and Scotland.