Ok, hands up who’s heard of the Vagliano Trophy? I bet nowhere near 50 per cent of you have.
Well, it’s a biennial women’s amateur international match between Great Britain and Ireland and the Continent of Europe and at the end of this month the 30th contest will take place at the Bogogno Golf resort some 75 kilometres north west of Milan. This trophy is held in odd-numbered years and the Curtis Cup, the blue riband event for women amateurs from these shores as well as for those from America, takes place in even-numbered years. The Curtis Cup is high profile, the Vagliano Trophy, in my opinion erroneously, is not.
GB&I last won in 2005 and are attempting to bring to a halt a successful run of five consecutive victories by the multi-talented Europeans. By contrast, the British and Irish have been successful twice in the last three Curtis Cups. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an American vs Continent of Europe clash? I think the results would surprise a number of people. After all, the talent pool of the Continent runs deep, especially nowadays.
I was fortunate enough to play in three Vagliano teams, recording the full range of results – the only halved match in its history, a loss and, finally and exultantly, a win. We were pitted against the fearsome ball-striking skills of the likes of Spaniard Marta Figueras-Dotti, now coach supreme and Solheim Cup vice-captain to the great Annika Sorenstam, herself a Vagliano team member. We tussled with the sublime skills of France’s Marie-Laure de Lorenzi (often a futile task!) realising we were witnessing a professional star in the making. She did, indeed go on to carve out an exemplary record for herself on the professional circuit. Believe you me, any successes against these giants of the game stay in my memory as high points of my career.
The Europeans were further strengthened by the emergence of the Swedes in the 1980s – Lotte Neumann and Helen Alfredsson, to name but two, coming to the fore, with the aforementioned Annika following on closely. The list of classy Europeans is almost endless and a scroll down the current world rankings reveals former Vagliano team members, Anna Nordqvist, Suzann Pettersen, Carlota Ciganda, Karine Icher, Caroline Masson and Azahara Munoz. All of them, bar none, have trained on to become successful Solheim Cup team players.
Of course, the GB&I players were no slouches either and I had numerous talented teammates over the years but two stand out. The first was the player with whom I made my British and Irish international debut at the sublime Royal Porthcawl links. I was paired with one of Wales’ finest, Vicki Rawlings. Having a Welsh partner at a Welsh venue meant we took the lion’s share of the gallery with us – and the match did not disappoint. We arrived on that famous roller-coaster final green at the end of a keen contest and were left with the task of getting down in two putts from long distance to win the match. I staggered the putt up to four feet which was a pretty decent effort but what a tester Vicki was left with! Her focus never wavered, she bustled about the green and confidently dispatched the ball into the centre of the cup to the delighted roars of the home crowd. I’ve seldom seen concentration of that magnitude since.
By contrast, I was paired two years later with Mandy Rawlings, Vicki’s sister, and the youngest of the three sisters who all represented their country. Mandy was arguably the most talented of the trio as regards ball-striking skills but her attention was apt to wander and she would lose focus at critical times. In the latter stages of a really tense encounter, I saw her taking Marta Dotti aside and asking her where she’d got her socks!! Marta, who was fluent in English, was sure she must have misunderstood and looked questioningly at me. I could only shrug as Mandy repeated her question. The dumbfounded looks on the faces of our opponents and their subsequent confusion almost let us sneak in for a half but they did recover their concentration to secure victory. Any time Mandy and focus conspired to collide she was pretty much unbeatable.
Do not underestimate the enormity of the task facing this year’s GB&I captain, Elaine Farquharson-Black and her 2017 team, which consists of five Irish and three English players. EFB certainly doesn’t. The result may well hang in the balance but one thing is certain and that is that huge talent will be on display. The Vagliano Trophy deserves to muscle its way to the forefront of the game and receive more recognition and exposure than it is currently enjoying.
This Trophy rocks!