Why is this an historical year in golf? Answers please on a postcard…….
It should be an easy question to answer for those of you who have clocked that there appears to be a great deal of team matchplay in the scheduling at the moment. The sister and I are fresh from watching the Curtis Cup at Conwy Golf Club and as you read this we will be readying ourselves for the three day fest that is the Solheim Cup. And, no sooner will we have finished biting our nails to the quick over the Solheim than we will be limbering up for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. And, one final clue – we also enjoyed watching the Walker Cup, played at Seminole in early May, even though it was largely a closed door event because of the pandemic.And there you have it. The answer to my opening question is that this is the first time ever that the four major team events in golf have been played in the same year. The Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup always used to be in odd-numbered years but following the atrocities of 9/11 the Ryder Cup was postponed for a year and then assumed an even-numbered-year slot, usually in September. This was awkward for the Solheim Cup already occupying that date in the calendar and, realising they couldn’t compete with the men for media attention (at that time), the women swiftly altered to the odd-numbered years. And then last year the Ryder Cup had to be postponed twelve months because of COVID-19, hence the logjam of top-class team matchplay that we are now enjoying.
So far this year the Americans have been dominant, edging the win in Seminole by two points and then last week in Wales their women came storming back from a poor opening day to stamp their authority on the Conwy links. The Curtis Cup was a beautifully run event by the R&A and the small contingent of Americans who were able to make the trip were recipients of a very warm, Welsh welcome, as were we.The course was stunning and only the merest of zephyrs teased the players during the three days of competition. It was a particular treat to watch Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck at close quarters, the players ranked respectively No 1 and No 2 in the world. Zhang was the class act of the week, winning four and a half points out of five but the home side’s Caley McGinty was very impressive in putting three and a half points on the board for GB and I, which included the only singles victory for her team. At college at Oklahoma State, Caley has won three times stateside and she was certainly the best wedge player I saw throughout the week. It’ll be fun to follow her progress.
Elaine Ratcliffe and Sarah Ingram, the two captains. were delighted to renew their friendly rivalry, having played in the 1996 match at Killarney, won by GB and I. In fact, they played head to head in the singles with Ratcliffe coming out on top. This time it was Sarah hoisting the trophy with her team and celebrating the fact that North Carolina’s Rachel Kuehn had scored the winning point – just as her mother, Brenda Corrie Kuehn had done in 1998 at Minikahda in Minnesota. That’ll surely provide another special photo for the family album.
Many of the 16 players at Conwy will eventually try their hand on the professional scene and they will be adding the goal of making their respective Solheim Cup teams to their to-do lists. This year there are four players from the home nations on Catriona Matthew’s European team and all of them played in the Curtis Cup in their amateur days.
Leona Maguire is the most recent player to bridge this gap having participated in the 2016 Curtis Cup match in Ireland, a gap of five years before graduating to the Solheim Cup. Mel Reid played in the 2006 Curtis Cup encounter and then the 2011 Solheim Cup team, an identical five-year span between teams. Georgia Hall was a little quicker off the mark taking only three years, 2014 to 2017 but none can better the rapid progress of Charley Hull who was part of the GB and I victory in the Curtis Cup at Nairn in 2012 and then on the winning European Solheim Cup team at Colorado in 2013.Half of the US team are Curtis Cup graduates with Mina Harigae, one of this year’s rookies, having played the Curtis Cup back in 2008. Compared to Hull she has had more of a slow burn of a career but nevertheless after thirteen years she gets to pull on the red, white and blue of America again. In my experience it’s a rare player who would trade the opportunity to represent their country and their continent in these high profile, transatlantic clashes for individual successes, which is very refreshing in what is essentially a very self-centred sport.
So, two down and two more trophies to play for. The featured picture at the top of the post is just to remind all of us on this side of the Atlantic what one of our own winning teams looks like. We all know away victories are notoriously hard to come by but hope springs eternal that we can win the Solheim and the Ryder Cups, squaring the series, so to speak. In any case, I’m looking forward to the next three days and the prospect of watching tremendous golf, gracious sportsmanship and a glorious, nail-biting finish.
Whatever the result, 2021 will go down as an historic year.