Golf, like life, moves on apace but the blog makes no apologies for giving top billing (twice) to Europe’s stunning, stupendous, scintillating Solheim victory. Maureen and I are still exhausted (and I’m ashamed to say I’ve yet to see a shot hit in anger by teen tennis sensation Emma Raducanu, who is taking the US Open by storm with an insouciance and joie de vivre that would impress Leona Maguire).
Maguire, the pride of Ballyconnell and Slieve Russell in county Cavan, was the undoubted star of a European team that shone so brightly that they eclipsed the much vaunted Americans, world No 1 Nellie Korda, her sister Jessica, Lexi Thompson, Lizette Salas and all – and kept the ever enthusiastic, would be noisy Toledo fans pretty quiet. The chants of “USA, USA” sounded few and far between and were never sustained, smacking more and more of desperation as the Europeans refused to crumble.It was tight and tense the longer the singles went on but Matilda Castren, a rookie from Finland (like Maguire the first from her country to make the team) saw off Salas with a seemingly nerveless putt to win on the last and in the anchor match Emily Pedersen, a Dane whose Solheim (and golfing) journey of redemption deserves a book of its own, beat Danielle Kang by one hole (having clinched Europe’s win when she went three up with three to play).
This is as good – or bad – a place as any to have my habitual rant about the inequity of the defending champions being given a half point start. To retain the trophy they’d won at Gleneagles, Europe needed to reach 14 points; to win the USA needed 14 1/2. And so, in reality, for their own satisfaction, did the Europeans. It’ll be happening again at Whistling Straits later this month when Europe defend the Ryder Cup they won in such style in Paris in 2018. That’s three years ago, for goodness sake. And even if it were the usual two, why? oh why? does a side deserve a start? It doesn’t make sense. Historical? It’s a tradition that should be history. Ditched. Done away with once and for all. It deserves a bad rap. Cue Bubba!The great thing about the Solheim Cup and the Ryder Cup nowadays is that you have to win it, you don’t get given it. There’s no just turning up and walking away with the trophy. It’s a proper contest, a match between equals, always liable to be close. Every now and again a team runs away with it but mostly it’s nip and tuck – as it turned out to be at the Inverness Club, with 16 of the 28 matches (by my count) going to the last hole. Nerves are going to be shredded, players (and fans) emotionally exhausted by the end. The bottom line is that losing stinks. Winning is so much more fun.
Let’s hope that Padraig Harrington, who’ll be finalising his Ryder Cup team after this week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, has players who putt as well in Wisconsin as Maguire and her teammates did in Toledo. They were led impeccably by Catriona Matthew, the lowkey, legendary Scot from North Berwick who inspires with a quiet authority and has the utmost respect of every single player. Also, in a humorous nod to the venue’s roots, the Europeans had a cheeky Loch Ness monster on the bottom of their golf bags….One up from the start, surely.
Matthew paired the rookie Maguire (in reality a mature 26-year old with a stellar college career at Duke behind her) with the sometimes tempestuous Englishwoman Mel Reid, a lover of the free-flowing fist pump. They didn’t know each other at all beforehand but what looked initially like an odd couple proved a marriage made in heaven and they gelled beautifully, winning three of their four matches together and halving the other. Reid restrained her celebrations, leaving most of the fierce fist pumps to her more naturally stoic partner, who hardly missed a putt over the three days.
So impressive was Maguire that musician Sam Harrop (@sam_golf on Twitter), described by The Times as “golf’s premier parodist”, has written an ode about her already. It’s quite brilliant and includes lines like “A debut from the Hall of Fame…Golf’s an oyster and we’ve found a pearl” but the rhyme de resistance has to be: “She’s from county Ca-van (American pronunciation), she’s not gonna tan…” Classic.
It cracked me up because I remember seeing Leona and her twin sister Lisa at the Junior Solheim in America and knew immediately who they were because they had little milk bottle legs, white as white in amongst the tanned pins of their teammates. The DWD (dog-walking dermatologist) tells me that most of us Irish have such pale skin to help us absorb as much vitamin D as possible from our (normally) watery sunshine. Forgive me if I haven’t quite grasped the science, we were playing bridge at the time and I was losing tricks hands over fist.
The Solheim Cup shopping list. It’s not likely to change for the Ryder Cup.
Finally, congratulations to Co. Cavan on winning the AIG Men’s Jimmy Bruen Shield for the first time, defeating Gowran Park at Shandon Park in Belfast. Conor O’Reilly, a member of the winning team, said, “It means so much to our club. We’re 128 years old and it was our first All-Ireland final.
“It’s been a great week for golf in Cavan. Leona doesn’t have a Jimmy Bruen though!”