Take five Swedes, two English, one Scot, one Spaniard, one Dane, one Irishwoman and one Frenchwoman and what do you get?
The 2023 European Solheim Cup team, of course, as announced by their Norwegian captain Suzann Pettersen last Tuesday. (See above.) These women will be taking on the might of the United States next month at Finca Cortesin, a gem of a venue on the south coast of Spain.We won’t know the make-up of the opposition until early next week but there are a couple of things of which we can be assured. One, they will be a formidable crew and two, they will be highly motivated to prevent a third consecutive loss to the yellow and blue of Europe in this, the eighteenth edition of the match. Neither the sister nor I was present last time in Toledo….but there again, neither was anybody else from this side of the pond. Covid restrictions were still in place and although the Americans had their supporters they were nowhere near as vociferous without rival fans present. A global pandemic can encourage you to reorganise your priorities somewhat and Europe’s tight-knit bubble of players, caddies and backroom staff bonded like superglue and won by 15 points to 13.
The Americans lead overall by 10 wins to 7 but I’d argue that no match was as important as the second one, held at Dalmahoy, outside Edinburgh, in 1992 . The Ladies’ European Tour was still a struggling, fledgling entity with hardly any players playing regularly in the States. Unbelievably, staggeringly and against all the odds Europe won that match and that early victory was pivotal in ensuring the contest wasn’t going to be the one-sided affair many had feared. The victorious team made the front and back pages of every paper in the land.Little did we know that the quirky oddity of the European supporters’ singing and chanting on the 1st tee was set to grow into a much-loved, integral part of the whole match. Orchestrated by Sue Pidgeon, a former LET staff member, and Anglie Bell, a friend and former caddy of mine, the pair composed songs for each player on each team and handed around the printouts to both sets of fans on the 1st tee. It was an instant hit and grew with each contest.
With the increasing galleries coming to watch the women the whole 1st tee experience took on a life of its own – so much so that the Ryder Cup has now followed suit. I want to say the first Ryder Cup match with that 1st tee ambience was in 2014 at Gleneagles. By then Scotland had hosted and witnessed two European Solheim Cup wins and had experienced all that went on on that 1st tee and they were keen to get in on the action.
When I was in Paris in 2018, looking up at a 1st tee grandstand holding 8000 people, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck when, as one, the Europeans started their famous Icelandic clap. And I thought immediately of Sue and Angie. THEY started all this – and we were there and were part of it. Great memories.It’s a nail-biting affair waiting to hear if you’ve been selected for any team and that was the fate of the four captain’s picks who had failed to secure an automatic spot on the team. Of the four Suzann selected only one is a rookie – Scot Gemma Dryburgh, who follows in a long line of Solheim Cup players from the home of golf. I queried one of Suzann’s picks (not Gemma) with Patricia. “It’s the captain’s pick, not yours. Not mine,” she said. And that phrase instantly brought a dusty memory back to the forefront of my mind.
Throughout my own career I had many such moments waiting to hear if I would get the nod from the selectors – not at the elevated level of a Solheim Cup, I hasten to add, but at various representative stages of my amateur career.
All my young life my ambition had been to play for Ireland at full international level, in other words, not just at age group levels. Each year eight players were selected to play in the home internationals, a round robin series of matches against the other three home countries. Each match consisted of three foursomes and six singles with two players sitting out each session. Back then, pretty much the only route on to the team was to have a good showing in numerous competitions but, most importantly, to play in the interprovincial matches and do well there. Handily enough, we have four provinces in Ireland and the format was identical to the home internationals, so it was a great dress rehearsal for the big stage.
I made my debut for my province at the age of 15 so I did feel I was on the right track. At 18 I left Ireland for a scholarship in the US so was no longer at home playing in the recognised events. I did, however, have to send back all the results of my college events in which I was making a decent showing. When I arrived back after my first six months away I was much improved and playing well, but had missed all of the home-based events.
In those days, the selectors didn’t write to you or ring you up to tell you if you’d made the team – they put the team in the paper. Hard to believe, but there I was, rushing each day to the shop before heading off to practise. Finally, there it was – the team to represent Ulster, blah, blah – in alphabetical order………..Ann McLean, Patricia Madill, Lilian Malone………. Whaaaattttt????
I read it and re-read it. Mum and Dad read it and re-read it. Patricia??? Was it a misprint? Did they mean Maureen? Ah, wait. There are only SEVEN names. That’s it. Mine must have been left out in error. Phew! Someone will surely ring up.
Meanwhile, where was the Madill who had just been awarded her interprovincial cap? Why, lying in bed reading Shoot football magazine without a care in the world and not even the owner of one single bag of practice balls! The next day Patricia received her letter of selection with instructions re the uniform, the travelling, the hotel and the venue. No one ever did ring up for me. And yes, that year they had decided to take only seven players to save on the costs.
Looking back, it must have been a nightmare of a scenario for our parents to navigate. They were thrilled and delighted for Patricia, of course, but had to deal with a distraught younger daughter who suddenly found she wasn’t even considered the best player in her own family!
That was when Dad said to me you just had to make it impossible for selectors not to pick you and there were echoes of that in Patricia’s comment re the captain’s picks.
For the record, I seem to remember Patricia performed well in the interprovincials and I’m happy to report that I managed to get back on the Ulster team the following year.
One month after that I did make my debut at full international level.
And Patricia still doesn’t own a bag of practice balls.