Believe me, you wouldn’t want me as captain of your team, any team, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. Because, really, if you’re on a team and you’re trying your damnedest, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Solheim Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Champions’ League, the Ashes or the Lower Sandford Street Not-Quite-Silver Salver, you want your captain to be on the ball.
Being on the ball is not my forte but even I can recognise manna from heaven, the gift from god that does your team talk for you, primes your players better than you ever could, leaves you with nothing much to do but smile benignly and say, “Go to it.”
This year, Xander Schauffele, the Olympic champion, did the business when he said in an interview that it had taken “nothing special” for the USA to crush Europe in the last Ryder Cup encounter at Whistling Straits. He was probably right because most of the Europeans played poorly (that’s the polite version) but it was an unwise remark and I believe he’s been doing a bit of backtracking since. That’s all very well but it’s too late, too late, the damage, with a bit of luck, is done. Go Europe.
First up, however and already overshadowed by the Ryder Cup in Rome next week, as I’ve just demonstrated, is the Solheim Cup, ‘the Ryder Cup with lipstick’ as Tim Glover, who had his own special way with words, put it. I’ve always thought it was a brilliant, evocative phrase but a lot of people hated it, thinking it demeaning, belittling the women’s game. Hey ho. I still think it’s brilliant, even though my lipstick disappears seconds after it goes on.
Stacy Lewis, the US Solheim Cup captain, is trying to make the Europeans favourites for the match at Finca Cortesin in Andalucía this weekend and I do hope she’s right and Suzann Pettersen’s team win the trophy for the third successive time. That’d be a first for Europe and a joy for those of us who were at the first, hastily arranged, match at Lake Nona in 1990. The Europeans, outclassed, were well beaten and one commentator reckoned it would be 100 years before it would be any sort of contest. Two years later, at Dalmahoy, Europe won and the game was on.
There was no television coverage to speak of because no one was expecting one of the great sporting upsets of all time and Tony Jacklin, who did so much to revive the Ryder Cup, had to follow the action on Ceefax – younger readers please consult your history books or wherever it is you discover the details of ancient technology. He was enthralled and well understood the magnitude of the achievement as the under-rated Europeans demolished a much-decorated US team.
It’s all much closer now – I would say 50-50 – with the result depending on who plays better over the three days and who holes the putts. Pretty obvious really but as a captain, all I’d ask is for all (or almost all) my players to be playing well and for them to be putting the lights out – not as in saving electricity but as in holing everything. No doubt that’s why Leona Maguire, Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall spent many, many minutes on the practice green yesterday afternoon. I was in awe of their dedication, my back aching just at the thought of it.
I was also hot and knackered, having just tramped around a course that is nothing short of mountainous, with gradients that wouldn’t be out of place in the Vuelta de Espana. From what I hear Marco Simone in Rome is much the same and it just goes to show that the fans, who make these team events the great sporting spectacles that they have become, are the last people to be considered when it comes down to it.
A nice hotel on site, for the players and officials, seems to be the main consideration these days, which is fair enough. A walkable golf course, accessible for spectators of advancing years, seems to have disappeared from the list entirely. We’ll yomp to the best of our ability, taking as much water as we can carry, wearing our over-priced bucket hats (I can’t believe I handed over 53 Euro; what a plonker) and raising a cheer if we have breath left. It’ll be interesting to see and hear what the atmosphere’s like.My crew from Whittington Heath are planning an early start for the first day’s play but I think I’ll wimp out and aim for the latest bus possible. I’ve done the first-tee-at-dawn bit often enough to feel no guilt at leaving it to others now, secure in the knowledge that my presence is not required and I will not be missed.
Remember, I’m not the captain. And I need my breakfast.
The gin and tonics come later.
Finally, all the best to all the caddies this week, they’re in for a heck of a trek and a lot of early starts and a special mention to Colin Cann, who’s caddying for Georgia Hall. He’s come a long way and tramped many, many miles since he started out with Annika Sorenstam close to 30-odd years ago.
And he’s still going strong, striding ahead of Georgia, who’s in the green.
And finally, finally this is the culmination of many years of work for many people, bringing the Solheim Cup to Spain at last. Viva Espana and viva Marta Figueras Dotti, whose achievements and honours would take another blog to list. Vamos.