Well, I just had to start with Padraig this week, didn’t I?
A closing inward Sunday nine of 28 for a final round of 63 secured the successful defence of his title at the DICK’s Sporting Goods Open in New York. The affable Irishman had an amazing stretch of birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie in the middle of his final nine holes and the field had no answer whatsoever to that kind of blistering form.
Harrington will now roll on his merry way up to Wisconsin to defend the US Senior Open title he won last year and, if last season is anything to go by, it is during these summer months that he really hits his stride. More majors beckon, I hope.Alas, there were no majors for Leona Maguire or Stephanie Meadow at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last week at Baltusrol. That title fell to the 20-year old Chinese sensation Ruoning Yin who appears to be taking up the mantle of now retired compatriot Shanshan Feng. Yin becomes the second Chinese player (after Feng) to win a major and, unfortunately for the thousands of fans on the Emerald Isle, Ireland’s women still have to score in this most elusive, and exclusive, of categories. Leona had done all the heavy lifting during the week being in, or at, the lead right through the first three rounds. On the Sunday, with bad weather forecast, the tee times were moved up and the players went out in threeballs. Stephanie Meadow and Jenny Shin joined Maguire in that last group and for the first time ever we had two female Irish players in the final group on the Sunday of a major. A nice little bit of history. Every sinew of my being was urging on Leona and Steph but it became very apparent very quickly how much easier it is to be the hunter, not the hunted. Several players out earlier were completely freed up and came roaring up the leaderboard, attacking every flag en route – none more so than Spain’s Carlota Ciganda who moved from 26th spot overnight to joint third with a scintillating 64. That completes a trio of third-place finishes for her in majors which she relishes above all other challenges.
“I love playing. I love competing. It’s not an easy game,” she said. “I think you just have to keep going, and I think the more opportunities you create, it will happen eventually, so I’m just trying to be patient, keep playing. I know my game is good enough to win and to be up there. I love the majors. I love the challenge. I love tough courses. Hopefully, I can win one one day.”
I’m sure these are the exact same sentiments going through Leona’s and Steph’s minds. They are taking Irish women’s golf to new heights before our very eyes and I couldn’t be prouder of them both. Ireland may be small but we are used to punching above our weight and I hope it isn’t too long before we can join our Scottish and English friends in celebrating having major champions from our very own little patch of grass.The patch of grass I’ll be walking round this weekend is the famous links of Royal Dornoch, host of this year’s Vagliano Trophy match. The best female players from GB&I play the best from Europe and all these players must surely be inspired by the deeds of their compatriots on the biggest stages in the game. It’ll be so much fun to play “spot the next Solheim Cup player” and then our own challenge is to hang around long enough to see if we got it right!
My next little bit of broadcasting work is looming on the horizon and I’ve arranged to go and do a bit of early Open homework up at Hoylake in the company of Maureen Richmond (nee Walker). Maureen, a former Vagliano team member, as well as Curtis Cup player, is a longstanding member of Royal Liverpool and she is generously going to share some of her insights with me prior to the off. Despite having covered the 2006 (Tiger won) and 2014 (Rory won) Opens I like to start with a fresh perspective each time and see how both course and strategies have evolved.
In 2006 I was out with Tiger for a couple of his rounds and on the first hole I found myself standing inside the ropes next to a very sinister-looking fellow – you know the sort, broad shoulders, no neck and dark glasses. I wasn’t too far from Tiger at the time and I sensed that this fellow didn’t like it very much. I smiled at him and thought as we were likely to be spending the next five hours fairly close to each other it might be nice to have a little bit of a connection. So I said, “Hello. Are you one of Tiger’s minders?”
A distinctive American drawl came back. “Facilitator, Ma’am. Facilitator.” No further words were exchanged between us during the round but he gave me a little more elbow room after the third, obviously deciding that my mike and I were no threat whatsoever to the Great One.
I must close with a tribute to a “facilitator” of my own. Take a bow, Barbara Stewart. Barbara, many of you will recall, is the ace photographer who enabled me to complete my ambition of getting a scene from Portstewart onto a large picture blind at home. It had only taken me about fifteen years before I enlisted her aid..
Well, the blind has arrived and is up! The snap below doesn’t really do it justice – it’s better in real life. I’m beyond thrilled with it. Thank you, Barbara.