Selecting Killeen Castle Golf Resort in Ireland as the venue for the Solheim Cup in late September was always a bit of a gamble. The omens were not good when wind and rain on the first day of practice meant that most competitors stayed away from the course and the enthusiasm of the windswept fans was sorely tried.
However, the weather was unable to dampen the competition itself – the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup – and it proved to be both a nail-biting contest and peerless advertisement for women’s golf. The match was eventually decided on the last green in the penultimate game, as Caroline Hedwall came back from two down with two to play, to square the match and give Europe the vital half point required for victory. Behind Hedwall, Azahara Munoz of Spain had already secured at least a draw. As the European team and supporters celebrated, Munoz remained calm enough to complete her final hole for a win. The final score of 15-13 hid a multitude of twists and turns as Europe took the Solheim Cup for the first time since 2003.
Play was suspended on three occasions on the final day, as torrential rain and wind lashed the course. One player seemed oblivious to it all. Catriona Matthew was the sole Scot in the European team and she had a stunning 6 & 5 win over the top US player, Paula Creamer, who had never before been beaten in Solheim Cup singles play. In shocking conditions (literally, with a lightning storm adding to the wind and rain), Catriona made two birdies and an eagle on the front nine as she raced to a four hole lead. The moral to this tale is that when the weather takes a turn for the worse, the Scots take it in their stride. There is a reason for that.
Last weekend in Stornoway provided a partial explanation. It was a day when it was not really advisable to leave the house, and certainly not advisable to don some supposedly waterproof clothing and head out with a set of golf clubs. Some people did. Worse still, some people actually played well.
It was not as though it was a competition that could not be missed. There has been ample opportunity this summer to qualify for the Jackson Medal final and there was no trophy on offer last weekend. Nevertheless, they were queuing on the tee at lunchtime as the sky grew darker and darker. Some golfers who had already qualified for next week’s final still felt the urge to dice with drowning.
While most competitors will remain anonymous, three turned in performances worthy of note. Alastair Henderson was playing as though conditions were idyllic and reached the seventeenth tee at two under par, thanks in large part to birdies on the Memorial, Gunsite and Ranol. It was at this point that the heavens really opened and, with both the final greens partially waterlogged and his clubs sodden, Alastair stumbled to a bogey and double bogey finish. His gross 69 (nett 63) equalled his best score of the year and suggests that he has been taking lessons from another extreme golfer, Kevin “Lava” Macleod. Incidentally, only injury prevented Kevin from blitzing the course again at the weekend.
Al “Greens” Macleod also posted nett 63 on a day when his duty as greenkeeper must have come close to displaying the “Course Closed” sign. Instead, Al put in his best performance of the season for a level par gross 68. Birdies on the Manor and Memorial helped him to a level par outward half, while another birdie on the Caberfeidh had a similar effect on the back nine. His inward half edged him ahead of Alastair Henderson but it was not quite enough to win on the day. Another Alasdair took that accolade.
Alasdair Maclean was hopeful that his late afternoon start time would avoid the worst of the weather. By the time he reached the turn, it was still raining. Despite that, an encouraging round was in prospect. Eleven pars and seven bogeys is the kind of round that most of us are incapable of in the best of conditions. With his handicap of 12, it was enough to take Alasdair to the top of the pile at the weekend and put an extra gloss on a very good season. If he can do that in a typhoon, surely Alasdair can perform even better on a good day. Experience tells that, unfortunately, golf does not work like that. Suffice to say that if it’s raining on the golf course and you’re Scottish, your prospects of winning suddenly look an awful lot brighter.
Apparently, it makes no difference whether you are male or female: the call of the golf course can always be heard above the sound of wind and rain. The ladies section contested the Cancer Relief stableford competition, with a bedraggled Ann Galbraith emerging as winner. Liz Carmichael was runner up.
The annual prizegiving will be held this weekend. All those who have trophies at home should now polish them furiously and return them to the club. That includes those who will be collecting the same trophy for the second year in succession; and, on that subject, there will be more on Ken Galloway and his love affair with matchplay competitions in next week’s exciting episode.