Striking a blow for equality
Published 27/09/2011 | 05:00
LONG after heart-rates return to normal and ears stop ringing after a raucous Solheim Cup finale, several powerful messages will continue to resonate from Sunday's proceedings at Killeen Castle. First and foremost, the mind-blowing climax to this match made utter fools of those who dare suggest women's golf is boring or inferior to the men's game.
Golf has long been beggared by misogyny, a warped state of mind which makes it perfectly acceptable for many of the sport's finest clubs, from the R&A to Royal St George's and Augusta National to Portmarnock, to exclude women members.
Europe's magnificent match-clinchers, Suzann Pettersen, Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz, did much more than make telling points for their team and their continent on Sunday evening.
Their fortitude under staggering pressure struck an awesome blow for female golf.
The tension and excitement in the final hour of the 2011 Solheim Cup was a match for anything we've witnessed in the feverish dying moments at any Ryder Cup. Europe emerged 15-13 winners but this match was hanging in the balance up to the last half dozen shots. Sport doesn't get any more demanding that this, or more compelling.
It was interesting yesterday morning to hear Paul McGinley's verdict. The Dubliner brought his family to Killeen Castle on Saturday and, after his return to London, was glued to Sunday's live TV coverage.
"It was marvellous. The atmosphere and the occasion was wonderful," he enthused. "And Sunday was so exciting. Team events like these are in a league of their own. It was a lot more exciting than the FedEx Cup."
While Bill Haas and fellow American Hunter Mahan went head-to-head in sudden death for a $11.44m jackpot at the climax to the FedEx Cup series, the women of Europe and the USA played for a mere stipend.
Yet the Solheim Cup is blessed with purity and evokes passions money can't buy.
There was serene majesty in the performance of so many players, while the match between world No 2 Pettersen and Michelle Wie, for so long the 'wunderkind' of American golf, was utterly riveting.
Wie took the upper hand, it seemed, with a sweet birdie on 15 but Pettersen squared the match on the treacherous 16th by coolly rolling home an 18-footer for a telling two.
They shared the next in birdie before the Norwegian cracked her young opponent by hitting her approach to six feet at the last, setting up a sensational third successive birdie and a win which moved her captain Alison Nicholas to say: "Now that's what champions are made of."
Play was interrupted three times on the final day by bad weather. Pettersen (30), Hedwall (22), and Munoz (23) gave each other a timely pep talk during the final buggy ride back onto the course.
"It looked like we were coming up short," Pettersen explained. "As we went back out, Aza, Hedwall and myself resolved to at least get the three points sitting on our cart and we fought until the very end."
Swede Hedwall came from two behind with two to play, forcing rugged US rookie Ryann O'Toole to concede the vital half-point on 18.
This clinched Europe's fourth Solheim Cup win and first since 2003 because Munoz was guaranteed at least a half against Angela Stanford after going one-up with a stunning birdie at 17. With 128 yards to the pin, Munoz considered hitting a nine-iron before her caddie suggested a three-quarter punched eight-iron, a stroke she'd learned watching Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as a child.
Munoz played it beautifully to three feet for the crucial birdie which handed Hedwall the opportunity to seal Amercia's fate.
Yet this win had been in the making for years, with the Europe's hard-working and fastidious captain learning well from mistakes made during her team's defeat in Chicago in 2009. The result was the cool, confident and capable way in which she marshalled the forces last weekend.
For example, no European played more than three matches before Sunday, while two US players, Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr were required to play five games and paid a heavy toll.
Plainly exhausted, Creamer lost her 100pc record in singles as she took a 6&5 thrashing in the lead match from Europe's first lady Catriona Matthew.
Though Kerr had been grappling all week with the wrist problem that forced her out of Sunday's showdown with Karen Stupples, she played all four matches on Friday and Saturday? That's daft!
Rookie captains can be expected to make rookie mistakes, whether it's in the Solheim Cup or Ryder Cup.
The European men are lucky that the Seve Trophy gives them an opportunity to try out prospective skippers and help ensure that mistakes like Nick Faldo or Mark James never happen again.
Once again at the weekend, we saw good reason why McGinley, a man with a proven gift for team captaincy is a must to lead Europe into the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014.
The Solheim Cup goes next to Colorado in 2013 and Ireland, Killeen Castle, Roddy Carr and his team should take a bow for the success of this 'once-in-a-lifetime' adventure.
With more than 70,000 spectators flocking to the event, the nation showed splendid loyalty to Europe's cause. Yet the biggest winner of all was women's golf. Frankly, these girls aren't just good, they're great!
$11m jackpot takes 'Dollar bill' by surprise
DUBBED 'Dollar Bill' after landing an $11.44m jackpot at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Bill Haas stunned golf when he revealed after Sunday's sudden-death victory over Hunter Mahan that he didn't know he'd won the FedEx Cup.
Haas (29) clinched the biggest of his three PGA Tour wins with a par three on the third tie hole, the 18th at East Lake. He'd only made it that far by playing the shot of the year out of the water left of the 17th green to two feet for an unlikely four.
So convoluted is the play-off points system, Haas had to ask a TV reporter "who won the FedEx Cup" after he'd clinched victory in the Tour Championship.
"You did," came the reply, giving the American his first inkling that the $10m bonus was his, along with the $1.44m first prize in the tournament.
For the second year, Luke Donald finished one stroke away from the FedEx bonanza. Solo third would have been enough for the Englishman but he finished in a tie with KJ Choi and Aaron Baddeley on seven-under, one outside the play-off.
US Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples now must choose between Haas and US PGA winner Keegan Bradley for the only remaining spot on his team to play the Internationals in Australia in November after controversially promising one of his two wild cards to Tiger Woods.
Woods has named caddie Joe LaCava as his long-term replacement for Steve Williams. LaCava caddied for Couples before linking up with Dustin Johnson in May.
Due to return to action at next week's $5m Frys Open in his native California, Tiger has dropped to No 50 in the world rankings and is likely to drop out of the world's elite top 50 for the first time next Monday.
Struggling Padraig Harrington's long slide down the world ladder has taken him to 84th in the rankings issued yesterday, but the Dubliner can boost his standing this week with a good performance in the Dunhill Links, a tournament he has won twice before.