5 reasons you’d be mad to miss the Solheim Cup
NEVER mind cats and dogs, it'll probably rain tigers and wolfhounds during the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle this weekend.
Like it did during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club; only it seemed like more fun to go singing in the rain when we all had a few bob in our pockets.
With the nation deep in the pits of financial recession and the sporting public sated by the heroics last weekend of Declan Kidney's World Cup marauders and Pat Gilroy's Blue battlers in the most thrilling All-Ireland final this century, the Solheim Cup has become an afterthought. Which is absolutely crazy.
It's not every decade you have so much world-class golfing talent performing on your own doorstep.
And the passions stirred by clashes between professional golf's hottest rivals, Europe and the USA, are just the same, whether the protagonists are male or female.
Here are five reasons why the Solheim Cup is an absolute must for the committed golfer and why it should warm the cockles of the average sports fan.
America has won the last three Solheim Cups, but the tide could easily turn this weekend. Though home captain Alison Nicholas has five rookies in her side, they're all winners on Tour, making this look like the strongest team ever assembled by Europe.
So a titanic battle is expected from the moment the first ball is struck tomorrow until the final putt drops on Sunday.
"This is the best European team I've been a part of," said Sweden's world No 2 Suzann Pettersen, a six-time veteran who featured on the last side to beat the US at Barseback in 2003. Interestingly, visiting skipper Rosie Jones and her players readily endorsed Pettersen's opinion.
Asian golfers may be in the ascendancy in the women's game right now, but no fewer than nine of the 12 American players on show at Killeen Castle feature in the world's top 20, while nine of the home team are in the top 50.
Purists go into paroxysms over the golf swings of Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis or the thrilling golf games of Europe's Maria Hjorth, Sophie Gustafson and, of course, Pettersen.
Rarely has the Irish public ever been given access to world-class sport so easily and at such a low cost.
Tickets are still available at the gate with prices ranging from €20 for practice today, €40 to watch the match swing into action tomorrow and €50 on Saturday and Sunday. It's not cheap, but every ticket-holder can bring in as many children under 18 as he or she likes for free; even a double-decker bus-full.
It was fascinating to hear Julie Inkster (51) -- who, in her ninth Solheim Cup this week, becomes the first woman to combine the role of vice-captain and player -- answer why US women's teams seemed to bond so much better than their male counterparts.
"I think sometimes the guys get a bad rap," she replied. "We all have the same mindset and love representing our country. It's just a guy thing and a girl thing. Girls like to chat, go out to dinner and braid each other's hair."
Tiger's unlikely ever to braid Phil's mane but Inkster's point is well made. Ryder or Solheim Cup, the passion's the same. "I think we're both just as good but in a different way," explained Nicholas.
Ireland's reputation as a venue for major international sporting events goes on the line this weekend. Yes, the only home-grown performer in action on the fairways this weekend is Corkman Roy Clarke (Sandra Gal's caddie), yet would music fans snub the Berlin Philharmonic because they didn't have an Irish player in the fiddle section?
Captain Nicholas traversed this island in the spring trying to raise support for the home side. She's too polite to put it as bluntly as Ciaran Fitzgerald famously once did at Twickenham, but the question still will be posed to Irish golf this weekend: "Where's your effin' pride?"