Spectator sport

Suddenly, the future of British golf looks bright

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

Were you still up, as they used to say about Portillo in the 1997 election, for Hedwall? It was well past midnight on Sunday, the sort of hour when all good Spectator readers should be tucked up in bed — or when the really good ones are thinking about heading home — that Caroline Hedwall, a young Swedish golfer, made a birdie at the 18th hole of Colorado Golf Club that meant two unprecedented things.

For the first time on American soil, Europe could not lose the Solheim Cup, the women’s version of the Ryder Cup, and Hedwall had become the first player to win five matches out of five in the competition. Never mind the Ashes or the Lions tour, which were both against fairly weak Australian opposition, this was the outstanding team performance of the year.

Europe were never expected to win, let alone by a record 18-10. One American commentator was heard offering odds of 100-1 against his girls losing. You hope a few people took him up on it. The US had five members of the world’s top 20 to Europe’s three, they had the newly crowned British Open champion in Stacy Lewis, and they had never lost at home.

Europe had six rookies — half their team — one of whom, Charley Hull, was 17, but she got the final day’s singles matches off to the best start with a 5 and 4 thumping of Paula Creamer, one of America’s best players. Liselotte Neumann, the Europe captain, said she picked the young Englishwoman as a wild-card because she plays ‘fearless’ golf. She still plays like someone who thinks sport is meant to be fun.

Three moments stood out. The first was in a four-balls game on Saturday, when Hull stood on the tee of the par-three 17th with the match all square and the US only five feet from the pin. Hull put her tee-shot closer and the American then missed her putt. This was the theme this year: Europe handled the pressure better. Of the 12 matches that went to the last green, Europe lost only one. Our girls, so to speak, had bigger balls.

Then there was Hull’s singles match. Five up after 12, the English player was heading for victory but Creamer holed an audacious shot from a bunker that prolonged the match. Instead of being annoyed, Hull ran up to the hole to retrieve Creamer’s ball and gave it back to her with an enormous smile. This is how sport should be played.

One hole later, the victory was Hull’s. Again she delighted us by asking Creamer if she could sign her ball for a friend. She did not mean any discourtesy, and Creamer showed her class by obliging — a reminder that Hull was a teenager doing teenagery things. When she was asked after her victory how she would describe the day to friends back home, she thought for a moment and said, ‘Wicked.’ That’s being 17 and on top of the world for you.

That same night, on the other side of the States, another teenager, 18-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick, was making a bit of golfing history by becoming the first Englishman to win the US Amateur since 1911. Suddenly the future of English golf looks rosy.

Incidentally, when she was asked about her ‘mindset’, one of those horrid words that have crept into modern sport, Hull looked blank. ‘I just played golf as normal,’ she said. The England cricket team are big on mindsets. Also skill sets and data sets. They have lots of sets appeal, you could say. But are they as good as they are cracked up to be? Winning the Ashes with a match in hand is a fine thing, but half the batsmen have underperformed, Matt Prior has lost his form, Stuart Broad has one great match a series amid much mediocrity, and James Anderson, after a fine start, looks exhausted. The Ashes may have been won, but England should not start thinking that winning in Australia this winter will be easy.

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Roger Alton is executive editor of the Times.

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