Carly's blog - news and views on the world of ladies' golf
A well-deserved award for Alison - an inspirational captain...
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Alison Nicholas, the victorious European Solheim Cup Captain, out at the Irish Ladies Open last week and enjoyed hearing her anecdotes from the experience of beating the Americans last year. I can't believe it's nearly a year since that sensational final day's play at Killeen Castle in Ireland. On the opening evening of the Irish Ladies Open Ali received an award in recognition of the great role she played as captain of that victorious team, and to say thank you for her hard work, dedication to the game and inspiration to the players and lady golfers around the world. Afterwards I spoke to Ali and asked her to share her Solheim Cup winning secrets...
Q. Alison, I understand you got the upper hand on the Americans even after the tournament had finished as they had trouble getting back to the airport from the course on their team bus?
Q. Tell me a little bit about the role that your Vice Captain and other assistants played...
A. They were just incredible, and you need that as a captain, you simply can't do everything all on your own. I have to say that Annika Sorenstam and Joanne Morley were instrumental in some of the decisions that I made as a captain and I can only thank them and the support of everyone, my family, the LET, all the helpers in giving me confidence to make the decisions that I had to make.
A. I obviously got a lot of feedback from the players about past Solheim Cups - their thoughts and particularly about the singles, and past players as well. And I took all of this information and picked the bits out that I felt were relevant. Trish Johnson was a great sounding black. She said 'Ali, the players are playing too many times' and I took that on board and I made the decision that I was only going to play every player four times, or three times, because I felt that that would have an effect on the singles. In the past players felt that a lot of them had played five times and they were too tired. They had no mental or physical strength left to actually win their singles matches. So I made that decision. It was a risk and after Saturday afternoon I thought I was going to get hammered by the press in fact, because we lost that session, but I was confident in them. I knew that they would deliver. I know a lot of people felt that the score line was very tight but I just had this feeling in my gut that the girls were going to produce and they were incredible. So I can only thank that victory to them.
Q. I understand that you went for this big long dinner with Monty (Colin Montgomerie) to get some advice from him as well?
Q. So how did you pick who was going to lead? What made you decide to put Catriona out first to lead the way? And how did you pick your last four soldiers where you felt that the battle would take place?
A. I got someone to go and spy on the USA team room and I knew the line-up (no only joking!!) I absolutely had no clue to be fair. Annika, Jo and I got together and we put our players in order and we just discussed it and decided to go with it. A lot of it was gut feeling and we just had complete and utter belief in the players.
Q. That Sunday was one of the great roller coaster rides of any final day. Normally in previous Solheim Cups it boils down to one match, but it really wasn't the case. Just take us through that final day. There were two major rain delays, there was all this strategy going on, just take us through what you can remember?
A. Well, that's the thing, can I remember? Obviously the weather played a part and Christie Kerr pulled out with injury and we just took it all in our stride. Interestingly when the rain delays occurred we just thought back to Dalmahoy and Loch Lomond where we had won before and that sense where we had the same scenario and we had won before.
Q. But after the second rain delay, things were going against us. The Americans were high fiving and already celebrating. Just tell me what happened then?
A. That's right, I think Julie Inkster won her match and started hugging players and high fiving them and she said 'that was better than sex' (laughs) if I remember rightly. I think half an hour later she probably changed her mind! They were celebrating before it had even finished! The one thing I had talked to my players about in the team meetings was that it is not over until it is over, so you have to fight and get your point. You don't give up in any shape or form until the fat lady sings and she wasn't singing yet - she hadn't even started warming up! To their credit they fought hard.
Q. Is it right that there was a special moment between Suzann Pettersen and the Rookies in the buggy going back out to the course after the second rain delay?
A. Yes that's right. Suzann happened to share a cart with Azahara Munoz and Caroline Hedwall and she said to both of them 'we've got to do this. I'm going to win my point.' And Caroline Hedwall said 'well I'm going to try and get a half', and Azahara said 'well I'll win my point'. And they had a pact. That's huge. You need leaders in your team and every one of them was a leader and they all encouraged each other and they did a great job. They delivered. It was a huge team effort, everybody played a part. I can only thank them for their commitment and passion and every time I think back to that final day and remember the Solheim it makes me smile.
SOPHIE'S U15 VICTORY IS A CLUB DOUBLE
Essex golfer Sophie Madden scored a double triumph for her club when she won the English U15 girls' championship by a shot at Delamere Forest, Cheshire.
Sophie is a member at West Essex Golf Club - and last year her friend and club colleague, Gabriella Cowley, won the national title.
"I wanted to follow in Gabby's footsteps, we are really close friends and from the same club, so it's great," said Sophie, after she completed the 72-hole championship with a level par round and a nine-over par total.
She finished one shot ahead of Alice Hewson of Hertfordshire, while Annabel Bailey of Nottinghamshire was third, followed by halfway leader Eloise Healey of Lancashire.
Sophie, 15, was firmly in the mix during the championship, occupying second place throughout the first three rounds. But she set out on the final round three shots behind Alice Hewson, who had reached the top of the leaderboard with a one-under par 71 in round three.
As the last round unfolded, Sophie drifted further back with three early bogeys and she reached the turn six shots adrift of Alice.
She remembered how Gabriella recounted her fortunes in one round in last year's championship, when she was five-over par after seven holes but managed to score two-under par for the 18 holes. Sophie's fortunes turned in a similar vein when she played the back nine in three-under for a level par total in the last round.
Meanwhile, Alice dropped four shots on her second nine and the title belonged to Sophie, by a single stroke.
Sophie was runner-up in the English U13 championship two years ago and last season won the East region girls' title and the US Kids world championship. This year she's been concentrating on school work, but has now returned to the forefront - armed with a new putter which is proving a most effective weapon.
Practice paid off for Lancashire's Hollie Muse when she became the new English U13 girls' champion at Delamere Forest, Cheshire.
The 12-year-old reaped the benefit of repeated practice rounds on the course to beat defending champion, Sammy Fuller of Surrey, by two shots.
Third place went to Worcestershire champion Lucy Walton, who scored a final round 74. Chloe Howard of Devon had the low round of the day with her one-over 73 and moved up into fourth place.
"I am just happy," said Hollie, from West Lancashire. "I wanted this more than anything and I have practised all the time and come here for practice rounds."
The third and final round of the 54-hole championship developed into a battle royal between the two leading players. Hollie held a three-shot lead after two rounds, having scored 85 and one-under par 71, while Sammy shot 83, 76.
It was Sammy who took the early initiative in the last round, playing the first three holes in one-under par, compared to Hollie's three-over. But after six straight pars Hollie once again took the lead at the turn - and never again slipped behind.
However, the players were tied again after Hollie double bogeyed the 13th, but Sammy slipped behind with a bogey on 15 and a triple on the short 16th.
Despite a bogey on the 17th, Hollie had the luxury of a three-shot lead as she teed off on the 18th. Sammy refused to give up fighting and narrowed the gap with a birdie four on the last, but Hollie sank a six-footer for par, a final round score of 78 and the title.
"I was so nervous over that putt, but I told myself to just hit it in the middle," said Hollie. "I am sorry for Sammy, she did play very well and she's a good playing partner."
Hollie got her first handicap - of 22 - only last year and is already down to four. She trains with an England Golf Birdie squad and quickly paid tribute to coach Pat Smillie and to the Lancashire ladies who have also fostered her talent and included her in their training programme.
Lancashire's Emily Taylor shot a superb six-under 66 in the final round to win the English girl's championship at Sandiway, Cheshire.
She finished the event on five under-par, four shots clear of runner-up, fellow girl international Meghan MacLaren, and five ahead of Curtis Cup player Bronte Law.
This was Emily's last attempt at the title before she leaves junior ranks and she said afterwards: "This means everything to me, especially as it's my last year.
"I set this as my goal at the start of the season and it was something I really wanted. I've been second in the past and it was really nice to finish it off.
"England has such a strong U18 section at the moment that to win it in this year is fantastic for me."
Emily, from Hillside, started the final round three shots off the pace, set by Meghan MacLaren. Meg's 68 in the morning's third round took her to two-under for the championship and to the top of the leaderboard.
She had taken the lead by the turn and never looked back, finishing her round with her final birdie on the 18th, pleasing the large crowd of spectators which included sizeable numbers of Lancashire supporters.
"I learned from my mistakes of the morning," said Emily, who had returned a level par 72 in the third round. "I missed three greens on the wrong side which cost me, so I played sensibly on those holes and attacked the holes I could birdie."
The most important of those eight birdies was the one she scored on the par three 13th. It picked up her momentum after a bogey on the 11th and she went on to also birdie the next two holes.
"I knew I could do it with the way I have been playing," said Emily, who was one of the low scorers at the recent European girls' team championship. "I knew there was a good score out there, I just had to put my mind to it."
Meanwhile, Meghan MacLaren came in with a 73 to take second place on one-under, while Bronte Law - for whom the putts refused to drop - was round in 72 for a level par total.
Northumberland's Nicola Haynes (Gosforth Park Ladies') provided one of the highlights of the day when she had a hole-in-one in the morning on the 168-yard 18th. Earlier in the week another Northumberland player, Samantha Taylor (Parklands) also aced the hole.
BUSHNELL TOUR V2 RANGEFINDER
They say: Compact size with the power you've always wanted. The Tour V2 laser rangefinder rests in your hand with an ergonomic precision that builds confidence and pride. Its guts are 100% Bushnell laser rangefinder and the package outside rivals your favourite driver with a custom high-tack grip. PinSeeker Technology ensures accurate target acquisition by shutting out background hazards and isolating your target. The Tour V2 sets the standard in the complete laser rangefinder package - look, feel and performance. Its features are:
* Tour Certified
I say: I've used a rangefinder before so I already knew how invaluable they are for accurate yardages, but it wasn't until I tested the Bushnell Tour V2 that I realised just how easy and simple the function could be. I've previously owned a competitors model and I've struggled at times to keep my hand steady enough to pick up the flag for enough seconds to get my yardage. This was simply not the case with the Bushnell Tour V2, all I had to do was point and click. The rangefinder was very comfortable to hold in my hand and easy to keep steady and the big button on the top pressed down with ease. Literally one look at the flag and I had all the information I needed and there was no doubt. The girlie side of me loves the fact that I can buy this rangefinder in a colour other than black (there's white and pink to choose from) and it comes with a handy little holder bag that can hang on the side of your golf bag so that it is easy to access. The plastic shell means that it will be resilient to the rain so you don't have to worry about corrosion or being caught out in a shower. All in all the V2 is hard to fault and believe you me it really does help with the speed of play to know that you can walk straight to your ball and then get your yardage in a second. If you are not carrying one of these invaluable tools in your golf bag yet then you're losing out, they've an amazing addition.
KILLEEN CASTLE, COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND
"One of the most beautifully manicured courses I have ever played!"
For the second year running I have the luxury of being invited to play in the Pro Am that preceded the Irish Ladies Open last week. I was paired with talented player Ursula Wikstrom from Finland, a lovely lady with a wonderful swing and attitude towards the game. Ursula has been on the Ladies European Tour for 9 years and has managed to juggle life on Tour along with being a Mum to five-year-old Erin, a real achievement.
Fortunately she has her husband Mikko on the bag caddying for her as often as possible. She may be a little known name in ladies golfing terms but she has plenty of talent. In fact she's been a little unlucky to have missed out on victory with five second place finishes to her name. I asked her for her best piece of advice for the typical lady golfer, which you will find in my 'Tips from the Tour' section below. But before I share Ursula's top tips I'd like to share with you a little bit more about the course at Killeen Castle.
Those of you who witnessed the Europeans sensational Solheim Cup victory last September will instantly recognise a lot of the holes in my pictures. The castle, of course, provides a spectacular backdrop to what is an exceptional golf course. The one thing that stands out about Killeen Castle above all other relatively new courses I have played is the amazing condition. Despite the ridiculous rain we have endured (and believe you me Ireland has had the brunt of it) Killeen Castle is absolutely immaculate and not at all soggy under foot. It is every bit the Championship Course. The lady Tour professionals were playing it from the back tees but luckily I got to play off the Reds and it was really fun. In general the fairways are wide giving you the luxury of being able to open your shoulders and really hit out with the driver. If you hit them you'll have a lovely lush lie to hit off giving you confidence to sweep a fairway wood away with ease.
The rough is ridiculously long and will gobble up golf balls, as will the deep bunkers which are very well placed. There are some scary water hazards that flank the side of fairways causing you to steer shots out of the way, but the careful hitters will relish the task. The greens are the biggest challenge - course designer Jack Nicklaus has really tricked them up with slippery slopes along with their incredible pace (albeit very smooth) making three putts commonplace.
There are so many great holes it is hard to pick a favourite, the obvious one would be the par 4 18 th a striking left-to-right dogleg where if you are brave and a big hitter you can cut the corner and take your drive over the trees, leaving a shorter uphill shot into the green. I watched as the Tour professionals completed their rounds and even with a wedge in hand they struggled to get close to the pin as the green is so slopey if you hit the wrong side of it you'll be a long way away.
I remember when I finished my round last year I left instantly wanting to come back for more and now having experienced a game at Killeen Castle for the second time I can honestly say it is one of my parkland favourites.
Your chance to play Killeen Castle...
Fancy a round at Killeen Castle and the chance to win an amazing prize?
Enter the 2012 Solheim Cup Challenge, in association with The Sunday Times, British Airways and Ping, plus supporting the Irish Autism Action, and you'll stand the chance of winning a trip of a lifetime to the 2013 Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club, Denver Colorado, USA from August 16-18 2013.
There are two qualifying dates remaining - 19 th August and 6 th September 2012. And five teams from each qualifying round will contest the Grand Final at Killeen Castle on 23 rd September 2012. The entrance fee is 400 Euros per team, to include refreshments, a goodie bag, Solheim Cup gift and there will be fantastic team prizes on each event day.
By Ladies European Tour Professional Ursula Wikstrom
The best piece of advice I can offer all lady golfers is to learn the distances you hit your clubs. And I'm not just talking about how far the ball travels when you hit your best strike, I'm talking about the average distance you hit that club, including your mishits. For instance, I know that I can hit a wedge 130 yards with perfect execution but I also know that I have a margin of 5-7 yards for error. In other words if the pin is cut close to the front of the green and there are bunkers to carry as long as I have 5-7 yards beyond the pin I will always play one club more than needed to ensure that I stay out of trouble.
When I'm preparing for a tournament I will walk the course and work out my distances from the tee to the hazards and going into the green. I will then map out the greens, writing myself lots of little notes about the slopes and what point is flattest for my approach shot to land. You'll see an example here of a typical page of my planner - it really is in-depth! I'm not suggesting that you will have the time or the inclination to do the same for every course you play, but if you have a home course that you play every week then taking one day to do this would be invaluable. Even if you think you know the course like the back of your hand I bet you'll struggle to tell me the distance from the front to the back of each green. This is the figure that I think is really critical. It's not just knowing how far you've got to the pin that's important, but it's knowing how far you've got to the back of the green. If you know this distance then you'll always know how much extra room you have to play with, and as I have suggested, taking an extra club more than you think you need really is a great idea. Coming up short is a card wrecker as you'll put pressure on your short game to recover from hazards.
So take my advice and club up, rather than playing the club that will simply get you to the pin. I bet your scores improve!