Dame Laura Turns Back Clock on Promising Day for English Golfers at Women's Open
The Cross of Saint George featured prominently on the leaderboards at Kingsbarns throughout a memorable opening day for the English at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. It’s been eight years since Scotland’s Catriona Matthew triumphed at Royal Lytham & St. Annes – the last British major success – but home players moved into early contention at Kingsbarns, including the legendary Dame Laura Davies, who stunningly rolled back the years in her 37th appearance in this event.
Having to face the pressures of Monday qualifying at the nearby St. Andrews Castle Course, the 1986 winner survived a mammoth 14-woman playoff to make it through to her favourite tournament. Two decades removed from her fourth and final major victory, and three seasons since she recorded a top ten on either tour, the World Golf Hall of Fame member said on Wednesday that “It would be ridiculous” to consider the concept of winning the championship.
That said, the 53-year-old did caveat that remark with a positive assessment of her game and how the Kyle Phillips designed course sat up perfectly for her still imperious skills with driver in hand, and that a Tom Watson style story could be on if “something crazy happened” over the four days.
Well, for much of Thursday, we all started to believe in fairytales. The Solheim Cup legend was five-under par at the turn, and added another birdie on the iconic 14th (normally the 15th) just as conditions began to turn from the tranquil to the tormenting. Heavy rain and potential thunderstorms brought play to a suspension, and killed the groove of Davies, who returned to the course by making a double bogey. However, the veteran rallied back from a bogey on the 16th with a fine par on the penultimate hole before making birdie on the last for a four-under 68.
“Yeah, I putted well. I putted great. I hit a lot of good shots, and I putted really well,” Davies said. “I got up-and-down a couple times to keep me going early on, and then just had that patch in the middle where I thought I was going to hole everything. But kept hitting it well. The best shot of the day was 14 when I hit the 5-iron to about four feet, and then the rain delay, and that kind of punished me a little bit. When you're going well, you don't need that. Even when it's raining, you still want to just keep going because you've got the momentum.”
Having only walked the course on Wednesday without playing a practice round, it was a thrill to see one of the game’s finest ambassadors stamping her name back on a major leaderboard, though she again downplayed her chances of staying there. “I've still got the same excitement to come and do well. I'm under no illusions of winning it, but I would love to have a good week and just try and scare the leaders a bit.”
Mel Reid was the first of the English girls to make an early run on the East Neuk of Fife, putting together an excellent morning round of 67, later joined on that number by American-based compatriot Jodi Ewart Shadoff. Taking full advantage of receptive conditions to sit three shots back of leader Michelle Wie, the 29-year-old was delighted with her start on a rare appearance on this side of the Atlantic after securing her LPGA card last year.
Looking forward to playing in front of a large family contingent over the weekend, the six-time Ladies European winner is excited about the challenge ahead. “My dad doesn't get to see me very much anymore play, and he's coming up tomorrow. It's important for me to try and play well in front of them, seeing as they don't see me very often, and it just so happens at British Open everyone always gets together, so I always try and put in a little bit of a performance for them to show off to them a little bit.”
England’s top ranked golfer, Charley Hull always enjoys expressing herself on the golf course with typically aggressive play, and that approach was ideally suited to the questions presented, with the 21-year-old sitting at six-under through 15 holes, ultimately coming unstuck with two late bogeys amongst the weather delays, but an opening 68 places her in a strong position going into Friday.
“I was pretty happy about my round. Shame about the three-putt on 17 and 16, but I actually hit good shots into the greens there, just three-putted as the greens were a bit slow because I think the rain came in,” she said. “But I'm happy with the way I'm hitting it, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's round.”
Former British Ladies Amateur champion, Georgia Hall has been widely touted as a rising star, and she underlined that assessment with a superb 68 to begin the championship. Following a tie for ninth at the Scottish Open last week at Dundonald Links, the 21-year-old has recorded three top tens on the Ladies European Tour this season and looks set to make her Solheim Cup debut when the team is completed by captain Annika Sorenstam on Sunday evening.
“It's hard (to ignore the situation) because the Solheim Cup is massive,” said the present leader on the LET’s points list. “It's a dream for me, and it's only two weeks away, so I kind of have to blank that out of my head at the moment and focus on the British Open. I've had a good first round, so hopefully I can continue that.”
Englishwomen have been enjoying recent success in other sports – rugby, cricket and football –and it would be a huge shot in the arm for golf in the nation should a Lioness was to roar triumphantly in Scotland this weekend.
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