Fun Solheim Cup Highlights Need for More Team Match Play Events
“The game elevated to a level I've never seen. And I think we all should be very proud of women's golf. And I hope people witnessed this because this was a real show.” Those were the closing thoughts of European captain Annika Sorenstam during the aftermath of a memorable Solheim Cup.
Yes, the eventual result identified a sizeable gap between the opposing sides, but these three days in Iowa left behind a scent of sheer entertainment in the air of Des Moines. Emphasising the undeniable qualities of this event and women’s golf, but particularly of team match play that consistently delivers the most exciting and dramatic of exhibitions for the game to showcase itself.
From the extraordinary back-nine surge of Lexi Thompson to stun Anna Nordqvist, or the battle of wills between Paula Creamer and Georgia Hall on Sunday, the Solheim Cup displayed the aggressive play and unpredictable shifts of fortune that define this format. When you consider that the biennial Ryder Cup boasts the greatest international reach of any event in golf – we should ask why more efforts haven’t been made to introduce further tournaments of this ilk into the mainstream.
It’s the most accessible of platforms for golf to be presented. Sport is at its purest when it becomes adversarial, whether that be in a contest between a pair of teams or individuals competing head-to-head. When it comes to the standard 72-hole stroke play across the various tours that saturates the airwaves each week on television to the point of banality, you only witness that combative dynamic when circumstances push the closing stages into becoming essentially a match between two players.
Think of the Duel in the Sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, or last summer’s thrilling battle at Royal Troon between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson. Two unforgettable championships. This year in the majors, Augusta was gripped by Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose trading blows, and few will forget the tumultuous final pairing of Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar in July’s Open at Royal Birkdale that illustrated how riveting golf can be when the wider field are discounted from reckoning.
Packed leaderboards can be unquestioningly enthralling, when the coverage cuts between each contender making a stride towards potential victory. We memorably saw that during the exhilarating Masters Sunday of 2011 that became an exhausting battle royal of birdies. Stroke play can produce sporting magic, but when you consider the truly great finishes in history, most of those immortal tournaments had descended into de facto match play over the closing holes.
For all the European Tour has experimented with innovative formats like GolfSixes, admirably looking to push variety, perhaps the secret for chief executive Keith Pelley to increasing awareness and revenue is to follow the principles of its most lucrative event – the Ryder Cup.
Before it became an indulgent playground for the rich and famous, the annual Dunhill Links was a thoroughly popular team event from 1985 until 2000. Bringing together 16 nations represented by three golfers, it was an enjoyable showpiece on the Old Course at St. Andrews and a welcome break from the tedium of the monthly grind on tour. Surely a Home Nations Cup featuring England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – a united entity in golf – would be an attractive proposition.
The LPGA – who counts on the Solheim Cup as its biggest week biennially – has attempted to draw attention with the International Crown, but what the game is most obviously lacking is a major contest that involves the dominant nation on the women’s side – South Korea. We had the relatively short-lived Lexus Cup, but things have changed a decade on. Putting together a match between the Republic and the United States (or indeed a Rest of the World team) would be a significant adrenaline shot to golf, especially throughout the emerging hotbed of Asia.
Tim Finchem established the Presidents Cup on the PGA Tour during the 1990s – an event that often seems unsure of its status – between America and the globe outside Europe – but although it hasn’t captured anything like the allure of its equivalents, it remains a fun diversion from the norm, and has certainly complemented the Ryder Cup with the bringing together and solidifying of U.S. teams and players. It appears utterly remiss that the women’s golf doesn’t have its own version of sorts. For all the largely overused and empty term of “growing the game” is bandied about, a development of this nature would have a genuine impact when it comes to that endeavour.
Golf is always looking for different ways to market itself in these changing days of media and public demand. However, shorter, quicker formats seem a lazy answer. When you reflect on the enthusiasm that we see during these contests between Europe and the United States each year, the game already has shown itself to have the most consumable of platforms. Team match play.
It’s the greatest of shows, as Annika said. Let’s have some more of it, please.
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