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  • Alistair Tait

The Best of European Golf in 2021

I put the European Solheim Cup team number one in the Association of Golf Writers’ poll for the 2021 Association of Golf Writers Trophy.

Quite right too.

The prestigious award determines “the players and/or team who, in the opinion of the majority of members, has/have made the most outstanding contribution to golf during the preceding 12 months.”

Catriona Matthew’s side did that in spades, and receives the AGW prize, which Matthew will collect at next year’s AGW Dinner during the Open Championship.

The European team that won 15-13 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, took 47% of the number one votes from AGW golf writers. Jon Rahm finished second with 33% of number one votes. Richard Bland polled eight percent of the vote.

Matthew made history by becoming the first European captain to successfully defend the trophy. She then did the wise thing and retired, leaving Suzzan Petersen in charge of the next match. The Norwegian has big golf shoes to fill.

Rahm’s U.S. Open win in another year would have earned him the AGW award. It was a fantastic performance to earn his first major trophy. Who’d have thought, say, 15-20 years ago a Spaniard would win a U.S. Open? Grinders usually win America’s national championship, not artistes like Seve Ballesteros or Jose Maria Olazabal.

Bland’s third place finish in the AGW poll reflects a certain sentimentality among some golf writers. His BetFred British Masters victory was a fantastic achievement because it comes so late in his career. It propelled him to a career high of 11th on the Race to Dubai. It’s further proof of the old adage that says patience is a virtue. It pays to persevere in this game.

Anna Nordqvist’s victory in the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie should have pushed her further up the poll. I chose her ahead of Bland. Although she already possessed two major titles, she hadn’t won since the 2017 Evian Championship. It was brilliant performance to hold off the trio of Georgia Hall, Madelene Sagstrom and Lizette Salas.

The above four performances are the main highlights of the past year, but others deserve honourable mention too.

Stephen Dodd probably didn’t receive any first place votes, but 2021 will go down as one of the best in his career. The Welshman owns three European trophies, including the 2005 Irish Open. However, the laidback Dodd will relish his Senior Open success at Sunningdale. Partly because it gives him a ticket to the lucrative riches on the Champions Tour. Dodd is homer who likes nothing better than to spend time with his wife walking their dogs, but he’d be a fool not to take up Champions Tour membership to top up his pension.

Just as Dodd will look fondly on 2021, so will Louise Duncan. The Scot had the year of her young life, winning the Women’s Amateur Championship at Barassie, and then collecting the Smyth Salver as leading amateur in the Women’s Open with a T10 finish. It’s going to be interesting to see how she fares in the pro game. Indeed, she and fellow Scot Hannah Darling, 12th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking with Duncan ranked 28th, look like excellent prospects for the future of Scottish golf.

Laird Shepherd deserves a mention on this list for his Amateur Championship win at Nairn. He was dead and buried against finalist Monty Scowsill but came from eight down to win in extra holes. Another lesson in perseverance. While wondering what his future holds, you have to consider what the experience has done for Scowsill? Hopefully he bounces back and realises his dream of a career in the professional game.

Bet the English women who won the European Team Championships at Royal County Down didn’t garner one vote in the AGW poll, but they deserve to be in any list of great achievements this past year. Emily Toy, Lianna Bailey, Annabell Fuller, Rosie Belsham, Charlotte Heath and Caley McGinty are all great prospects for the future of English golf.

If Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard were British, they would perhaps receive far more column inches and publicity than they probably receive in Denmark. They are the real deal. Both won this year, with Rasmus notching his third European Tour win, the Omega European Masters, and Nicolai winning the Italian Open. The European Tour is blessed to have these twins. It would be no surprise if they paired in the Ryder Cup sooner rather than later. They pose a serious threat to Thomas Bjorn’s status as Denmark’s most successful golfer.

Losing teams usually don’t make top 10 lists, but the defeated Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team makes mine. Everyone, me included, expected Stuart Wilson’s side to get duffed up royally at Seminole Golf Club. Not only did the American team have home course advantage, it was far stronger on paper. Yet the GB&I boys put in a brilliant performance to come within two points of winning the trophy.

Here is my top list of performances by European golfers in 2021.

Tait’s top 10 for 2021

  1. Europe’s Solheim Cup victory

  2. Rahm’s U.S. Open win

  3. Nordqvist’s Women’s Open triumph

  4. Richard Bland winning in his 478th start

  5. Stephen Dodd’s Senior Open victory

  6. Louise Duncan’s Women’s Amateur win

  7. Laird Shepherd’s remarkable comeback

  8. England’s winning European Championships team

  9. The Højgaard twins win on European Tour

  10. GB&I comes close at Seminole

#JustSaying:It took a lot of guts to go back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old. … When I put my mind to something I can just get my head down and go and do it. That’s what I did." Richard Bland

Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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