Last year’s victorious European Solheim Cup team featured five players who all had one thing in common: they were all recent winners of the Womens Amateur Championship.
Celine Boutier (2015), Georgia Hall (2013), Azahara Munoz (2009), Anna Nordqvist (2008) and Carlota Ciganda (2007) helped Europe defeat the United States at Gleneagles in arguably the greatest Solheim Cup ever.
Five of 12 is a pretty good return from the Womens Amateur, which was scheduled to take place this week at Kilmarnock (Barassie). It will now take place at West Lancs Golf Club August 25-30, with Kilmarnock set for the 2021 championship.
Contrast Europe’s 2018 winning Ryder Cup team. Only one of Thomas Bjorn’s players had an Amateur Championship victory to his name: Sergio Garcia won the 1998 Amateur at Muirfield. Tommy Fleetwood deserves an asterisk: he lost in the 2008 final at Turnberry to Dutchman Reinier Saxton.
Jose Maria Olazabal is the only other player in recent years to win the Amateur and go on to play in the Ryder Cup. Olazabal defeated Colin Montgomerie in the 1984 final at Formby.
What does two winners since 1984 to play in the Ryder Cup against five champions since 2007 to play in the Solheim tell us about the relative merits of the Amateur Championships? Is it a mere anomaly? Or does the Womens Amateur Championship give us a better indication of future accomplishments than the men’s version?
Ciganda’s defeated Nordqvist 4&3 at Alwoodley in 2007. It was Nordqvist’s second straight runner-up. Nordqvist made it third time lucky the following year at North Berwick when she bettered compatriot Caroline Hedwall 3&2. Hedwall was at Gleneagles last year, too.
I was lucky enough to cover the Women’s Amateur from 2004-2007. I managed to persuade my editor at Golfweek we needed to cover both the premier amateur championships on this side of the pond, not just the men’s. It wasn’t long before the women’s championship got pulled for financial reasons. The men’s followed last year when the then Golfweek editor decided covering the Amateur Championship at Portmarnock was just a tad too expensive. It brought 20 straight years of covering the championship crashing to an end. So much for Golfweek’s proud history of covering the most important amateur events. It’s what happens when you put people in charge with very little golf knowledge. Hey ho.
Anyway, I remember back in 2007 thinking Ciganda had a far better future in the women’s game than that year’s Amateur champion had in men’s golf. So it’s proved. Drew Weaver won 2007 Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham. Nice guy, but he’s still trying to find a foothold on the PGA Tour. He’s currently on the Korn Ferry Circuit.
Ciganda was still in high school, looking forward to life in college golf. She could have named the school of her choice, she was that good. Here’s what I wrote 13 years ago:
“Spain’s Carlota Ciganda is going to make a big hit in college golf when she joins the collegiate circuit. With a game that features 300 yard drives, a beautiful wedge game and a silky putting touch, she will look good in most college programs.”
She ended up at Arizona State where, among other accolades, she made history by becoming the first player to win back-to-back Pac-10 Championships in 2009 and 2010. She has gone on to play in four Solheim Cups and has two LPGA wins.
I labelled Nordqvist the “Ice Maiden” when I watched her play in those two finals; she looked so calm under pressure. She just lost to better players. I wasn’t surprised when she won the following year. She’s now played in six Solheim Cups, won eight LPGA tournaments including two majors – the 2009 LPGA Championship and 2017 Evian Championship.
Hall is also a major winner, the 2018 Ricoh Women’s British Open, and has played in the last two Solheim matches.
Munoz is a four-time Solheim player with one LPGA victory. Boutier made her Solheim Cup debut last year after earning her maiden LPGA win in the ISPS Handa Vic Open.
The crop of men’s Amateur champions since 2007 can’t even come close to the above. None have made it to a Ryder Cup while only two have gone on to European Tour wins. Matteo Manassero parlayed four European Tour victories from his 2009 Amateur win, while 2010 champion Jin Jeong won the 2013 ISPS Handa Perth International. Sadly, both are now struggling.
Seems pretty obvious women are winning the battle of the sexes in recent Amateur Championships. Why? Answers on a postcard please.