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Solheim Cup Preview

Dermot Gilleece looks back at some interesting family ties to this year's LPGA Cup

Posted Aug 24, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

The Solheim Cup

With the announcement of the US Solheim Cup team, Ireland is preparing for the greatest influx of top American women players to hit its shores in 27 years.  Competitors for the biennial joust with Europe at Killeen Castle on September 23rd to 25th, revive memories of a very different event north of the Border at Clandeboye GC in October 1984.

That was when the Smirnoff Irish Ladies Open carried a prize fund of £100,000 which was the richest in the history of tournament golf on the island, for men or women.  Another key element in attracting a high-quality international field was the fact that it was scheduled for the week after the Hitachi Ladies British Open on the Duke’s Course at Woburn where, predictably, the Americans turned up in considerable strength for an event that was won by Japan’s Ayako Okamoto.

Clandeboye was also brought to mind in the wake of the recent PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, when former LPGA star, Pat Bradley, was interviewed on the Golf Channel about the remarkable victory by her nephew, Keegan Bradley, after a play-off with Jason Dufner. As it happened, the background sound of Pat Bradley ringing a bell was to be heard on television and she explained it was something her parents did for her after no fewer than 36 professional victories.  For this New England family devoted to its Irish-American roots, however, there was one notable disappointment.

Ironically, it came at Clandeboye. “This is my first visit to Ireland and I feel I’ve come home,” said Bradley at the time. “I have a lot of relatives in Ireland. My mother’s maiden name was O’Brien and my grandparents were born here (Ballycotton, west Cork) and this tournament offers an opportunity of doing something for the Bradley name in Irish golf.” She went on: “In was in my parents’ home in Westford, Massachusetts that the bell in their back porch was tolled for the first time when I won the Girls Talk Classic on the LPGA Tour in 1976.”
                
Still, a coveted win eluded her in a field which included such leading fellow Americans as Kathy Whitworth, Becky Pearson, Donna Caponi, Betsy King, Jackie Bertsch, Lauri Rinker and Robin Walton.  The leaderboard was dominated by US challengers with one exception.  Battling among them was the glamorous Australian, Jan Stephenson, who wore a particularly fetching mauve outfit when edging into a share of ninth place on the final day.

After a disappointing third-round 72, Bradley was tied second with Pearson, two strokes behind the evergreen, Whitworth, who carded a sparkling 69 on the Saturday. Whitworth, who was then 45 and had been leading money-winner on the LPGA on no fewer than eight occasions, showed no sign of relinquishing her prominent position in the game when going on to complete the challenge with typical efficiency.  A closing 72 for a winning aggregate of 285 gave her top prize money of £22,500, two strokes clear of Pearson and Bradley in a share of second place.  This marked an astonishing 87th professional career win for Whitworth, who later turned to golf-course designing with comparable skill.

The only time since then that America’s leading women displayed their competitive skills in Ireland was in 1996 at Killarney.  On that occasion, they were amateur members of the Curtis Cup team which lost to a rampant British and Irish line-up by 11 ½ to 6 ½.  Members of that US team who would later rise to prominence in the professional game were Christie Kerr and Kelli Kuehne 

Meanwhile, Keegan Bradley could yet rectify a notable family omission. “Someday I want to play in the Irish Open, I really do,” he said after his Atlanta triumph.  Needless to remark, like his illustrious aunt who happens to be an honorary life member of The Old Head of Kinsale, he will be most welcome, especially given his recently-acquired status as a Major winner.     

- Dermot Gilleece

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