CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | There could scarcely have been a more poignant scene outside the recorders’ hut after Anna Nordqvist won the AIG Women’s Open by a shot from Lizette Salas, Madelene Sagström and Georgia Hall. Nordqvist and Kevin McAlpine, the 2006 Scottish Amateur champion and the player-cum-caddie she married in March, were enjoying the happiest of hugs while, not too many yards away, Nanna Koerstz Madsen was being consoled by her fiancé, Nicki Hansen. And my, did she need consoling.
Madsen and Nordqvist had shared the overnight lead on 9-under par and, after finally shrugging off the rest, they had arrived at 12-under par apiece at the 72nd tee. Nordqvist, of Sweden, was safely about the green in two when the Dane, who had but one LET win to her name and one on the Symetra Tour, knocked her second into a greenside bunker before following up with the deadliest of shanks. She closed with the gamest of double-bogey 6s and a short-lived smile as what might have been her first major switched to a share of fifth place with Minjee Lee.
All week, Nordqvist, whose third career major this was and whose Saturday 65 was the low round of the championship, looked a different person to the Anna of old. She talked of how COVID-19 had been “a blessing and a curse” at the same time in that it had enabled her to get over the glandular fever which had hung around for three years and more. Yet McAlpine, the son of a former Dundee United football goal-keeper, did not deny that he had helped to bring the player out of her shell. “She was reserved, very quiet for a long time, but all that’s changed now,” he said.
What is more, it helped that his family – they are all based in Dundee – were there to lend support to his bride as were members of her own family. Nordqvist revelled in having so much support away from home.
Yet the player who attracted the largest crowd for most of the day was none other than Louise Duncan, the 21-year-old amateur who had a week of weeks with scores of 68-73-68-72 to finish on 7-under par and in a share of 10th place. To think that it was only a couple of months ago that Duncan came from nowhere to win the British Women’s Amateur at Barassie.
Yet the truth is that she had not come from nowhere. She is a golf scholar at Stirling University where Dean Robertson, the coach, had vowed to make his players better during the pandemic, and that though they were hardly playing any competitive golf.
Robertson’s secret is to run a mixed squad rather than a girls’ squad and a boys’ squad. The difference it made to the young women was soon apparent. They started to hit further, and how satisfying it was for Robertson to see the result last week as he caddied for Duncan. On Saturday evening, she was ranked second among the best players in the world in the driving distance stats, though it goes without saying that her perfect swing had not a little to do with it.
The Scot looked the proverbial bag of nerves on the first tee Sunday. But, as she said on Saturday night, the nerves in that bag are good ones rather than bad. She opened with a scorcher of a tee shot before knocking her second to 7 feet and holing for a birdie which left her supporters dripping with pride as she climbed within one stroke of the lead. Stirling University golfers were there in strength but so, too, was the swimming contingent which takes in her boyfriend, Jordan Hughes.
Meanwhile, another swimmer in attendance worth a mention was Duncan Scott, who won three silver medals and one gold in Tokyo.
At the start of the day, there were all sorts of questions going the rounds. Could Duncan, at the end of her round, declare herself a professional and collect the money. The answer, here, was only if she had declared herself a professional before hitting from the first tee. Next question: If she won, could she be chosen for the Solheim Cup side. No again. She would have needed to be a member of the LET.
As it is, Duncan will be teeing up in the Curtis Cup in Wales on Thursday of this week.
Away from the ever-changing happenings on the leaderboard, two items of news stood out. ...
Salas was her usual solid and reliable self. She had a putt at the 18th to join the 12-under brigade and the crowd looked as disappointed as she did when the ball slipped by. As for Nelly Korda, the world No 1, she was probably too mentally weary after all her recent heroics to give of her best. She finished on 6-under par, with fellow American Lexi Thompson on 5-under par.
The championship was as much of a triumph for the R&A as was the Open at Royal St George’s. Mind you, it was as well the women’s bubble that allowed them to play Carnoustie in the time-honoured fashion in a week when Bubble No 2 inmates, in trying to get from A to B, were being asked early on to do the equivalent of playing the 18th hole via the town centre.
Away from the ever-changing happenings on the leaderboard, two items of news stood out. The first concerned the increase in the prize fund, with the total up by $1.3 million to $5.8 million, and the winner’s spoils to a handsome $870,000. Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, said that this was not a race vis-à-vis the other majors. Yet there cannot but be an element of that, just as there was when Augusta National announced in 2012 that they were about to take their first women members without giving a hint of what was to come to other all-male establishments such as the R&A and Muirfield.
Laura Davies, when getting word of the swelling prize fund, reacted precisely as you would have expected. She grinned, hugely, before adding, “Just a pity it didn’t happen 35 years ago.” This, of course, was a reference to how she had collected a mere £9,000 for winning the title in 1986.
No less of a move in the right direction was the news – it in fact came out in 2014 without making the splash it deserved – that Carnoustie boasts something just as precious as the toughest links on the Open Championship rota. Namely, a five-hole course which the locals can play free of charge.
Top: Anna Nordqvist