When Dale Reid and Corinne Dibnah, a formidable professional partnership, won the Sunningdale Foursomes by a crushing margin six years ago, the ladies' handicap allowance (Germaine Greer was not on the committee) was subsequently reduced. The fairer sex have not had a look-in since although they came close yesterday.
This year the ladies, who use the same tees as the men, enjoyed full difference of handicap as opposed to three-quarters and the restoration of privileges gave the Scottish professional pairing of Gillian Stewart and Julie Forbes every chance in the final. However, after launching a strong comeback against the young amateurs Luke Donald and Michael O'Connor, their putting let them down over the closing holes. "That was the worst we've played all week," Stewart lamented.
Donald and O'Connor, who had put out the holders, Richard Boxall and Derrick Cooper, in the fourth round, played off scratch, conceding four strokes to the ladies and they finally prevailed 2 and 1. The lads received a gift voucher to the value of pounds 200, the ladies a discreet cheque. Nobody asks how much and in any case what competitors enter this tournament for is to see their names inscribed in gold lettering, for posterity, on the honours board in the clubhouse.
Even so, the pressure of the occasion seemed to affect all the finalists. Donald, an England boys international who is studying for A levels at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, and O'Connor, who spends most of his time playing golf at Stoke Poges, won the sixth, seventh,eighth and 10th to go four up. At the eighth, a par three of 172 yards, Cool Hand Luke hit a four-iron to within six inches of the hole but elsewhere they were grateful for the disconcerting habit of Stewart and Forbes to take three putts.
The ladies went to the turn in 40 but won the 11th, 12th and 14th to cut the deficit to one hole. They were in the driving seat at both the 15th and 16th but took three putts on both holes, which were halved, and when they walked to the 17th tee one down and with their allocation of strokes exhausted, the game was up. The match lasted three and three-quarter hours, an inordinately long time for foursomes and had they been playing a Tour event they would almost certainly have been fined for slow play. It is just as well they were not playing fourballs for they would probably have needed floodlights to get round in time.
In the morning, John Morgan, whose career has had a renaissance on the European Seniors Tour, and his partner Mark Landrum were no match for Stewart and Forbes who eased into the final with a 5 and 4 victory. The ladies, in receipt of five shots, got off to a flier with a birdie at the first, and a net birdie at the second by which time they were two up. A birdie two at the fourth, where Stewart hit a 5 wood to within eight feet of the flag, won them another hole and when Forbes holed from 25 feet at the ninth, Morgan and Landrum were under the cosh.
SUNNINGDALE FOURSOMES (Sunningdale GC, Berks) (prefix denotes handicap): Semi-finals: G Stewart (Sotogrande) & J Forbes (Sco) (4) bt J Morgan (Forest Pines) & M Landrum (Royal Liverpool) (+1) 5 & 4. L Donald (Beaconsfield) & M O'Connor (Stoke Poges) (Scr) bt S Whiffin & J Jones (Enfield) (+1) 2 & 1. Final: Donald and O'Connor bt Stewart and Forbes 2 and 1.