From the Monday afternoon tea party to Ariya Jutanugarn’s final putt on the 72nd hole, the 40th Ricoh Women’s British Open was an utterly jubilant celebration of the best in women’s golf.
It’s not the oldest major championship in women’s golf – that distinction goes to the US Women’s Open, which preceded the British Championship by some 30 years – but the Women’s British Open has a patina to it that the scrappy American Open Championship lacks.
I think it’s more than the venues, however, that creates the British Open’s unique ambiance of Continental sophistication. While the US Open was dominated by American players well into the 1980s, from the outset the British Open field has reflected golf’s global reach. From its inception, the British Championship attracted an international field and produced a culturally diverse group of champions.
A look at the front page of the 2016 Women’s British Open leaderboard tells much of the tale. Players from six different nations finished inside the top-five this year. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn led the top of the field, followed closely by American and 2014 Open Champion Mo Martin and Korea’s Mirim Lee, who shared the runner-up position. American Stacy Lewis, the 2013 Champion, Australian and 2002 Champion Karrie Webb, Korean Ha Na Jang, and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, the 2009 Champion, filled out the top five spots on the board.
The diversity of the field extends beyond nationality. At 46, Catriona Matthew was the oldest player among the top finishers and 20-year old Ariya Jutanugarn was the youngest. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb brought 76 pro wins to the tee at Woburn, eight of them major championship titles. Mo Martin has one victory on her resume.
You can find more signs of diversity in the field just by scrolling on down the board. LPGA rookie Megan Khang, an American by birth, daughter of Hmong immigrants, finished the Championship just outside the top-10, with a share of 11th place; and Ireland’s young star, Leona Maguire, spending her summer vacation playing some high-powered golf at Woburn and next in Rio before she goes back to Duke and her senior year on the Blue Devils’ team, took low amateur honors.
Neither new mom Linda Wessberg nor a very pregnant Liz Young made the cut, but motherhood didn’t stop them from teeing it up. After all, Catriona Matthew won the 2009 Women’s British Open 11 weeks after she gave birth to her second daughter. Despite the childcare challenges – unlike the LPGA, the LET doesn’t provide on-site childcare – motherhood and impending motherhood don’t put a stop to competition, nor does an impending marriage. Stacy Lewis was depending on her mother to coordinate the details of next week’s wedding while she battled to end her long winless streak.
There is a universality to the game of golf captured each year by the Women’s British Open. From the glittering Pro-Am to galleries so actively engaged in unfolding competition to the drama of the 72nd hole, it’s a special week in women’s golf. Apple Jutanugarn, as she waited for her daughter to sink that final putt and become Thailand’s first major champion, perfectly captures the essence of the week.
The Ladies Golf Union (LGU) gets a tip of my hat for nurturing the Women’s British Open much as we nurture small children who show great promise. And like those beloved children, the British Open has grown into maturity as the centerpiece of the LGU program.
The LGU held quite a lovely tea party at Woburn this year!
Elizabeth Bethel is a writer, sociologist, and an enthusiastic golfer who believes there is much to be learned about social life and individual character from playing the game of golf. Follow Beth online on her blog, Staying in the Short Grass.