They say you never remember who finishes second, but the Great Britain quartet of Michelle Thomson, Meghan MacLaren, Liam Johnston and Connor Syme provided an example why that it is not necessarily the case in the inaugural European Golf Team Championships at Gleneagles.
In the first mixed event in professional golf – the innovative concept brought out easily the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the week so far after three days of separate men’s and women’s teams events at the Perthshire venue – Iceland claimed the gold medals and deservedly so after emerging triumphant following a gripping foursomes stroke-play contest.
However, they were pushed all the way by that home quartet, consisting of three Scots in Thomson, Johnston and Syme, and MacLaren, who is proud to call herself “quarter Scottish”. They were the third Great Britain string but outperformed the other teams, which included newly-crowned Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall, as well as Catriona Matthew and Laura Davies.
“It feels unbelievable,” admitted Thomson, a 30-year-old from Aberdeen, after the quartet received their medals to a huge roar that echoed down towards Glen Devon. “Never in my wildest dreans did I think we’d have a chance of a silver medal. It is an incredible feeling.”
An hour or so earlier, the former policewoman had been close to tears after seeing her eagle putt from off the green at the 18th fail to get up a steep bank and come back to her feet. The smile returned to her face when playing partner Syme retrieved the situation by making a much better job with his effort in the alternate shot format and left her with a tap in for par.
From almost the identical spot in the group before, Valdis Thora Jonsdottir holed for a closing birdie and third one in a row. That late thrust saw her and Birgir Hafthorsson sign for a 70. Playing in the penultimate group, Olafia Kristinsdottir and Axel Boasson, having reeled off four birdies in a row from the second, added a 71. With a three-under-par total, they pipped Great Britain 3 by a shot, with Sweden 2 pipping Spain for bronze at the first extra hole.
Iceland, you might be surprised to hear, is a golfing hotbed. It has 70 courses, which equates to one for every 5,000 for a country with a population of 330,000. Ten per cent of the population play golf, which is the biggest per capita in the world and almost twice what it is in Scotland.
“It was all a bit confusing at the start,” said Jonsdottir, a 28-year-old of the change in format from earlier in the week. “But it was great fun and I’d like to see more events like this.” Boasson, a 28-year-old, added of the historic success: “It was something special.”
Hafthorsson and Kristinsdottir come from the same town with a population of just 5,000 and are related.
“It was great fun out there,” said Hafthorsson, a 42-year-old who won on the Challenge Tour last year. “I had no idea I was putting for a gold medal,” added 25-year-old Kristinsdottir, the first Icelandic player to qualify for the LPGA Tour, of trickling a birdie putt down to the side of the hole at the last to seal victory.
Margins are fine at the top level in sport. Syme probably couldn’t have hit a better second shot at the par-5 18th only to get unlucky as it just toppled off the green. “It probably only needed another foot to be perfect,” said Thomson.
Syme, the youngest of the quartet at 23, said he was “chuffed” with a silver medal and his team-mates were in agreement. Three birdie putts in a row – two from Thomson and one from Syme – from the eighth totalled 100 feet. MacLaren and Johnston also played their part by recovering well from a double-bogey 6 at the first.
This ground-breaking event was a resounding success. Paul Lawrie, an ambassador for the tournament, reckons it should be a taste of things to come in the European game.
“This is absolutely a good idea,” he said, speaking at Gleneagles. “The mixed event in particular is really cool. Playing together is just phenomenal. It’s something we can think about going forward and doing more. An event with everyone playing together every day. Why not?”