2011 in review: Top 10 Euro storylines

Europe's Suzann Pettersen of Norway celebrates on the 18th green after Europe beat the U.S to win the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in Dunsany near Dublin, on September 25, 2011. Europe won the tournament 15-13.

Europe's Suzann Pettersen of Norway celebrates on the 18th green after Europe beat the U.S to win the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in Dunsany near Dublin, on September 25, 2011. Europe won the tournament 15-13.

LONDON, England -The mood at the London Lancaster Hotel for the European Tour annual Christmas lunch was nearly giddy with excitement as Euro Tour chief executive George O’Grady toasted yet another banner European season. He had much to consider as he reflected on 12 months that saw European golf exceed the feats of 2010. O’Grady didn’t catalog the exploits of European golf in 2011. That’s my job. Here are my top 10 moments of the European season, and they aren’t all confined to the European Tour.

• • •

1. Europe wins the Solheim Cup

The most exciting tournament held in Europe this season was at Killeen Castle in Ireland. Europe won the Solheim Cup for the first time in four meetings. The last hour of this Solheim Cup was the ultimate cliffhanger. You couldn’t call the match either way. For probably the first time in the competition’s history, Europe had strength in depth and it showed over the final few singles matches. Even this seasoned hack got goosebumps. Take a bow Alison Nicholas and the European Team.

• • •

2. Luke Donald takes both money titles

Luke Donald was predicted to have a great future in golf when he was an amateur, but winning the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic probably wasn’t predicted. He’s a class act who deserves everything he’s attained. He also gives hope to all those who can’t bomb it 300 plus yards. Deserving of golfer of the year on both tours.

• • •

3. Darren Clarke wins the Open Championship

Clarke was a 200-1 shot with some British bookmakers to win the Open Championship. In fact, he was 28-1 to be low Irishman, and there were only four Irish players in the tournament. I’ve gone on record in the past as saying I wasn’t a fan of Clarke’s attitude but you have to give credit where credit’s due. It was a brilliant, emotional victory for a man who had the talent but just got in his own way in the past. A great win.

• • •

4. Rory McIlroy wins U.S. Open

After his Masters debacle, McIlroy proved the doubters wrong by romping away from the field at Congressional. He won his first major in style. Hopefully the first of many.

• • •

5. Underdog Great Britain and Ireland wins Walker Cup

Against superior odds Nigel Edwards captained the GB&I team to victory at Royal Aberdeen. The United States might have had the top four players in the world, but GB&I had grit and determination and handled both the Royal Aberdeen links and the atrocious elements much better than the U.S. team.

• • •

6. Donald/Westwood battle at BMW PGA Championship

What more could you ask for than the top two players battling it out for the title and the world number one in Europe’s flagship event. Donald prevailed in one of the best BMW PGA Championships ever.

• • •

photo

Tom Lewis after winning the Portugal Masters.

7. Tom Lewis bursts on scene

Those of us who cover amateur golf knew Lewis had bags of talent: we just didn’t think he would show it on the world’s biggest stage. To share the lead after the opening round of the Open Championship with a 65, a record for an amateur, made him a household name. He took the silver medal as leading amateur, helped GB&I win the Walker Cup, and then won his first pro tournament in his third event. A star is born? Hope so.

• • •

8. Lauren Taylor wins Ladies’ British Amateur

Amateur golf doesn’t get much coverage any more, and women’s amateur golf barely any at all. However, Taylor’s win at Royal Portrush was a huge achievement. At age 16, she became the youngest ever winner of the tournament. Watch for her when she tees it up for Baylor in college golf next September.

• • •

photo

Thomas Bjorn from Denmark kisses the trophy after winning the Omega European Masters Golf Tournament in Crans Montana, Switzerland, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011.

9. Thomas Bjorn wins three times

The Great Dane has had a great career, but no one thought at age 40 he’d win multiple events on the European Tour. He did, winning three times in a season for the first time in his career, and consecutive events. He even contended at The Open, finishing 4th.

• • •

10. Sandy Lyle elected to Hall of Fame

The Scot has never really received the same respect as the other members of Europe’s big six – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam. So to see him elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame was fitting. Seve might have started the European ball rolling, but Lyle’s victories in the Open Championship and Masters inspired legions of British golfers. He deserves to be in the Hall.

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