The role of pioneers is not always appreciated. Breaking new ground means facing new difficulties, breaking down some walls, challenging preconceived ideas, standing up to people who seem annoying when society evolves. This was experienced by Elvira Larrazábal, the first professional in Spanish women’s golf, at a time when the fact of pursuing her dream profession closed the doors to competition, and also by Marta Figueras-Dotti, the first great Spanish golf star and current president of the Ladies European Tour, who fought unspeakably hard to make a place for herself on the international scene and shone on both sides of the Atlantic.
Thanks to the efforts of these and other players (such as Tania Abitbol, Xonia Wunsch or Amaia and Marina Arruti, winners of international titles) and the high level exhibited by Spanish amateur golfers in competitions all over the world, the perspective was changing in a country that was used to focusing only on the successes of the great male champions. However, we could remember the dreaded “Y2K effect” that made us cringe at the turn of the millennium (without going into semantic issues) to refer to the date of the turning point of women’s professional golf in Spain. That year saw the debut of a Spaniard, Raquel Carriedo, in the Solheim Cup, the biennial competition between Europe and the United States created in 1990 by the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour and backed by Karstein Solheim, the driving force behind Karstein Manufacturing Corporation (the company that markets the PING brand). The presence of the player from Zaragoza in the women’s team tournament par excellence, which in 2000 was held in Loch Lomond, Scotland, was a definitive boost for Spanish sport.
However, Raquel Carriedo, who was starting to make her mark on the international scene and had already achieved a good number of second places on the circuit, arrived at a difficult time for a European team that had lost four times in the first five editions. The Scottish captain, Dale Reid, made several changes and, in addition to those who qualified on merit (England’s Trish Johnson, Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas, France’s Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, Spain’s Raquel Carriedo and Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam and Sophie Gustafson), she added four more Swedes and her compatriot Janice Moody in an attempt to find the perfect balance in the European team.
“I remember to get in the first Solheim without having won a tournament yet. I was second many times, but I didn’t have any victories under my belt and I felt strange compared to the others,” recalls Carriedo. “You always think it’s difficult to beat the American team, but Dale Reid gave us strength and confidence at all times, and that we could do it stroke for stroke until the end. She was very attentive to the rookies, those of us who were participating for the first time, who seemed more nervous and more out of place. Laura Davies was the same. She was very attentive to me at all times, very affectionate, and she reassured me a lot. They behaved very well, as if they were our own mothers… firstly because of their age and, secondly, because of their experience”.
Raquel Carriedo made her debut in the Solheim Cup (playing, therefore, the first match of a Spanish player in this competition) on the second day of play in the fourballs day, with Laura Davies as her partner and against the Americans Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel. The Aragonese player won her first draw, the first half point achieved by a golfer from our country in this competition and, despite the tough conditions and falling in the singles, she enjoyed the historic victory of the European team, the second in the Solheim Cup´s history.
“From that Solheim Cup I remember that I was exhausted because it was very hard because of the cold and the rain. Play was suspended because of the rain very often, we finished at night and after we finished playing we had to go to the press conferences. The next day you had to get up at six in the morning to finish the remaining holes… It was a very tough experience and we ended up exhausted. That was the memory I have: how tough the competition was, even tougher than the victory, and we won. The physical and mental fatigue stayed with me, but I came out stronger as a player. Thanks to the Solheim experience you learn a lot and acquire a lot of skills. It helps you compete and perform better in tournaments where you feel more pressure.
As well as helping to “build” her game, especially in the psychological and competitive sphere, the Solheim Cup also brought her together with a partner who proved fundamental to her professional career.
“At Loch Lomond I was caddied for the first time by Andy Dearden, Marina Arruti’s husband, with whom I worked for the next few years of my career and with whom I won all my victories. At the Solheim Cup I realised that a professional caddie can help you a lot, as it turned out. In all the tournaments I had finished second I went without a professional caddie, and after I hired Andy everything changed”.
Carriedo was also aware of the importance of the Solheim Cup when she saw how much the Swedish Annika Sorenstam, who at the time already had three majors and had been the best player on the LPGA Tour for three seasons, enjoyed her victory. Despite her laurels, she had not managed to win a Solheim Cup until 2000.
“That victory probably meant more to her than it did to me. For me it meant a big qualitative leap in my game and in my career, a before and after, although I didn’t experience the victory as such. However, at the next Solheim, when I already had more experience and victories under my belt, I played differently. I played less shy and with more confidence and freedom, capable of beating anyone. In the first one I was a bit shy, but however it helped me a lot.
Equality was the usual pattern in the following editions and Europe arrived at the Interlachen Country Club in 2002 with Dale Reid back at the helm and additions such as Iben Tinning, Karine Icher, Maria Hjorth, Suzann Pettersen and Paula Martí. Raquel Carriedo, after the boost that came with the victory in the 2000 Solheim Cup, shone in the 2001 season (in which she won the order of merit and achieved several victories on the LET) and even came close to victory in the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open. Now, the Spaniard faced another remarkable challenge: to repeat her great performance in front of a hostile crowd.
“Americans are very patriotic and they live the competition. I expected it, but it was very different to what I experienced in Scotland. The crow there was very knowledgeable, but it was less intense,” says Carriedo, who nevertheless has great memories of that edition. “The Solheim Cup meant a big qualitative leap in my game and in my career, a before and after. At the 2002 Solheim Cup, when I already had more experience and victories under my belt, I played in a different way, less shy and with more confidence and freedom. I considered myself capable of beating anyone. I enjoyed that edition much more. I saw where I was with my feet on the ground, whereas in the first one I was on a cloud. In the second one I was more focused, I had more confidence and I played much better”.
Carriedo dazzled in the fourballs on the second day with Karine Icher as partner against a stellar pair, Cristie Kerr and Rosie Jones.
“I will always remember that game because I think it was the best one I have ever played in my entire life. Cristie Kerr came up to me in the middle of the second half and said ‘we can juggle, we’re not going to beat you today’. It’s one of those days when you have magic in your hands and you hit it from anywhere… Karine Icher, my partner, was freaking out and we were high-fiving all the time. We won narrowly, but they were two very tough opponents.
Despite the overall defeat, the Aragonese player left the United States with a great feeling and unforgettable memories.
“The best thing about the Solheim Cup is the friendships that comes out of it. Europe is a continent, not a country, and it should be easier for the Americans to bond. However, we Europeans managed to forge a great team spirit. I also have to remind myself the experience that this competition gives and the experience you gain, which you can use forever,” recapitulates Raquel Carriedo.
Although it was from a distance, Raquel Carriedo was also aware of the impact that her presence in the Solheim Cup was having in Spain at a time when it was rare to find golf in the mainstream media.
“Although women’s golf was not widely followed at that time, I did have the feeling that we were doing something important and that doors were opening, as the news had repercussions. I have many clippings from that time, President Aznar sent me a telegram and then called me to play… Although it cannot be compared to the impact that the Solheim Cup now has on television, some barriers were beginning to fall,” Carriedo recalls.
Many other memories and even some unfulfilled dreams are left behind, as Raquel Carriedo soon left international competition to focus on her family and other areas of her life. Looking back and remembering her participation in the Solheim Cup, she confesses that she would have loved to play another edition or continue competing on the circuit, although she is by no means renouncing the path she chose. In any case, the player from Zaragoza was the first of the seven Spaniards who have played in the Solheim Cup, and her work was fundamental in popularising in Spain a competition that our country will host for the first time in 2023 at Finca Cortesín (Andalusia, Costa del Sol). Because of this, both the players who have followed in her wake and all golf fans should be very grateful to her.