Europeans to rely on experience

Andy Farrell at St Pierre, Chepstow, looks ahead to this weekend's Solheim Cup
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The Independent Online
The opening ceremony of the fourth Solheim Cup match went off with the usual pomp and circumstance. Bagpipes were played, a male-voice choir sang (we are in Wales, just), and the Red Arrows flew past under the low-level cloud, almost decapitating a Sky cameraman and a couple of photographers on a tower behind the 16th hole.

Everything, it seems, has been thought about. Two years ago, at The Greenbrier, the Scottish flag was replaced with that of Nova Scotia, but Kathryn Marshall, one of three European rookies, raised the genuine St Andrews article yesterday. There is even a new bridge across the Severn. With 15,000 spectators expected each day, it would not have done for the old bridge to have been closed because of high winds.

A good job, too. A chill breeze of some strength has been making the European team feel at home. Not that the Americans have arrived in T-shirts and shorts. "It is a misconception that American professionals never play golf in bad weather," the American captain, Judy Rankin, said. Nevertheless, the last time they faced such conditions, at the LPGA Championship in May, Laura Davies walked away with the title.

Davies, the world No 1, is joined by Annika Sorenstam and Lotta Neumann, the Nos 2 and 3, in a European team that is hoping to make the most of home support. In the three previous matches, the away side has yet to win and it was Europe's victory at Dalmahoy four years ago that has quickly established the fixture as a competitive encounter.

It is the same format as the Ryder Cup, but there can be no cynical use of the "envelope rule" if a player is injured and has to sit out the singles on Sunday, earning half a point. There is no envelope rule, so no show, no point. This may concern Brandie Burton, who severely sprained her right ankle during a fall on Tuesday but has been picked to continue her unbeaten partnership with Dottie Pepper from The Greenbrier. They face a re-match from the foursomes two years ago when they play Neumann and Helen Alfredsson in the bottom match of the morning session today.

Mickey Walker has trusted in established pairings for the first series of foursomes. "It is a form of the game so rarely played by professionals that you need to go with experience," she said. The combinations of Sorenstam and Nilsmark, Neumann and Alfredsson and Davies and Alison Nicholas were all predetermined, despite talk from Davies that she might be switching. "Laura knew she was always going to play with Alison," Walker confirmed. "They are unbeaten in foursomes. There is no reason to split them. Laura just likes a bit of fun."

Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, playing for the first time since 1990, and Dale Reid form the fourth pairing, meaning all three rookies, Marshall, Joanne Morley and Lisa Hackney, sit out the morning with Trish Johnson. But those four will come into contention for the afternoon fourballs. "The only problem with my fourball pairings is that I have so many options," Walker said. "It is a wonderful problem to have."

Changes are likely given the tiring nature of playing 36 holes a day in windy conditions. Though Davies is playing her ninth tournament in a row, Walker has no concerns about playing her both times. "If Laura does not play in the fourballs, she would probably be playing football, followed by cricket, followed by tennis. To play 18 holes in the morning and 18 in the afternoon is probably an easy day for her."

Walker is in her fourth match as captain, but while Rankin is a newcomer, she correctly guessed that Davies would be out in the top two matches. The strength of the United States line-up is such that Betsy King and Pat Bradley, two LPGA Hall of Famers, are missing. Burton goes out last to give her a chance to warm up, and though another player is on standby in case her ankle flares up overnight, Rankin is convinced she will not be needed. "There is not even a 10 per cent chance that Brandie will not play," Rankin said.

SOLHEIM CUP (Europe v United States, St Pierre, Chepstow) Draw for opening foursomes today (Europe names first): 0800 A Sorenstam and C Nilsmark v K Robbins and M McGann; 0815 L Davies and A Nicholas v P Sheehan and R Jones; 0830 M L De Lorenzi and D Reid v B Daniel and V Skinner; 0845 H Alfredsson and L Neumann v D Pepper and B Burton.