Golf: Davies riled by threat to Europe team

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The Independent Online
ONLY ONE thing irritated Laura Davies more than America's 16-12 victory at Muirfield Village or the antics of Dottie Pepper. And that is the suggestion, mentioned in the American press even before the home side won the Solheim Cup for the fourth time in five matches, that the transatlantic encounter should be expanded to include players from other countries.

The notion promoted by some is that Northern America should take on the Rest of the World, thereby including the Canadians who play on the LPGA Tour as well as leading world players such as Australia's Karrie Webb and the Korean sensation, Se Ri Pak.

"I take it as a personal insult every time I am asked this question," Davies said. "I wouldn't play in a Rest of the World team. The idea is an insult to everyone on the European team. You would not guess how much this has pissed me off.

"In four year's time, the question will be asked the other way round. The Americans will be asking if they want the Canadians and Koreans. We don't want them."

Jim Ritts, the commissioner of the LPGA Tour, suggested he was keen to develop other international competitions to include players from other countries, such as a version of the President's Cup, in which the United States play an international team minus the Europeans.

"If they want a First Lady's Cup then I am sure it would be fun - I might even go and watch," said Davies.

But the message was: Don't mess with the Solheim Cup. "The fact that Jack Nicklaus is prepared to loan us his course elevates the Solheim Cup," Davies said. "The Solheim deserves to be played on great courses and in front of big crowds. The gallery this week was great, loud but fair. The whole week was great, apart from the fact that we lost."

Ritts, a member of the executive committee of the Solheim Cup, thought there would be no rash decisions made on the basis of one match but would not rule out future changes so that the event remained "dramatic and highly competitive".

The event has only been around for eight years and has perhaps expanded too quickly to replicate the Ryder Cup format. This European team arrived in Ohio with high expectations.

They had some of the best players in the world and Davies, Helen Alfredsson, the world No 1 Annika Sorenstam and Lotta Neumann proved it by winning the first four singles when Pia Nilsson, their captain, needed something dramatic for the Europeans to get back into the match after trailing by five points after two days.

There was also greater strength in depth, as shown by only their second victory in the singles, 61/2 51/2, and by Lisa Hackney defeating the Hall of Famer Betsy King 6 and 5. But while this American team had fewer star names than previous years - players who the Europeans knew as heroines growing up - they may have been stronger for the lack of any weak links.

"This team had more heart than any team I have been on," said Dottie Pepper, the only undefeated player in the match. "On the back nine, every player gutted it out, win, lose or draw." But that did not disguise the essential difference in the teams. "We played the better golf," Pepper said.

The captains made an interesting match-up, Nilsson the professional coach against Judy Rankin, the been-there, done-it former player.

Rankin stole a march thanks to her role as an on-course commentator for the TV network which televises the Memorial Tournament.

Rankin said prior to the match that this was a thinking golfer's course and had gone to the trouble of compiling a booklet for each of her players in which Nicklaus, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Curtis Strange and Hale Irwin had offered detailed thoughts on how to play each of the 18 holes.

"One thing Curtis stressed was to practice our lag putting all week," said Rankin. "When the course is playing hard and fast, this is a smart player's course. You can't overpower it." That is something Davies tried to do but her erratic playing of the par-fives in particular managed not to prevent her winning three and a half points in the match.

Davies and other Europeans became so distracted by the antics of Pepper whipping up the gallery, particularly on the last hole of a vital foursomes on Saturday, that they put the American's name on a blow-up punch bag and took aim until Davies spiked it.

"What Dottie did was unprofessional, unnecessary and it was a mistake because it nearly spurred us on to victory," said Davies.

Pepper was unrepentant. "If they are using my name on a punch bag, I take that as a compliment," she said. "There was no motion towards a player or a caddie, I just think it is patriotism. The crowd were our 13th man - or woman - this week. Louise Solheim (wife of founder Karsten Solheim) told me not to change."

If the scoreline was not as close as many thought it would be, there was always drama and it was always competitive. Once called the `Ryder Cup with lipstick', it could be renamed the `Ryder Cup with lip'.



(Muirfield Village, Columbus, Ohio)

SINGLES RESULTS (US names first)

P Hurst lost to L Davies 1 hole

J Inkster lost to H Alfredsson 2 and 1

D Andrews lost to A Sorenstam 2 and 1

B Burton lost to L Neumann 1 hole

D Pepper bt T Johnson 3 and 2

K Robbins bt C Sorenstam 2 and 1

C Johnson lost to M L de Lorenzi 1 hole

R Jones bt C Nilsmark 6 and 4

T Green bt A Nicholas 1 hole

S Steinhauer bt C Matthew 3 and 2

B King lost to L Hackney 6 and 5

M Mallon v S Gustafson halved

Singles result United States 51/2 Europe 61/2

Match result United States 16 Europe 12