Golf: Lure of the Atlantic crossing - Europe's women golfers are making a habit of success on the United States Tour. Liz Kahn reports

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN women professional golfers are increasingly making their presence felt on the American LPGA Tour - which is significant in the year of the Solheim Cup, the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup.

In addition to the regulars on the American Tour, a further eight Europeans are competing this week in the first of two LPGA qualifying schools, which concludes tomorrow at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Florida. The second takes place in September.

The Europeans have had a remarkable season. Laura Davies, who won the 1987 US Open, has won four events and lost another in a play-off against Anne Marie Palli, of France.

Scotland's Pam Wright led the US Open in July at the half-way stage and finished equal ninth, one of four Europeans in the top 16. Florence Descampe, of Belgium, who has won a tournament, and Helen Alfredsson, of Sweden, are vying for the title of LPGA Rookie of The Year.

Davies has been a role model for many of the Europeans. Lotte Neumann mirrored Davies' achievement by winning the 1988 US Open, and last year the Swede won the final tournament of the LPGA season. This season, Neumann is in 18th position on the Tour standings, the highest- placed of the Europeans with earnings of dollars 221,574 ( pounds 116,000).

Alfredsson, so nearly a winner in her first year on the Tour, is in 23rd place. Alfredsson has won almost dollars 7,000 more than Descampe, who took the McCall's Classic title two weeks' ago. Marta Figueras Dotti, Karen Davies, Trish Johnson and Caroline Pierce have also made their mark.

'We will go from strength to strength, we haven't even scratched the surface,' Davies said. 'We have so many good young players and once you believe you can beat the Americans, you can. No one notices what the Europeans are doing in the US, but it's phenomenal. When you win you do it for yourself, for the winning, but it's good for the Americans to know what they face in the Solheim Cup.'

Davies has recently shed more than 50lbs and appears at ease with her new image. When she won the English Open at Tytherington in July, she revelled in the occasion wearing stretch white trousers with a glamorous top. Only the physically confident could have carried it off.

The eight Europeans at this week's LPGA qualifying school, include Alison Nicholas, a previous US Tour card-holder and consistently high performer in Europe, and Suzanne Strudwick, who tied for 16th place in the US Open in July.

Nicholas has been encouraged by Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan to return to the US, following her phenomenal performance in the last Solheim Cup. She is also frustrated by the lack of support in Europe. 'I feel the need to stretch myself in the tougher competition,' she said. 'I can't waste my talent.'

Strudwick shares Nicholas' enthusiasm for the challenge of the Tour. 'The US Tour is fantastic, it is the big time. There's always food and drink in the locker room, they arrange your hotel and travel, and I had a car for US Open week.

'You are treated as though you are special which has an effect. The Americans know they are special, know they are good. There is tremendous respect for women golfers which makes a huge difference - it gives you an inner confidence. I had it at the Open and I can't wait to get on the LPGA tour.'

There is about pounds 1.2m available from only 13 tournaments in Europe this year. By comparison, the US Tour has 40 tournaments and almost dollars 22m on offer.

The Solheim Cup captain, Mickey Walker, says: 'It is sad we haven't enough competition for so many talented people. (In Europe), you play and wait three weeks for the next tournament; in America you respond to week in week out competition surrounded by really good players and try to pace yourself.

'It's fantastic that Florence has won, that so many good Europeans have blossomed on the US tour. Laura has been a great inspiration and attitudes have changed so significantly with a professional approach to the game that didn't exist in Britain 15 years ago. The LGU (Ladies' Golf Union), county golf, the grass roots are all so much more professional, and the unbelievable lack of public awareness for women's golf is pitiful.'

Although the European women in America receive no fanfares, their achievements will be imprinted on LPGA professional minds. Betsy King, who predicted a 16-0 victory for the United States in the Solheim Cup at Lake Nona two years ago, which ended 11 1/2 -4 1/2 in the Americans' favour, will not prophesy a similar outcome at Dalmahoy in October. She has witnessed the youth of European women's professional golf on the march.

(Photograph omitted)

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