Golf: Writing on the wall after Daniel denial: Europe enter the Solheim Cup at Dalmahoy today as motivated outsiders. Tim Glover reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BETH DANIEL unwittingly entered the lioness's den when she rubbished the strength of women's golf in Europe. 'You could put any one of us on the European side and make it better,' Daniel is alleged to have said. Her remark received wide coverage after which she claimed she was misquoted. Borrowing the immortal words of another professional lady, 'Well she would, wouldn't she'.

Whether Daniel said it or not, the sentiment, though harsh, is probably not too wide of the mark. The game in Europe, in terms of competition, maturity, scale, money and skill, is not on a par with the American version. In the inaugural Solheim Cup at Lake Nona in Florida two years ago, Daniel played three and won three as the United States triumphed by the handsome margin of 11 1/2 points to 4 1/2 .

Laura Davies, one of Europe's genuine world-class players, likes a bet and with her knowledge of gambling her book has the Europeans at 5-2 against with America 1-3. Ladbrokes, who seem to view this event in the same light as that now defunct American monopoly, the Wightman Cup, go 4-1 Europe, 1-6 the US. Davies, however, believes Europe can upset the odds. 'To win we would all have to lift our games and we'd have to do it over the next three days,' she said. 'We know the opposition isn't going to play average golf.'

The Solheim Cup begins this morning at the Dalmahoy Golf and Country Club with four foursomes matches. Tomorrow they switch to fourballs and on Sunday there are 10 singles. Karsten Solheim, who has underwritten this female equivalent of the Ryder Cup, is a character who could have emerged from the pen of Hans Christian Andersen.

The son of a Norwegian shoe-maker, Solheim emigrated to America where he spent most of his working life as an engineer. Thirty years ago he designed and made a revolutionary putter in his garage. He called it Ping because of the noise made when the blade struck a golf ball.

The rest is hysteria. The Ping factory in Phoenix, Arizona, produces one of the most expensive and successful ranges of clubs in the world. Controversial, too. Solheim introduced grooves to his irons which fell foul of the measurements laid down by the sport's governing bodies, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient, and he has been involved in protracted and costly legal action.

The Solheim Cup - Karsten's company has agreed to sponsor the match for 20 years - is a welcome diversion. The opening shots will be played by Davies and her diminutive partner, Alison Nicholas, against Betsy King and Daniel. Between them the American pair have won nearly dollars 800,000 (pounds 457,000) this season. Mickey Walker, the non-playing captain of Europe, is banking on the English pair drawing first blood.

'Laura and Alison have a fantastic relationship,' Walker said. 'They can be an inspiration to us. I liken them to Ballesteros and Olazabal in the Ryder Cup.' In practice yesterday Davies, the largest member of the team, and Nicholas, the smallest, were two under par over a course which measures 6,222 yards.

Whereas the Americans have made a commitment to give every member of the side a game in the foursomes and fourballs, Walker is playing it by ear. The odd women out on the first day are Kitrina Douglas and Catrin Nilsmark, neither of whom were in the team for the inaugural competition.

After Davies and Nicholas come the Swedish pairing of Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann, the Belgian-English partnership of Florence Descampe and Trish Johnson, and the two Scots, Pamela Wright and Dale Reid.

'I don't have any weak pairings,' Walker said. 'They will be tough to beat. There is a fantastic feeling within the team. The spirit is different. On paper I think the teams are much more evenly matched than two years ago. It will be a great battle.'

Walker, who captained Europe at Lake Nona in 1990, has been instrumental in changing the complexion of the biennial contest. In Florida there were eight players on either side, six qualifying on merit with the captains having two wild cards. The teams have been increased to 10 and the idea was that the captains would have the discretion to pick three players each.

Walker demanded, and got, the luxury of being able to choose five. 'There is no reason for the Americans to have any choices,' Walker said. 'There is every reason for us to have that flexibility if we are to have a realistic chance of winning.'

Kathy Whitworth, the American captain who returned home on Wednesday because of the death of her mother, was sympathetic towards Walker's request. 'We can afford to go by our money list,' Whitworth said. 'We have more depth.'

Alice Miller, who has replaced Whitworth, has inherited her pairings. Miller was keen to distance herself from the view of the bookmakers. 'There are no easy matches,' she said. 'The score last time was misleading. It's going to be tooth and nail.' Bright, white teeth and varnished nails. One of the Cup sponsors is Clarins who are supplying the players with skin care advice and a variety of products.

In the first women's world rankings published by the magazine, Golf Weekly, American players dominate and only eight Europeans make the top 50. With the great optimism of one who supports Gillingham FC, Walker is unconcerned. 'As a football fan I am aware of the advantage of playing at home,' she said.


Foursomes draw (Europe names first):

10.30 L Davies and A Nicholas v B King and B Daniel

10.45 H Alfredsson and L Neumann v P Bradley and D Mochrie

11.00 F Descampe and T Johnson v D Ammaccapane and M Mallon

11.15 D Reid and P Wright v P Sheehan and J Inkster.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 495 5 10th 385 4 2nd 381 4 11th 435 4 3rd 371 4 12th 394 4 4th 145 3 13th 351 4 5th 306 4 14th 407 4 6th 359 4 15th 149 3 7th 175 3 16th 403 4 8th 356 4 17th 309 4 9th 480 5 18th 321 4 Out: 3068 36 In: 3154 36 Total: 6222 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------