Alfie knows what the cup is all about

Solheim ever-present is ready to do battle for Europe again

Helen Alfredsson, who briefly gave up golf to be a catwalk model in Paris at the age of 18, shares her birthday, 9 April, with Seve Ballesteros and Hugh Hefner, of Playboy fame. The self-confessed, one-time "ugly tomboy with red hair" says she does not think "anybody wants to see me naked".

Helen Alfredsson, who briefly gave up golf to be a catwalk model in Paris at the age of 18, shares her birthday, 9 April, with Seve Ballesteros and Hugh Hefner, of Playboy fame. The self-confessed, one-time "ugly tomboy with red hair" says she does not think "anybody wants to see me naked".

"I'll take Seve, though," the Swede adds. "I love him."

If Ballesteros was the life and soul of European Ryder Cup teams for many years, Alfredsson has to play a similar role this week at Loch Lomond to justify her participation in the sixth Solheim Cup, which starts on Friday. She is an extrovert character; Dale Reid, Europe's captain, could not contemplate facing the Americans, who lead the series 4-1, without 'Alfie'.

It was a vote for experience and passion over consistent performance. Alfredsson, now aged 35, is one of five members of the home team who have played in all five previous matches - Laura Davies, Alison Nicholas, Trish Johnson and Lotte Neumann are the others - and her record of seven wins and two halves from 18 matches is bettered only by Davies.

But Alfredsson has struggled for form this season. In America, where she has played most of her golf, she is lying 72nd on the money list. She has had just two top-10 finishes, plus one more in Europe. But in making the Swede one of her five wild-card selections, Reid said: "Alfie is great for the team. She is a strong player. I've played with her a few times recently and her game is coming back. I don't know many better matchplay golfers. Her Solheim record speaks for itself."

Reid admitted there were a couple of players who she would have liked to have made the team but who missed out. Annika Sorenstam, the world No 2, who is not known for making rash statements, said: "I was shocked by the picks. There are two players who deserve to be on the team who aren't on the team."

Fairly obviously, she was talking about her sister, Charlotta, and Catriona Matthew, whose absence leaves Janice Moodie as the only Scot.

But if anyone should have been in the queue when Ian Botham and David Gower were handing out those T-shirts with the slogan: "Form is temporary, class is permanent", it is Alfredsson. She has been a regular, if not prolific, winner on both sides of the Atlantic, was rookie of the year on both tours, won the British Open a year after turning professional and twice came close at the US Women's Open.

She has been outspoken about how the LPGA Tour is run and issues such as lesbianism. "I always liked Katharine Hepburn," Alfredsson once said. "She seems my kind of person. Very opinionated, very strong, does her own thing. I like that. I'm an Aries and we are stubborn, go our own way, are very moody, competitive and career-orientated." Fun-orientated as well. "I've had my party years, but I still like to go a little crazy sometimes. I hope I never grow up."

When the Solheim Cup was inaugurated at Lake Nona 10 years ago, a young European team faced a collection of Hall-of-Famers from the States. "Nancy Lopez was my idol as a little kid, and I think we had too much respect for the likes of her and Pat Bradley. We were almost excusing ourselves for being there. We didn't want to get in their way."

That was exactly what they did two years later at Dalmahoy, shocking the Americans with a five-point victory. "The team spirit that week was wonderful. Everyone was in a great mood and we did what we had to do."

The last three matches have been frustrating for the Europeans. They let slip a healthy overnight lead on the final day at St Pierre in 1996, and for two days in 1998 at Muirfield Village could not buy a putt. Yet the American team have lost many of their big names - Bradley returns to Scotland as Reid's opposite number - while most of the new talent to emerge in the last decade has either been European, like Sorenstam and the current British Open champion, Sophie Gustafson, or not eligible for the Cup, such as Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak.

Indeed, the youngest of the three American rookies is 32, while Dottie Pepper, who has struggled with a back injury for most of the year, is the only visitor to have played in all the matches.

On most occasions, Pepper's brash, in-your-face approach has got up the noses of her opponents. "Dottie and I are good friends," said Alfredsson. "But the best thing you can do is ignore her. She is a great competitor and sometimes she does cross the line, but the worst thing you can do is let it bother you. Then she gets what she wants."

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