Catrin Nilsmark could almost walk without the need for her crutches by the time Europe regained the Solheim Cup on Sunday. Adrenaline might have had something to do with it, but that the Americans were defeated for only the third time, although for the second time in three matches, was less miraculous.
Nilsmark may have started the week immobile because of a ruptured disc, but the preparation of her team was never compromised. After inspiring the players to produce the finest golf they could play in wrapping up victory after only seven of the 12 singles, the Swede will come under pressure to defend the Cup in the States in two years' time.
She was not afraid to rest players who were out of form, including Laura Davies, avoided errors from the past by not allowing the team to get too high or too low throughout the week and made sure there was no let-up before the singles. "We have had a problem on Sundays before, but we can leave that behind us now," Nilsmark said.
"The team spirit was so good all week. They did not take much coaching," she added. "I haven't thought about being the captain again, but I don't think so." Modestly, Nilsmark proposed her assistant, Alison Nicholas. "Allie is ready to take over. She's been an unbelievable vice-captain. She would be a splendid choice."
Of course, it helps if you have the best player in the game, but that is no guarantee of success in a team event. However, Annika Sorenstam, Sweden's leading sportsperson, was not about to pass on an opportunity to perform at her best on a big stage on home soil for the first time.
"The crowds were spectacular and I am so proud for being a Swede to see so many Swedes out there," she said. "The whole tournament was first class and so well organised. I've had an incredible year and I am delighted to be a part of this team and to win on home soil."
If Sorenstam was elevated by her appearance at the Colonial event on the men's US Tour earlier in the year, an experience which helped her win two more majors and cope with the pressure here, then the Solheim Cup, an event which only began in 1990, and women's golf were elevated this week.
The high point was the last fourball on Saturday, when Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen, a 22-year-old with huge potential, beat Kelly Robbins and Laura Diaz at the last hole. There were 15 birdies on the card and four times holes were halved in birdies.
Diaz produced two brilliant approaches at the last two holes, but while Pettersen holed the winning putt at the 18th, it was Sorenstam's putt for a half at the 17th and her second at the last that confirmed her class.
"This week has been an eye-opener for us all," said Ian Randell, chief executive of the Ladies European Tour. "We had potential hosts for the 2007 match here and they have realised they need to raise their sights. But we have also raised our expectations of what we want to stage."
While the Solheim Cup does not include all the world's best players, for the first time there is to be a World Cup sanctioned by both the European and American tours. The $1m event will take place at a new resort called Pezula on South Africa's beautiful Garden Route in February 2005.
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