Sorenstam aiming for the superlative

The Swede is ready for this weekend's Solheim Cup test, says Andy Farrell
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The Independent Online
There is a reason why Laura Davies is driving herself so hard to win the money lists in both America and Europe. Only one player - male, female or senior - has ever done it and it was not Davies. The world No 1 female golfer is not used to finding herself in such a position.

Davies can be assumed to have done most things in the game, and has, but not even she had considered the feat that Annika Sorenstam achieved last year. The Swede won six times around the globe and briefly usurped Davies as the best in the world.

Sorenstam is still ranked No 2 on the official Ping leaderboard, with Lotte Neumann just one place lower, Helen Alfredsson 12th and Catrin Nilsmark 53rd. The four Swedes form a third of the European team that take on the Americans at St Pierre, Chepstow in the fourth Solheim Cup match which starts tomorrow. It is a staggering achievement for a country that boosts only 380,000 golfers, with a third of those women.

It is a testament to the structure that is in place to make the most of the talent they have, and where golf clubs welcome families and juniors. Pia Nilsson, a former tour player, first became captain of women's golf, and now of all golf in Sweden. This week she is acting as vice- captain to Mickey Walker, the European captain. "I was one of the first to go to college in America," Nilsson said. "We have taken the best of the American ways of doing things and incorporated that into the Swedish culture. Even not being able to play in the winter has helped. We realised we had to look at areas such as mental preparation to be the best."

The first time Sorenstam played in the final group of a big tournament in Sweden, it was nine years ago with Nilsson. "I was the established professional, so I won," Nilsson remembers. Sorenstam was only 16. "I was certainly impressed then, but as a junior she was in a group of talented players. She did not stand out then, but she has improved each year. She is a bit stubborn, and she loves to practice. She works out what she needs to work on and then does so. She is willing to listen to others, but in the end it is her who decides what she needs to do."

After a successful amateur career, Sorenstam finished runner-up four times in Europe and won the 1993 rookie of the year award. The following year she took the same honour in America and a maiden win followed in Australia.

Her first win in America was the small matter of the US Open, and this year she became the first non-American to win successive titles, by six strokes with a record score. She never found out why the course is called Pine Needles because she hardly missed a fairway or a green. "You run out of superlatives to describe the achievement," Walker said at the time. "She hit great shot after great shot. She made the other players look ordinary with her outstanding play. It is hard to believe she is only 25."

Two years ago, Sorenstam played in her first Solheim Cup, winning once and losing twice as the Americans won 13-7. "I am a better player than two years ago," she said. "All parts of my game have improved, I am more consistent. I am hitting more fairways, more greens, my putting is better. But this time it is a little different because I am supposed to be one of the top players. Every point is important wherever it comes from, but I know I have to perform.

"This is the only team event we get to play, so it is a lot of fun, but there is a lot of prestige at stake. We are not playing for money but for pride. I have been through it once so I know what to expect, but I'm sure I'll be nervous."

There is one thing Sorenstam has not done, which Davies - and Alfredsson, Neumann and Nilsmark, who holed the winning putt - have. They were all part of Europe's victory at Dalmahoy four years ago. Sorenstam is determined to experience the same feeling on Sunday night.

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