Golf: Europe's big inspiration

Andy Farrell talks to Laura Davies about the need to tame the Americans

Andy Farrell
Saturday 14 September 1996 23:02

What took the Ryder Cup almost 60 years - to become a competitive encounter - has taken the Solheim a mere six. From the 1990 contest at Lake Nona, which was as lopsided as some of the Ryder versions of the not too distant past, the biennial Europe-America affair is now, in political terms, too close to call.

This week St Pierre stages the fourth match in a series which turned from the predictable to the dramatic when Europe overturned an 111/2-41/2 mauling in 1990 with an 111/2-61/2 roasting of their own at Dalmahoy two years later.

Once again the Europeans are looking to regain the trophy after a 13- 7 defeat at the Greenbrier two years ago. That would see the Solheim joining the Ryder, Walker and Curtis Cups on this side of the Atlantic for the first time.

A measure of how seriously the Americans now treat the event is that it will be shown live on network television back home. For the Europeans, it has always been a big deal. "It has never been a low-key affair for us," said Laura Davies, the world No 1 and Europe's inspirational heartbeat. "We were into it right from the first match, but I don't think the Americans were at that point. They were 8-1 on favourites that week and they duly obliged comfortably. When they were beaten at Dalmahoy, it was a bit like the Ryder Cup - as soon as the Americans lost it, they thought, 'Hello, we've got to be on our mettle'. Of course, now they are all into it, that's all they talk about for two years, that's what our team talks about for two years, everyone wants to be a part of it."

Despite the fact that in herself, Annika Sorenstam, the US Open champion, and Lotta Neumann Europe have this year's top players in the world, Davies still sees the visitors as favourites.

"They have the strength in depth. The Greenbrier was a very even contest, and we had our chances, but they outplayed us on the back nine on Sunday. The fourballs and the foursomes are a bit of fun, sparring. The actual contest comes on Sunday like any tournament. We have to play our very best to win. If we don't, the Americans can probably get away with playing not quite so swift to win it."

Expanding from the 10-a-side to the 12-a-side Ryder Cup format may exacerbate the problem. There are now two series each of fourballs and foursomes, but an agreement that everyone will play at least once prior to the singles on the final day also means that the hands of the captain, Mickey Walker, are tied slightly more as she tries to juggle her team as expertly as Tony Jacklin did a decade ago.

As for home advantage, Davies sees that helping more outside the ropes than inside. "You could take it to a municipal pitch-and-putt and it would not favour one team," Davies said. "But that bloody 'USA, USA' still haunts me from the Greenbrier. You could hear it echoing, getting louder and louder. The great thing is now, like a team in the Premier League, they have to go away and put up with the home team cheering all day. That's all part of it. I'm definitely calling for a partisan crowd. Obviously, courtesy to them. There is no place in golf for cheering a bad shot, but English galleries are not like that."

Then, of course, there is the Dottie Pepper factor. "In my own way, I want to win as much as she does, I just don't show it as she does. I hate losing. Every time a putt goes over the lip, it is like someone has stabbed you. If you love winning as much as I do and she does, then it hurts. There isn't a player, hopefully none of the Europeans anyway, who wouldn't die for the win. Obviously, it is not as serious as that, but if anyone is there just for the crack, I would rather they weren't in there."

How the teams line up


Helen Alfredsson

Age 31, Cup record: W4, L4, H1

Gregarious Swede currently holding off Davies at the top of the European money list. Faces surgery on broken bone in her derriere after the match.

Laura Davies

32; W6, L3

Seve-like team inspiration. World No 1 and top of American money list. Six wins worldwide, including two majors, this year, 46 in all.

Marie-Laure de Lorenzi

35; W0, L3

Has not played since 1990. Elegant Frenchwoman back to her best of the late Eighties and easily topped qualifying table.

Lisa Hackney

28; Debut

Scored maiden win in Welsh Open at St Pierre in May. Former Staffordshire champion, possible partner for Davies.

Trish Johnson

30; W1, L7, H1

Returned to form at right time with win last week. Admits wanting to improve "appalling record".

Kathryn Marshall

29; Debut

Scot who plays mainly in America, has won once there. Returned in August to claim one of the five wild-card spots.

Joanne Morley

29; Debut

Turned pro after impressive Curtis Cup performance in '92. Squeezed into the top-seven automatic places only in the last week of qualifying.

Liselotte Neumann

30; W4, L4, H1

Stylish Swede, world No 3 who set record 11-shot win for first of three wins this year.

Alison Nicholas

34; W5, L4

Smallest player on either side at 5ft. Has combined with Davies for four wins out of six in last three matches.

Catrin Nilsmark

29; W2, L2

Swede who holed the winning putt at Dalmahoy in '92. Once held pilot's licence, now rides Harley Davidson.

Dale Reid

37; W4, L4, H1

Singles scalps include Pattie Sheehan and Dottie Pepper. Feels same way about Solheim that Sam Torrance does about Ryder Cup. Handed last wild card.

Annika Sorenstam

25; W1, L 2

World No2, first player (male or female) to win money lists on both sides of Atlantic in '95 and successfully defended US Open crown this year.

Mickey Walker

43; Captain

Played the LPGA tour before returning to help set up European circuit. Now highly rated coach, and Solheim skipper for the fourth time. Compared '92 victory to "Gillingham winning the FA Cup".

United States

Pat Bradley

Age: 45; Cup record: W2, L3, H1

A former LPGA great who beat Trish Johnson by a massive 8 and 7 in 1990, but did not win a game in '92 and did not play at all last time around.

Brandie Burton

24; W3, L1, H1

Won three out of three in 1994, beating Laura Davies in the singles. Picked as wild card after suffering back problems this year.

Beth Daniel

39; W6, L2

Holds best record of anyone who has played in all three matches; another selected by Rankin, following shoulder injury.

Jane Geddes

36; Debut

Former United States Open champion, who comfortably made the team for the first time by finishing fifth in the qualifying points table.

Rosie Jones

36; W2, L1

Playing for the first time since the 1990 match and will find that it is a different event nowadays. Enjoys fishing, dancing and woodwork.

Betsy King

4; W4, L4, H1

Became LPGA Hall of Famer last year after a long and distinguished career but in fact has won only half a point in her three singles matches.

Meg Mallon

33; W4, L2

Last player before Davies to win two majors in a year in 1991. Losing vital match to Nilsmark in '92 masks what is a fine overall record.

Michelle McGann

26; Debut

Has won three times this year, beating Davies in a play-off two weeks ago. Fashion conscious - carries more hat boxes than clubs in her bag.

Dottie Pepper

31; W5, L3, H1

Intense New Yorker and on-course team leader. Won all three matches last time. Recently completed fourth win of the season.

Kelly Robbins

26; W1, L2

Ever-improving young player in fifth year on tour. Made debut in 1994, losing in the foursomes and fourballs.

Patty Sheehan

39; W3, L5, H1

Another Hall of Famer and double US Open champion but has lost all three singles matches.

Val Skinner

35; Debut

Prodigously Long-hitter who has won six times on the American tour in her 13-year career.

Judy Rankin

51; Captain

Her 26-year career ended in 1983 due to a chronic back injury. Now a regular commentator on American television. First experience of captaincy.

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