The ‘all-time points leader in Solheim Cup history gives her thoughts on Europe’s chances at The 2011 Solheim Cup.
The Solheim Cup comes to Killeen Castle this September (23-25) and, I can tell you, us Europeans are already hoping for some Irish luck! Major winners Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke all got their share this year, so hopefully it is now the ladies’ turn to succeed in what some people are calling the new home of golf!
We haven’t won the Cup since Barsebäck in 2003, but I do genuinely like our chances. Admittedly, there is a bit of a rankings gulf between the two sides, but you would be foolish to brand Europe underdogs. As with the Ryder Cup, playing at home is a huge advantage. Remember, America have only won on European soil twice (1996, 2007) since the tournament first began in 1990.
In Alison Nicholas, we have a tremendously experienced captain. She is taking charge for the second successive Cup and I know girls like Suzann Pettersen and Laura Davies, who played under her at Rich Harvest Farms, feel totally at ease with Alison at the helm.
Two years ago, our gutsy display won plenty of new friends in Illinois. We eventually fell to a slender 16-12 defeat, but Alison learnt some crucial lessons and is now confident (as we all are) of masterminding a memorable victory.
As her vice-captain, I really just do as I am told! For the past two years, I have been Alison’s eyes and ears in the States – scouting at LPGA events and generally passing on my two cents. Alison is a ferociously well organised captain but, of course, she can’t be everywhere and I guess that is where I come in.
With the Cup now fast approaching, and most of the logistical stuff out of the way, I am also starting to help with tactics. I haven’t got the main role by any means, but I do have eight Solheim Cups worth of experience to add to the mix and the ability to motivate a dressing room.
It has been very interesting to see how things work from outside of the ropes. The Solheim experience was very different as a player: I essentially just turned up and focused on myself while, as vice-captain, I now have to focus on everyone but myself! I have thoroughly enjoyed the build up. It has got my competitive juices flowing again. However, the bulk of emotions I am feeling are actually brand new. I don’t, for example, have nervous butterflies. I am calm, because I know I can’t directly affect the result.
There will inevitably be times when I wish I could pick up a club, but my playing days are over and I honestly don’t have plans to return to competitive golf. I am loving life as a mother and certainly have my hands full! However, I do want to retain ties with The Solheim Cup. One day I would like to become captain. It might be too soon to start talking me up as a candidate for Colorado 2013, but I do want the role one day. It would be an honour.
For now, I am looking no further ahead than Killeen, where the Americans will be a formidable force to conquer. They have won eight of the 11 Solheim Cups, including the last three. Girls like Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr are just so solid and unflappable – unstoppable at their best and insatiable scrappers at their worst. Michelle Wie is also one to watch. She showed her class in 2009 and, despite an indifferent season so far, is a very talented match play golfer.
That is the thing about The Solheim Cup: form is obviously important, but not the only consideration when piecing your team together. You also need passionate characters who glue the team together, which is why characters like Stacy Lewis and Christina Kim are crucial to the Americans. The jovial demeanour they bring into the locker room will prove infectious and help everyone win points.
You can’t possibly win The Solheim Cup if you don’t gel as a unit, so the captain’s task is to find the correct chemistry. It is no good picking the top two players in the world if they can’t work well together. Alison knows this and has thus selected a very balanced side. We have an excellent blend of youth and experience. Rookies like Mel Reid (who is one of the most exciting prospects in golf right now and will be very confident following her brilliant victory at the Open de España Femenino) will be complemented and guided by sage old heads like Laura Davies and Catriona Matthew.
We also have world No.2 Suzann Pettersen who is, without doubt, our most important player. I expect her to lead by example and really assert her class. She should also excel on Killeen, where she won August’s Ladies Irish Open. That triumph, against a quality field, was a massive confidence boost to us all. We now know, for sure, she is well suited to Killeen.
The par-72, 7,700-yard Jack Nicklaus designed course is the perfect Solheim Cup host. If anything, it is pretty American, although it does have a distinct links feel too. The last three holes are intriguing, but in match play you never know if you are going to be playing them – hopefully not! The 16th is a tough par-three, which very much hinges on where you place the tee box. The 17th is a testing driving hole and the 18th is a vicious long, uphill par-four.
I also think the long par-fives, especially the second and 12th, will prove highly significant because, unlike traditional links, the greens are built up with bunkers. That gives them a real risk-reward element. One thing is for sure, drama is guaranteed!
This could be the most exciting Solheim Cup yet and, whatever happens, it will be a brilliant spectacle. We are expecting massive crowds, who we will be leaning on for support. The fans really are our 15th club – so please come down to Ireland and help us try and become ‘Queens of the Castle!’