When Europe’s top women golfers begin their pursuit of the crystal trophy at The Solheim Cup in September they do so in the knowledge that they have the golf crazy Swedes supporting.
“But now I’m just so thrilled the way the Solheim has grown to become one of the biggest event in women’s golf. Even back then I knew it had great potential, but it has become even bigger than I could ever have imagined.”
One intriguing aspect this year is the change to the selection system and how it will shake up. Instead of seven players from LET rankings plus five wild cards, this time there will only be five players from the LET list plus four (not otherwise selected) from the Rolex World rankings. Alfredsson will then have free rein to pick the final trio.
It’s a system that should help the players who compete more regularly on the US-based LPGA Tour to have clearer guidelines and perhaps not have to rely quite so much on the whims of a Captain. But they will still have to show loyalty to the LET
by competing in at least six tournaments over the two-year qualification period.
Whoever makes up Alfie’s gang, it promises to be another classic contest played out over a course that hosted the Chrysler Open in 1999 and 2000. The two respective winners – Laura Davies and Carin Koch – are likely to be vital members of this year’s home team.
Two years ago at Crooked Stick, America threw up a potent mix of old and new, and just emerged victorious by 15.5-12.5. Beth Daniel, Rosie Jones and Juli Inkster provided a mature backbone to a side that also included three giggly and glamorous young girls in Paula Creamer, Christina Kim and Natalie Gulbis.
The rookie babes came up trumps by contributing nine and a half points to the final total and the ‘oldies’ admitted that their bubbly enthusiasm was almost worth an extra point.
Surely another certainty is Gwladys Nocera. An untried rookie at Crooked Stick when she hadn’t even won a single tournament, the French woman has since blossomed into a real European star. Perhaps it was her notable Solheim singles victory over Kerr that provided the injection of confidence and helped her underline her class with three wins in Europe in 2006.
Annika Sorenstam, adored by her home Swedish crowd, will again be leading the side, while France’s Stephanie Arricau, England’s Rebecca Hudson, Italy’s Veronica Zorzi, Denmark’s Karen Margrethe Juul and Finland’s Rikka Hakkarainen could take the leap from LET title-holders to Solheim Cup rookies.
But every team needs experience – so step forward Sophie Gustafson, Suzann Pettersen, Catriona Matthew and Carin Koch. All four have terrific Solheim records – the hope is that they can add to their credentials in September.
Then there are the imponderables. Who might emerge over the next few months to fill the coveted places. Iben Tinning, who played when she was pregnant in 2005, is a certain contender, and another new Mum, Janice Moodie, is always an asset to a team competition.
Karen Stupples could also come into the mix, although the birth of her first baby in April could put her second Cup appearance on hold until 2009. Maria Hjorth, a two-time Solheim Cupper, could be another welcome Swede to stir up the home emotions.
For Davies, The Solheim Cup is a biennial highlight and making sure she didn’t have to rely on a Captain’s pick – it happened to her in 2002 – was one of the reasons that she returned to play a packed schedule on the LET last summer.
When the anthems ring out and the Swedish fans arise en masse at the opening ceremony at Halmstad in September, there is little doubt that it will be one of the proudest moments of Alfredsson’s illustrious career. She played in the first seven Solheims and was Captain of the victorious PING European Junior Solheim Cup team at Bokskogens Golf Klubb in 2003.
She has played a huge part in the Solheim success story – and she just hopes that by the end of the tenth meeting the historians will be able to sit down and add another chapter charting a famous European triumph.