“It’s been a long, winding road and now we’re just anxious to get started,” said Alison Nicholas.
Ever since her side lost 16-12 to the USA at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois two years ago, Europe’s Solheim Cup Captain has been working towards this weekend.The perfect culmination for her endeavours would be a European victory at Killeen Castle on Sunday. For the English woman who rocked the golfing world when she won the US Women’s Open back in 1997, it would be another amazing career highlight.“We’ve got great strength in depth and it’s a very strong European team,” said Nicholas, who played in six Solheims and numbered the 1987 Women’s British Open among her 18 career victories.
“My girls have had nine wins around the world this year and we have nothing to fear. “The five rookies all have LPGA experience and I think it helps that this is my second time as Captain. I’ve got last time in the bank and there are a few small things that I can change.“It was very close two years ago, we just didn’t hole enough putts. If we can play the same this week and get a little bit of luck then we can definitely win.”
She knows the USA are equally determined to try to stop her and Europe – no more so than Juli Inkster, who, at 51, is the oldest Solheim Cup player.
This time Inkster has a dual responsibility at Killeen Castle, as she is also an Assistant to Captain Rosie Jones. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” she joked.But the wily veteran was keen to play down any assumption that her side are set for a runaway win in Ireland this weekend. “I think this is one of the strongest European teams,” she insisted. “They have five rookies, but they are all playing well. We’re going to have to go out and play like underdogs.Jones was equally insistent that the world rankings – the US have seven players in the top 20 while Europe only has one in Suzann Pettersen – don’t tell the whole story. “We haven’t come here looking at rankings on paper,” said the eight-time Solheim player who had the honour of holing the winning putt at Interlachen in Minnesota in 2002.
“Both teams are equally strong and it’s always a disadvantage when you play overseas.”There are several factors that support the home case. The weather – cold, rain and wind on the practice days – the support of a home crowd and the desperation to end a losing streak stretching back to 2003.Two of the US key players are Cristie Kerr, the world No.3, and Paula Creamer, unbeaten in Solheim singles and making her fourth appearance at the age of 25. “I just love the Solheim, love matchplay and love playing for the US,” said Creamer. “This is my first time in Ireland and everyone has been so friendly. I can’t wait for the matches to start.”
Not long to wait now.