Solheim Cup player profiles:Team Europe
Alison Nicholas MBE (Vice Captain) Catrin Nilsmark chose Alison Nicholas as her vice-Captain for 2003 and Nicholas brings valuable experience and character to the team. Despite being on 4’11 inches in her spikes, ‘Big Al’ has a heart of a lion. The 41-year-old from Birmingham represented Europe in six Solheim Cups and played key roles in both of Europe’s previous victories, most notably when she halved her singles match against Sherri Steinhauer in 2000 after a world class up and down from the back of the green. Nicholas has also scored 8½ points for Europe and has amassed 18 victories around the world which includes a dramatic victory at the 1997 US Open where she became the only other Briton besides Laura Davies to win a major when she beat the legendary Nancy Lopez on a thrilling final day at Pumpkin Ridge. Nicholas also won the European Order of Merit in 1997 and was awarded the MBE by Her Majesty the Queen in the birthday honours list.
Sophie Gustafson (Sweden) Sophie Gustafson is one of the most naturally talented ball strikers anywhere in women’s golf and has all the qualities needed to become the next dominant Swede after Sörenstam. Gustafson has won four times in the last year in Europe, producing some blistering rounds of golf in the process such as her course record 63’s on her way to winning the Irish Open and the HP Open in her homeland. Usually dramatic and breathtaking to watch when in full flow, Gustafson is one of the last real shot makers in women’s golf and is a capable player around difficult courses. With the power, finesse, determination and above all a fabulous sense of humour, Gustafson, the newly crowned European order of merit winner, will prove to be a key player in Europe’s team this week.
Elisabeth Esterl (Germany) Elisabeth, or ‘Lisl’ to her friends, has finally reached the pinnacle of women’s golf as she makes her Solheim playing debut at Barseback GC. The 27-year-old Bavarian, who comes from a small town appropriately called Dingolfing, was chosen as the travelling reserve last year, which gave her a taste of the biggest event of her life. It may have taken a long time for Esterl to finally win her first event, when she took the spoils at the Tenerife Open in May, but with 22 top tens and no less than five runners up spots previously, it was only a matter of when and not if. ‘Lisl’ is a tenacious player, renowned for her accuracy and silky putting stroke. With her new found confidence, Lisl will prove to be a worthy partner or adversary this week.
Ana-Belen Sanchez (Spain) Ana-Belen becomes the third Spaniard to represent Europe in The Solheim Cup after compatriots Paula Marti and Raquel Carriedo, earning her way into the team after consistent performances during the two year race for selection. Sanchez is a close friend of Ryder Cup star Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has helped her develop her game and advised her about playing under the most severe pressure. The 27-year-old Malagueña is noted for her big hitting and laid back persona, but with that, comes a dry wit and loveable humour which makes her one of the most popular players on the European Tour. Sanchez has earned over €200,000 in her five year career and has posted 16 top tens, but without a victory as yet. As an amateur, Sanchez excelled, winning the European amateur team championship with Spain and the individual Moroccan and Portuguese amateur titles.
Carin Koch (Sweden) Carin holds perhaps the finest record in Solheim Cup competition as she is yet to be beaten in any format, earning seven and a half points in eight matches during two Solheim appearances, which included holing the winning putt at Loch Lomond in Europe’s most memorable victory in 2000. For Catrin Nilsmark, it was an obvious captain’s pick, even after Carin spent much of the early part of this season nursing her new born child, Simzon. Balancing motherhood with her career takes organisation and patience, which she has in abundance. Renowned as a deadly putter, as she proved at Interlachen when she teamed up with compatriot and world number one Annika Sorenstam, Koch, paired with anyone, especially another Swede, will be a tough nut to crack, particularly on home soil where an army of fans will follow her every move around Barseback.
Catriona Matthew (Scotland) After three years of frustration, Catriona Matthew finally got the birthday present she wanted when Nilsmark announced her as one of the five wild cards. The 34-year-old from North Berwick had been controversially omitted from the last two European teams and this year, she has a golden opportunity to shine in Sweden. Matthew has amassed five top tens on the LPGA in 2003 and has been consistently in the top five in the birdie rankings over the last few seasons, which makes her a sound choice for a berth on Europe’s team. She has also won on three different continents, proving she is a versatile player and as an amateur she was an excellent match player, representing GB&I in three Curtis Cup matches. Catriona played in the 1998 Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village and won one point, allied with Annika Sorenstam in the foursomes.
Janice Moodie (Scotland) A consistent season on the LPGA Tour from Moodie prompted Catrin Nilsmark to choose this comely Scot as one of her five captain’s picks over Becky Morgan from Wales. It was a tough decision for the Captain, but in mitigation, Morgan is an unknown quantity in the Solheim Cup arena, whereas Moodie played a significant role in Europe’s victory at Loch Lomond in 2000. Experience was the deciding factor. Few will forget that Moodie continued her singles match against the USA’s Nancy Scranton in the gathering gloom even after Dale Reid’s team had won, proof, if more were needed that this 5’9 blonde Scot is a feisty competitor when under pressure. Moodie has a solid all round game and her matchplay record is excellent having represented Great Britain and Ireland in two Curtis Cup’s and as a professional, she finished runner up to Laura Davies at the 2001 WPGA International Matchplay Championship and earned three points from four in her rookie year at The Solheim Cup.