Changing of the Guard at Solheim Cup

RSS

2007 Solheim CupHALMSTAD, Sweden -- Strategically placed in the perfectly manicured practice bunker were a couple of miniature plastic dump trucks, some little pails and shovels and the beginnings of a couple of sand castles.
 
Yes, folks, these Solheim Cup kids are young.
 
Fans will get a great look at where women's golf has been and where it's heading when the Americans take on the Europeans in the Solheim Cup starting Friday.
 
On the one hand, there are Laura Davies and Juli Inkster, two 40-somethings who still have the game to play at the highest level.
 
On the other, there are Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome -- none of whom have hit 25 and all of whom are trying to take their sport to new places.
 
'Our team has got a lot of heart and spunk and a lot of ribbons and scrunchies,' Inkster said Thursday when asked about the general state of the American team.
 
One of the most telling stories of the week had little to do with golf, much more to do with the quest to make it more popular. Creamer and American captain Betsy King were standing outside signing autographs. Creamer saw King mindlessly scribbling and asked her if she signed her name legibly enough for fans to read once they got the autographs home.
 
'She said, `I want to make sure that everybody can read it when I write it,'' King said. 'She said, `When you sign things for people, then they can relate to you better. They kind of get the whole picture.' Obviously, it benefits them personally, but it also benefits the tour and they're interested in helping the tour as a whole.'
 
Gulbis has her own TV show. She, Creamer and 29-year-old Cristie Kerr made appearances at the Oscars earlier this year. A bunch of them do magazine covers, calendar shoots and have appeared as runway models.
 
The LPGA has moved beyond trying to deny any hint of sex appeal and embraced the idea of having its youngest, brightest stars selling to the masses. It's an arrangement everyone can benefit from.
 
'So many young Americans is helping the tour,' Davies said. 'If the LPGA is strong, women's golf is strong.'
 
Of course, without some game to go along with their PR savvy, this would not be a conversation.
 
But that hasn't been an issue. At 19, Morgan Pressel is making her Solheim Cup debut. She became the youngest major winner earlier this year when she took the Nabisco. Creamer is 21 and reached the $1 million mark in earnings faster than anyone in history. Gulbis is 24 and has 23 top-20 finishes. On the European side, 26-year-old Suzann Pettersen won the McDonalds LPGA Championship this year for her first major.
 
What can someone like Davies, who has played in every Solheim Cup since it was founded in 1990, offer this week to players who have experience and success beyond their years?
 
'It's a bit of encouragement here and there,' Davies said. 'They've all won tournaments. They know what it's all about.'
 
She conceded, however, that the first tee box at the Solheim Cup will come as something of a shock. There's something about playing for your country and your teammates that adds pressure.
 
'I want to win this for Juli Inkster,' said Kerr, this year's U.S. Open champion. 'I don't know how many cups she's going to be on in the future, and especially on foreign soil. This is pretty good inspiration for me.'
 
King and European captain Helen Alfredsson released the pairings late Thursday for opening-day matches. The first two days consist of 16 team matches and the tournament closes with 12 singles matches. As defending champions, the Americans need 14 of the 28 points to retain the cup. Europe needs 14 1/2 . Only once has the cup been won by the visitor -- in 1996, when the Americans won in Wales.
 
The marquee match in the opening session pits Davies and Becky Brewerton against Creamer and Inkster in foursomes. Also, Kerr and Pat Hurst play Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson; Gulbis and Pressel play Gwladys Nocera and Maria Hjorth; and Annika Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew play Sherri Steinhauer and Laura Diaz.
 
Sorenstam, still not at 100 percent because of a bad back and neck, said she isn't sure if she'll play five matches this weekend.
 
Davies, on the other hand, says she hopes she's called on for all five. The 43-year-old, with 67 career victories, will never be mistaken for Gulbis or Pressel, but doesn't think the sport has passed her by.
 
'I'm playing as well now as I've ever played, and age is nothing,' Davies said. 'Golf -- everyone goes on about all this fitness -- but golf is walking and swinging a club.'
 
At this event, it's also about hanging out and bonding, playing pingpong and a practical joke or two.
 
The American women all got presents for each other. King handed out hat pins. Creamer gave everybody sunglasses. Pressel made red and blue ribbons for her teammates to put in their hair.
 
Inkster, 47, doesn't have long hair, so she'll put her ribbon on her bag.
 
'She put a lot of effort into it,' Inkster said. 'I want to make sure she knows I care.'
 
Probably not exactly the kind of stuff Inkster worried about back in 1992, when Pressel was 4 and Inkster was making her Solheim Cup debut.
 
How could these teammates have anything in common?
 
'I've got a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old that are exactly the same,' Inkster said of her daughters, Hayley and Cori. 'We still hang with them. We can talk their lingo and listen to their music, and so it's really not that different than it is in my house.'
 
Related Links:
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Full Coverage - Solheim Cup