Inkster Now Plays Role of Mentor

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2007 Solheim CupPORTLAND, Ore. -- Juli Inkster used to sit down for team dinners at the Solheim Cup and look across the table at her friends, rivals, contemporaries.
 
Next week in Sweden at those dinners, she'll be staring at a bunch of kids.
 
New faces will dominate one of the most important events on the women's golf schedule. Inkster is a link between the generations.
 
'Sure, I miss the Rosie Jones, the Meg Mallons, the Betsy Kings, the people I played college golf with and grew up with on the tour,' said Inkster, 47, a seven-time major winner who will play in her seventh Solheim Cup. 'But it's still fun coming up with the young ones. It's just a different chapter.'
 
Americans Nicole Castrale, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Prammanasudh and Morgan Pressel are new to the event. Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer will play their first Solheim Cup on foreign soil.
 
Inkster, meanwhile, is closer to the end of her career than the beginning. Ask what her plans are for the future and she interrupts the question -- it's clear she's heard it a lot lately.
 
'I'm just going to play it by ear,' Inkster said. 'I know I'm not going to play as many as this year. But I just don't know.'
 
Always one of Inkster's favorites, the Solheim Cup is a match-play event that mirrors the men's Ryder Cup in format, with 14 best-ball and alternate-shot matches played over Friday and Saturday, then 12 singles matches to decide things Sunday.
 
The event began in 1990 and the United States has a 6-3 advantage over Europe, though winning on European soil has not been easy for the Americans. It has only happened once, 10 years ago in Wales.
 
Back then, players like Dottie Pepper, Mallon and Beth Daniel made up the core of the team. Now, Pepper is a TV analyst, Daniel is the assistant captain and Mallon fell too far down the standings to make the team.
 
It compelled King, the U.S. captain, to pluck Laura Diaz from 14th off the points list so she'd have another player with experience in one of these events overseas. The tournament will take place at Halmsted Golf Club in southern Sweden.
 
King is also interested in seeing how Gulbis and Creamer, two head-turners who look as comfortable at a photo shoot as on a golf course, handle the feel of playing when the gallery isn't on their side.
 
'They're not used to people rooting against them,' King said. 'They're always the fan favorite, and I think that will be interesting to see how they react to that. I think that's what makes this a challenge.'
 
Playing in Sweden marks a homecoming for three of the European players -- Sophie Gustafson, Maria Hjorth and, of course, Annika Sorenstam.
 
This has been a difficult year for Sorenstam, whose stay at No. 1 was derailed by back and neck injuries that cost her a big chunk of the season and have threatened to keep her winless in a season for the first time since 1994, her first year on the LPGA Tour.
 
'As you know, I always play to win at every event I participate in, so winning would be great,' Sorenstam said. 'Winning in a team format like this is always special and it will be even more special winning back at home in Sweden.'
 
So far, there haven't been any reports of trash talking or bad blood that sometimes appear in the run-up to the event. In the past, they have had spats about who was supposed to putt first, who called who a 'brat' and rules disputes galore.
 
King remembers going to Bible study several years ago with Alison Nicholas, her opponent in the next day's match, but getting so angry at Nicholas over a rules dispute during the mach that the two didn't speak for a while afterward.
 
'I think there might be little incidents like that that obviously, with time, they are funny. I think that's what makes the Solheim Cup special,' King said.
 
Two years ago, it was the 19-year-old Creamer declaring the Europeans 'better get ready, because they're going to get beat.'
 
She helped back that up, going 3-1-1 in America's 15 1/2 -12 1/2 victory.
 
Inkster was in on that celebration, which certainly had a different feel than some in the past. Creamer and Gulbis are just a tad older than Inkster's high-school-aged daughters, Hayley and Cori.
 
No big deal, Inkster says. She's still looking forward to hanging with the kids this week.
 
'We've got a very young team,' 'The only way this young team gains any experience is by playing. They're our future. These girls are going to play five, six, seven Solheim Cups. It gives them a chance to get their feet wet.'
 
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