Lopez Diverse in Day 1 Pairings


2005 Solheim CupCARMEL, Ind. -- U.S. captain Nancy Lopez gathered her potential Solheim Cup players for a practice session last month. She welcomed them to Crooked Stick, talked about American pride and winning back the cup.
And then her eyes welled with tears.
``She cried five times that day,'' Laura Diaz said. ``We started counting.''
By now, it has become a running joke.
During the gala dinner Wednesday night at an Indianapolis hotel, Lopez took to the stage shortly before 10 p.m. Within five minutes, her voice cracked and her lips quivered. When the wife of the late Karsten Solheim gave Lopez and European captain Catrin Nilsmark necklaces, Lopez was bawling.
'What are we on ... 11 now?'' Rosie Jones said when asked how many times her captain had lost it this week.
Then it was time for Lopez's press conference. First came an opening statement, and she talked about what an honor it has been to be the captain. Then, the moderator opened the floor to questions.
``I'll try not to cry,'' Lopez said, flashing that infectious smile.
But while the players joke about her ability to cry watching reruns of ``Little House on the Prairie,'' Lopez has accomplished what she set out to do.
This group of Americans has never felt more like a team.
``Nancy has been fantastic,'' said Beth Daniel, who competed against Lopez throughout her career. ``This may be the most fun I've had on a Solheim Cup team, the way she has bonded this team.''
When the matches start Friday, Lopez will find out if it pays off.
The ninth Solheim Cup begins with four alternate-shot matches, and Lopez already has shown equal treatment to her 12 players by sending out all three rookies Friday morning.
Leading off for the Americans is 19-year-old Paula Creamer and the 48-year-old Daniel, the youngest and oldest players in Solheim Cup history. They will face Carin Koch and Catriona Matthew.
Lopez put 22-year-old rookie Natalie Gulbis with Cristie Kerr, and 21-year-old Christina Kim with Pat Hurst. Among those who will be on the bench Friday morning are Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon and Jones, who have combined to play in the Solheim Cup 18 times.
Diaz, who is five months pregnant, and Michele Redman will play in the final match against the European juggernaut of Annika Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen, who won together twice in Sweden last time.
``I've got three young players that I might have to ride hard this weekend, so why not start them in the first matches?'' she said. ``Get them warmed up, get them calm. The more I put them out there, the better they will be.''
Lopez has invested extraordinary amounts of time and creativity with her team. She has had dinner with anyone who had a chance to make the team, even Creamer in the early summer she was still outside the top 10 in the standings.
And it really picked up steam two weeks ago after the U.S. team was set. Lopez joined them in Columbus, Ohio, for the announcement, then drove with them to Crooked Stick in a chartered motor home.
They cracked jokes at each's expense, sang and took pictures. Lopez undoubtedly shed a tear or two.
``Everyone was dancing and telling jokes, and plenty of things that need to stay in that motor home,'' Creamer said.
When the players arrived earlier this week at the team hotel, they found red, white and blue balloons in their rooms, gifts, inspirational books and handwritten notes from Lopez.
``Pretty unbelievable,'' Kerr said. ``She's a special lady. Forget what she's done on a golf course. I don't think you will meet a better person. She's been all about us. We have been all about each other and team. The bond that this team has molded ... there's a lot of good thoughts, a lot of goodwill, a lot of good energy.''
It is difficult to forget what Lopez did on the golf course.
She gave the LPGA Tour its first jolt of attention in 1978 as a 21-year-old rookie with a smile that attracted thousands of fans. The gallery and media attention grew as she won five straight tournaments, and finished the year with nine victories. She ended her career with 48 victories, three majors and a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
The Solheim Cup began in 1990, so Lopez only played in the first one, going 2-1-0.
She is having much more fun as a captain.
``I've always liked doing parties for my kids,'' said Lopez, who has three daughters. ``I think I'm a good planner.''
She has talked to previous Solheim Cup captains, but was motivated more by watching the Ryder Cup last September, when the U.S. men seemed to be disjointed in getting walloped by Europe.
``That was my goal two years ago was to make sure that my team felt like one,'' she said. ``I watched the Ryder Cup, and it was sad because I didn't see that.''
But for all the good times, she has not lost sight of the cup.
The United States leads the series, 5-3, and has never lost at home. Europe is gaining, coming close to winning three years ago in Minnesota, fully confident that their big hitters can carry them to victory at Crooked Stick.
``That's what we've been working for, to win,'' Lopez said. ``It will be very disappointing if we don't.''
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