Notes US Fights Emotions Annika Anxious


2005 Solheim CupCARMEL, Ind. -- It was an emotional first day for the Americans at the Solheim Cup.
U.S. team captain Nancy Lopez was greeted at the first tee with a rousing ovation. Then came the expected support -- fans chanting players' names, singing songs and waving flags. On the course, national flags were draped over ropes and some groups continued chanting at their favorite players.
And when the matches turned on the final few holes in the morning, players could sense the momentum shift -- even from the crowd.
But after the first day, some of America's first-time team members were still talking about their experience at the first hole.
``I wanted to bawl my eyes out. I was terrified,'' Christina Kim said. ``I felt like I had no idea what I was getting myself into.''
Kim was fortunate. Her playing partner was veteran Pat Hurst, and the team settled down quickly.
Other youngsters weren't so lucky.
Natalie Gulbis and Cristie Kerr, the top qualifier for the U.S., were a little off until the final holes of the morning round. Paula Creamer, the first LPGA Tour rookie to make the American team, acknowledged she was anxious to get started -- and it took a few holes for the United States to get in sync.
Even Lopez detected the difference.
``Paula was a little nervous when I saw her on the first hole, and I told her you'll be fine after the first hole,'' Lopez said. ``I think Natalie was a little nervous. Christina, I didn't think it really fazed her.''
The Europeans, though, remained composed.
As usual, England's Laura Davies seemed to enjoy herself and kept her two teammates, Maria Hjorth of Sweden and Suzann Pettersen of Norway, relaxed, too.
And, of course, it's always comforting to know you can rely on Annika Sorenstam, another Swede. Veterans like Davies and Sorenstam, the two winningest players in Solheim Cup history, are accustomed to the emotions of Day 1. Each has won a record 18 matches in this event.
The same was not true for the young Americans.
``This is a totally different type of golf,'' Kim said. ``It's like the Super Bowl, is the way I put it. You have the same people who come out to the regular LPGA events, but they're on something. They're loving everything.''
Annika Sorenstam expects to play in every round of this weekend's event. And why not? She's dominated the LPGA Tour the past few years and has never missed a Solheim match.
But she was having some doubts about Saturday's schedule after an uncharacteristic front nine Friday morning.
Sorenstam and Pettersen were 3-down after eight holes and 3-down after 12. So, Sorenstam decided she had to do something if she wanted to keep playing. A near ace on No. 13 seemed to do the trick, jump-starting the European rally.
``I've got to prove to Catrin (Nilsmark) that I'm playing well, so maybe she'll put me out there in the afternoon,'' Sorenstam said, drawing laughter from the media contingent. ``I was a little worried after the front nine this morning. I thought I might be sleeping late tomorrow morning.''
While Nancy Lopez was eager to get her rookies on the course and over those first, nervous moments, European captain Catrin Nilsmark played it safe.
She kept two of her rookies -- French players Gwladys Nocera and Ludivine Kreutz -- out of action Friday.
Nilsmark took a similar tack two years ago in Sweden, when she led the Europeans to a 17 1/2 -10 1/2 rout of the Americans. Then, she benched Ana B. Sanchez and Mhairi McKay on the first day.
But she'll have to wait until Saturday to see how her strategy works this time.
In 1994, tournament officials instituted a rule requiring team captains to use all 12 players before Sunday's singles matches. So, Nilsmark paired Nocera and Kreutz in Saturday's first match against two American rookies -- Gulbis and Kim.
Nilsmark believes that Day 2 is easier for the rookies.
``I think they're definitely a great foursome, but I didn't want to play them today because of the pressure today,'' Nilsmark said. ``I think they're ready to go tomorrow.''
A first-day deficit is nothing knew for the Americans, who have never lost a match on home soil.
The U.S. team is typically struggle in the alternate-shot format. In 57 matches over the nine tournaments, the U.S. team is 22-27-8 -- its worst record in the three scoring formats. The Americans are 25-25-5 in best-ball, after splitting Friday's four matches, and have dominated singles play with a mark of 48-33-7.
But for the second straight time in Solheim matches, the U.S. team failed to win an alternate-shot match on the first day, salvaging one point with two halves. That was far less than expected after taking big leads in three matches heading to the 12th hole.
``We had them right where we wanted and the momentum just changed,'' said Kim, who halved her match with partner Beth Daniel. ``But it wasn't one of those things where you wanted to crawl into a hole and die.''
Before choosing her team, U.S. captain Nancy Lopez spoke about the importance of having veteran leadership. Her move to keep Juli Inkster out of the morning pairings raised some questions.
On Friday, Lopez explained the reason.
Inkster had an infection cut out of her right index finger Thursday, an injury she said did not bother her play Friday afternoon in a 2 and 1 loss to Laura Davies and Suzann Pettersen.
Inkster is scheduled to play with Creamer on Saturday morning against Davies and Maria Hjorth.
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