The Solheim Cup is all of this. Paula Creamer is the controversy, saying absolutely that the U.S. will win. Patriotism was rampant at the news conference last week with Go USA! reverberating throughout the American squad. Of course, the Americans will be contesting a team of Europeans led by possibly the greatest womens player in history, Annika Sorenstam. And a legend steps up to lead the U.S. team ' Nancy Lopez.
They settle the score this weekend at Crooked Stick near Indianapolis. You cant say it is a match of the greatest womens players in the world because, like the mens Ryder Cup, no Koreans are present, no Australians, no Japanese or Canadians or South Africans. But it is what it is, two teams of very good players, with several little intriguing twists at play.
First, of course, is Creamers declaration that the U.S. is going to win: They (the European team) better get ready, because they are going to get beat. Paula is only 19, a rookie, not yet experienced enough to guard her sentiments. But I kind of like what she said ' and I would feel the same way if Annika or Laura Davies said it about Europe.
Creamer, you see, isnt anti-Annika or anti-Europe or anti-anything. Deep down, she probably isnt nearly so certain of a U.S. victory. But she is trying valiantly to be positive about her team, and I find that admirable. Lopez refused the opportunity to downplay Paulas unbridled optimism ' She's awesome, she's pumped up. I love it. We want that. You did good, Paula!
And even Davies appreciated Creamers sassy verve. `I like what she said. She's a rookie. She's in that press conference with Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel. She's a top quality player and she'll only get better. Why shouldn't she be confident? That's good,' said Davies appreciatively.
Sorenstam is bound to score beaucoup points for the Europeans. She has a 16-8 record covering the six Solheims in which she has played, but, like Tiger Woods, she has had troubles in the singles. She has won only three while losing to Tammie Green and Juli Inkster and being halved by Wendy Ward.
That should make the Americans concerned, however, when they see her in a team event ' especially alternate shot (foursomes). She is nearly unbeatable in that one, owning a 9-1-1 record. Her only loss came in 1998 to Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton when she played with Catrin Nilsmark.
I love the Solheim Cup, said Annika. I do for the reason that it's a team event and we don't play a lot of team events throughout the year. It's a great honor to be selected and kind of represent your country. You know, I represent Europe. And once we do get together, it's a lot of fun.
She hasnt commented directly on Creamers remarks, though its a well-known fact that these sort of things quietly simmer inside her. She deeply resented some of the out-and-out patriotic actions of Pepper, for example, and it was Sorenstam who had to replay a holed chip shot in 2000 when it was determined that she played out of turn.
And then there is Lopez. Nancy played in only one Solheim, the first one in 1990. She was well into her role of being a mother by then, and though she tried very hard to make the team two other times, U.S. captains didnt select her.
Lopez, who had to make similar selections this time when she picked Ward and Beth Daniel for the wild cards and overlooked several deserving players, says she understood. But there can be no mistaking that each time she was considered and rejected, it was painful to her.
I know how they feel, Nancy said of those who werent picked, because there were a couple of times I wasn't chosen for two Solheim Cups. And it's heart-breaking because you know how hard you work and you feel like you deserve to be on the team.
As usual, the Euros arrive with several team members who arent widely known. Ludivine Kreutz and her French compatriot, Gwladys Nocera, are two who made the team via points on the Ladies European Tour but have rarely competed elsewhere, at least as professionals. And it might be noteworthy that Europe has never won on American soil.
But, the Americans misfortunes in the recent Ryder Cups speak volumes about reputations and what that means when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of playing the matches. There is no question that the U.S. has the better singles players. But is the U.S. the best team?
Englishwoman Trish Johnson says it just isn't natural for the U.S. side to really be teammates. 'The American team, in all honesty - they try to beat each other every single week of the year apart from once every two years, when all of a sudden they're supposed to be best mates. That's really difficult,' she said.
Maybe yes, maybe no. But one thing is definite here ' this one is big. It may not be a meeting of the worlds best players, but it is surely the worlds best competition.
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