Captains Loose If Not Entirely Healthy

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Editor's note: Rich Lerner is anchoring The Golf Channel's coverage of the 2003 Solheim Cup.
 
Patty Sheehan stood on the range under an umbrella with assistant captain Jane Geddes, the rain as steady as it had been when it first started around mid-morning. In the distance, a soupy gray shrouded the Oresund. Across that body of water on Tuesday you could see Copenhagen. Today it was invisible.

'We've been wandering in the rain,' laughed Sheehan when asked about her day.

'Everybody getting comfortable?' I wondered.

'I know I'm comfortable because I don't have to play,' she cracked, refusing to turn this week's proceedings into any kind of major melodrama.

On the other hand, comfort's a luxury that her counterpart, Catrin Nilsmark, has experienced precious little of in recent weeks. What was supposed to be a glorious period leading the Europeans on her native Swedish soil has instead become an agonizing stretch because of a ruptured disc in her back. She spent eight days in the hospital, often times in excruciating pain.

Her mobility's limited. She walks gingerly with the aid of crutches. Vice-captain Allison Nicholas handles many of the on-course duties in her stead, Nilsmark reduced to conveying her thoughts to her players around the putting green, the first tee, and of course, in the team room.

It's there that her quick wit and sharp tongue could prove most invaluable in easing the inevitable pressure on her team. A reporter asked if she's on some medication to help her get around. It was then that the woman who nearly incited an international sporting incident by deriding American players last year unleashed her first zinger of the week.

'A bit of a mixture of LSD and morphine and cocaine,' Nilsmark retorted.

In truth, she did need morphine while laid up, so debilitating was the pain, which only began to subside earlier this week.

'I did have a dramatic improvement yesterday,' she explained. 'I'm feeling a lot better. To say that I'm happy is an understatement.'

Annika Sorenstam said of her captain, 'She just wants us to play good golf and not worry. We're more worried than she is.'

Despite her limitations, Nilsmark was able to give her team what many feel is an edge even before the first ball is in the air. She did it with the setup of the Barsebck golf course.

'The thing I noticed the most is they cut all the rough out,' said Meg Mallon.

How does that help the Europeans? Well, the Euros have the longest hitters - Laura Davies, Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson and Suzanne Petterson - and they can swing away with impunity, knowing that a wayward tee ball won't land them in terribly penal rough.

'No doubt,' emphasized Juli Inkster when asked if the layout favored the Europeans. 'But that's home turf. You play to your strengths.'

'That's a fair statement,' agreed Nilsmark, acknowledging that she used the home captain's prerogative to set up the course any way she likes. 'Our players just aren't used to the kind of rough you see in the States.'

In any event, the U.S. seems unfazed, comfortable in the role of underdog.

'This is the most relaxed I've seen our team,' said Inkster. 'We had a great dinner last night and we told lots of stories. It's funny to see the faces of Angela and Heather, the rookies, as they listen to the vets. Their eyes are just wide open, like, 'This is so cool'!'

Today, despite the rains, most of the players did get in the full 18 holes of practice.

'We're getting antsy,' said Sheehan. 'We're ready to get on with the matches.'

As for the pairings, neither captain's tipping their hand. The announcements come Thursday at 8 AM Eastern Time.

'I'm pretty solid on what I'm thinking,' offered Sheehan. She did add, though, that 'Some things came up today that changed my mind, so we're still in flux.'

The Europeans spent their practice time focusing on singles play, their Achilles' Heel through the years.

'To win here, we have to play well in singles,' explained Sorenstam. 'We've practiced singles this week.'

As Sorenstam spoke to the press inside the media center, the rain continued. A soggy day nearing an end, most of the players had repaired to their quarters for some rest. Nightfall would find them at the gala dinner.

By Thursday, the rains are expected to subside, giving way to a pleasant weekend. But the prevailing sense on this Wednesday is that if the pain stalking the European captain could just make like the rain and go away, then all will be well in Sweden.
 
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