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Preparing for Battle

Editor's note: Rich Lerner is anchoring The Golf Channel's coverage of the 2003 Solheim Cup.
MALMO, Sweden -- The charter from the States carried all the U.S. players and four Europeans, including Annika Sorenstam. Intense as this competition has become, no one had to be separated.

'September 11th made a big difference,' Patty Sheehan told me as she toured the Barseback Golf and Country Club on a gusty, warm day.

'There was a lot of friction at Loch Lomond,' she recalled. 'Last year we got back to what it was in the early years - a fierce competition but one where you remain friends.'

The perspective is in place. Now the team just needs a little sleep.

'I'm the only one who slept,' cracked the easy-going Meg Mallon. Sweden is six hours ahead of Eastern Time. The plane arrived late Monday afternoon, so the trick was staying up until nine or so before passing out.

'I was up at three in the morning watching the Bucs,' said Jane Geddes, the assistant captain and a huge Tampa Bay fan.

In any event, Tuesday was get-acquainted-with-the-golf-course day. By all accounts, players like what they see.

'It's got a lot of character,' said Solheim rookie Angela Stanford. ' It feels like you're playing two or three different golf courses.'

Stanford toured Barseback with Mallon and Juli Inkster, and had the two veterans down five skins playing the final hole.

'We're trying to build her confidence,' joked Mallon with a laugh.

Sheehan told me not to read too much into the Tuesday groupings. 'We're just out learning the course today,' she said. 'I don't have the pairings perfect, but I do have some ideas,' she said. 'Everyone seems to be playing well.'

Sheehan was loose as ever. She's the perfect captain, not in any way self-important and always quick with a laugh. The spirit rubs off on her players.

The team is staying at the lodge here at Barseback, about 20 minutes from Malmo in the Southern part of Sweden. The accomodations have been well received.

'Very Swedish,' said Geddes, which is to say nice but modest.

Carin Koch said the average Swede might not say hello to you on the street the way an American might, adding somewhat sardonically that if they did, 'they'd mean it.'

'It takes longer to get to know a Swede,' she said. 'But once you do, they're very friendly.'

Koch's been back in her native land for two weeks. She spent time at her summer home north of Gothenburg, 'trying to be a mom, fishing and working on my game.' Whatever she's done in the past, it's worked. Koch is 7-0-1 in two previous Solheim Cups.

Last year at Interlachen, Koch was pregnant with her second child, so she can relate to teammate Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, who is carrying her first. The two played a practice round.

'I helped her with her balance,' Koch said. 'Everything tends to lean forward when you're pregnant!'

Meanwhile, Annika the Great worked for a spell on her putting alignment, alone but for a few onlookers.

The crowds, upwards of 25,000 each day, will begin to flow on Thursday.

What they'll find is an interesting layout. Most of the holes are pleasingly straightforward, framed by tall birch and fir trees. Beginning at the 8th, four holes run out and along the water, the resund, across which lies the city of Copenhagen.

Wind is a major factor here. On this day, it blew from the east in gusts, but still was considered the easier wind. If it comes from the northwest as it tends to do this time of year, then players will have toscrap to make par on a lot of holes, particularly those running along the water.

The practice rounds continue Wednesday and Thursday, with players expecting to go just nine holes. The Solheim Cup is a physical and emotional grind, so it's paramount to conserve energy.

'We're a little tired,' said Sheehan. 'But we're feeling good. We'll get a good night's rest and we'll be fine. The only thing is I couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights in my room.'

Patty let out a big laugh. In European hotel rooms youhave to insert the room key in a slot to get power. The U.S. players need no such thing toget their captain to light up.

The Americans are comfortably settled in Sweden, ready to defend the Cup.
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