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Solheim Cup success hinges on 11 rookies

They have played under pressure before, but never for their countries as pros.

©Associated Press
September 20, 2002

EDINA, Minn. -- The first time she played in the Solheim Cup, Helen Alfredsson stepped up to the first tee and glanced at her opponent.

It was Nancy Lopez.

"I just wanted to ask for an autograph and go home," Alfredsson said.

Twelve years later Alfredsson is the voice of experience, something both the American and European teams can use.

This is the seventh playing of what is best described as the women's version of the Ryder Cup, and the numbers speak volumes.

When the teams begin play today with four alternate-shot matches in the morning and four best-ball matches in the afternoon, 11 of 24 players, six Europeans and five Americans, get their first taste of the Solheim Cup.

The teams play four more alternate-shot and best-ball matches Saturday and conclude with 12 singles matches Sunday. As defending champions, the Europeans must capture 14 of 28 available points to keep the cup. The United States needs 14 1/2.

European youngsters Pauli Marti, Suzann Pettersen and Iben Tinning are in the lineup for today's openers. They're leaning on players such as Annika Sorenstam and Alfredsson, the 37-year-old Swede they've grown fond of calling "Mom" at this week's practices and parties.

The American rookies who play today -- Wendy Ward, Laura Diaz and Kelli Kuehne -- look to Juli Inkster, who has taken the role as the emotional center of the team because the injured Dottie Pepper is out.

"We all have experience, we all have played some type of team competition," said American Pat Hurst, in her third Solheim Cup.

Still, this is unique. It's three days of match play, a series of one-on-one and two-on-two showdowns that winners can brag about and losers must live with for the next year. Making it even more of a big event is the boost of determination that has developed among the U.S. players in the year since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I think it's very personal," Kuehne said. "You've got 12 Americans here, and this is our Olympics."

Catrin Nilsmark, the 2003 European captain, took digs at the American team this month. One of her most quotable was about Michele Redman: "She has absolutely no talent, but still she keeps up with the best in the world."

Redman and the rest of the team say they're putting the comments behind them.

"I think our main focus has been to win the cup back, and those are just words," Redman said.

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