American Juli Inkster recently told me that she hoped this year's Solheim Cup would be devoid of jingoism and any controversial dust-ups. Well, a week before the Europe versus America clash, Catrin Nilsmark (pictured) has stirred up plenty of ill-feeling by severely criticising several of the American players on a Swedish website.
Nilsmark isn't on this year's team but will Captain Europe at Barseback in her native Sweden next year. But she has certainly played a part in the forthcoming encounter with a string of damning remarks.
Just listen to this. She says that Laura Diaz 'has a cocky attitude;' Michelle Redman is a 'complete lack of talent;' Cristie Kerr is 'a small brat. She was really disliked on Tour but she has matured some.'
As for Meg Mallon, 'her best years are behind her;' Kelli Kuehne is a 'real Texan gal, the one you hear best of them all;' Kelly Robbins is 'not very stable and does easily get nervous;' Pat Hurst 'has played really bad this year - doubt that she will be a strong (captain's pick).'
Apparently, Kuehne heard of the comments and responded during last week's Williams Championship in Tulsa, Okla. She told the US-based Golf Channel: 'I'm a very motivated person - take all the shots at me you want and I'll just keep coming back for more. I mean, I grew up with brothers so sticks and stones may break my bones but barking's not going to phase me.
'I don't take it personally. Obviously, some of the players on our team, including myself, have been underestimated, and that's fine. Let's see what we can do with it, let our sticks do the talking.'
Added another U.S. team member Emilee Klein: 'I think it's going to inspire our team. Unfortunately, the things were said and not all of them were so nice, but I think it's going to bring us together as a team and really motivate us.'
The Golf Channel went on to report that Nilsmark, who has played in five Solheim Cups, was regretful about her statement concerning Redman, but stood by the rest of her remarks.
So what do you think of that lot? Is she crazy or what? Did she think that no-one would pick up on the remarks, or does she think that no-one reads the website?
Quite rightly, Dale Reid, the European captain, has distanced herself from the comments, and Nilsmark herself has pulled out of this week's Safeway Classic in Portland. However, she will be at the Solheim at Interlachen in Minnesota from September 20-22.
A few weeks ago, Europe was riding high and full of confidence. But this latest debacle could certainly work in the home side's favour. Don't we all remember Dalmahoy 10 years ago when Beth Daniel allegedly said something along the lines that not one of the European players would improve the US line-up. Suitably irritated, the Europeans went on to prove her wrong with the most unexpected of victories.
As for Nilsmark, not only might she have damaged European prospects, but she now has to go back and face these same players on a week to week basis.
As Inkster pointed out: 'It's the one aspect that is so silly about the Solheim. We're all good friends, but for one week the members of the US and European teams don't speak to each other. It's just plain daft.'
Of course, for many of the onlookers (and the media), the controversy adds an extra dollop of spice to the contest.
But Nilsmark's ill-timed comments could result in bolstering the home fans desire to cheer on the side to victory. After all the Ryder Cup hullabaloo at Brookline in 1999, an extra motivation for American-charged patriotism was not what was required.
As for Reid and her team, they need all the help they can get in a bid to make history by becoming the first European side to win on US soil. But with friends like Nilsmark who needs enemies?
|| 9 - SEPTEMBER 2002