A certain complacency has infiltrated the European camp in the build-up to this years Solheim Cup, but there are some early season warning signs for Captain Dale Reid.
Last year, the American women were completely overshadowed by the foreign contingent on the US LPGA Tour, and they earned brickbats from all and sundry. Some of the veterans, such as two-time winner, Rosie Jones, Juli Inkster and Dottie Pepper, could hold their heads high, but where were the youngsters?
While Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak proved that womens golf had become a truly global game, the once superior Americans were struggling to win tournaments, never mind dominate the scene.
And while the Evian European Tour was pushing out its chest with pride, and acclaiming the rush of great new talent, most visibly in the shape of Suzann Pettersen, Paula Marti and Karine Icher, the powers that be in the US were struggling to come up with any new names.
But perhaps the pendulum has begun to swing. For instance, Laura Diaz (pictured), after four times as a runner-up, scored her winning breakthrough in the Welchs/Circle K Championship last month and she staged a fine follow-up by finishing third behind Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam in last weeks Office Depot tournament.
At the age of 26, Laura, a Florida professionals daughter, now looks set to fulfil the promise that she indicated back in her first year as a professional when she won the 1998 European Tour Rookie of the Year title. And now that Laura has hit the big time, she could provide the inspiration for a few more of the up and coming talent heading for Solheim debuts.
Dorothy Delasin, with three wins in two years on Tour, is one of the most naturally talented of the new crop, and her close connections with US Tour pro Notah Begay is having a very positive influence. She has Notahs brother, Clint, acting as her caddie, and has recently teamed up with the same coach.
Cristie Kerr, who has lost a ton of weight (well, around 40lbs) over the past couple of seasons, is another on the brink of stardom. As with Diaz, she has a few close calls, and once she does breach that winners enclosure there is every chance that she could win several times.
Kerr, 24, has already proved she is a girl for the big time. She finished second in the 2000 US Open, was fourth last year and 10 days ago was joint third in the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
There are another couple of names to throw into the Solheim pot of newcomers - Kelli Kuehne, a feisty youngster who is a great friend of Tiger Woods - and Emilee Klein, who is beginning to show more of the form that helped her win the Weetabix British Open as a 22-year-old back in 1996. And the former Curtis Cup player, Wendy Ward, is another in the mix for a first Solheim appearance.
Of course, Reid, who captained Europe to that magnificent victory at Loch Lomond two years ago, is unfazed by what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. She is certain that her side is going to be packed with 'young and up and coming players', and confident that they can come up with the goods and make history by staging a successful defence at Interlachen in Minnesota in September.
'Im a number one Solheim fan and to help the side win on US soil for a first time would be the best moment of my career,' she insisted. 'As a player, or captain, I just cant explain the thrill of the Cup. But its just great.'
However, her US counterpart, Patty Sheehan, admits she is 'tremendously excited' by the crop of youngsters that could join her more experienced campaigners, and she totally rejects the idea that her side will be the underdogs.
'We are the home team and, because of what has happened around the world, there will be extreme patriotism,' she predicted. 'I can see a lot of new young players making the side, and I know they will be up to the task.'
At the moment, it does seem that both teams will be teeming with first time players. But while the young Europeans grabbed so much glory last year, it now seems that several American youngsters could be ready to step into the limelight.
|| 10 - APRIL 2002