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Learning with the best
Because they are competing on the other side of the planet, it is sometimes all too easy to ignore how well our Scottish women are shaping up against the rest of the world.

At the moment, all four competing on the LPGA Tour are ranked in the top-55 on the money list. Janice Moodie has already won a title this season, Mhairi McKay has had a second place and a string of high finishes and Catriona Matthew was eighth in last week's Major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship. Kathryn Marshall is also rock steady.

Currently, they are ranked Moodie (nine), McKay (17), Matthew (23) and Marshall (53). If we had four men that were achieving similar heights, I think it would be shouted from the rooftops.

Another aspect that tends to be ignored - hope I'm not beginning to sound paranoid [yes you are, but we're used to it, Ed] - is how good these players really are. The standard in the States is quite incredible, and improving all the time. Leading the revolution of the women's game at the moment is Swede Annika Sorenstam (pictured) - who broke such an impressive barrier when she shot 59 in a tournament last year. She has upped the ante with her absolute dedication and determination to get better and better. Her hunger to improve is incredible, almost beyond belief. Even her husband, David Esch, has termed her routine of work-outs in the gym as 'crazy'.

Her coach, Pia Nilsson, is also in total of awe of a player she has known since she was a promising youngster on the Swedish junior team. 'Annika was just saying to me last week that she seems to be getting more and more competitive,' said Nilsson, the former European Solheim Cup Captain.

'Every time she goes out she wants to win so much. But she's always been tremendously driven. I remember when she was a junior, she wasn't the most naturally talented, but she was someone who listened, took in exactly what she needed, and put it into use.'

Over the past two seasons, the 31-year-old has been like a turbo vacuum cleaner in full flight, sucking up titles with amazing regularity. She won eight times last year; she already has five in her locker from this campaign. And, if she doesn't win, she is always - and I mean always - in contention.

She just never gives up. Take last week's LPGA Championship for instance. She was 14 shots behind leader Beth Daniel going into the final round at Dupont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware. Then she shot 65 and finished third, five behind winner Se Ri Pak, and just two adrift of Daniel.

Anyway, back to the Scots. Marshall, the veteran of the quartet, is in prime position to note the changes since she joined the Tour in 1993, and to give her opinion on the tartan success story.

'The Tour has changed beyond all recognition,' she suggested. 'When I started, no-one visited the gym. Now everyone works out on a regular basis. The standard has improved so much. Nowadays, you usually have to shoot several under par just to make cuts. The strength in depth is also much greater, although that also shows how great a player Annika is. To be able to be right up there every week is unbelievable.

'When you are in contention it is mentally so tough, and very tiring. To be able to cope with that tension so often per season leaves me absolutely flabbergasted.'

As for the Scots, she reckons that the rivalry to be the best of the four helps them all. 'We're all very friendly but, naturally, we all want to be the best.'

Over the next couple of months - highlights included the US Open in Kansas next month and the Weetabix British Open at Turnberry from August 8-11 (a date for your diary) - the Scots could come even more to the fore as they all challenge for places in Europe's Solheim Cup team for the defence of the trophy at Interlachen in Minnesota in September.

Who knows? Captain Dale Reid, herself a Scot, might have four compatriots in her side - which would be pretty neat in comparison with Colin Montgomerie's lonely flying of the Saltire in the Ryder Cup the following week at The De Vere Belfry.

©    13 - JUNE 2002

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