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Youth wasted on the young
After the run of Australian events, the new and exciting generation of young European stars have done even more to enhance their reputations.

Spain's Paula Marti won the Australian LPG Championship in Sydney, and Norway's Suzann Pettersen won the admiration of everybody when she doggedly chased Karrie Webb (pictured) all the way to the line at the AAMI Australian Open in Melbourne on Sunday.

Webb, the former world no one, went head to head with Pettersen over the final 36-holes, and just squeaked victory with a birdie at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off. They both shot 69 in the final two rounds and finished eight ahead of the rest on 10 under 278.

It's not so long ago that Webb, now 27 and the youngest player ever to complete a career Grand Slam, was upsetting her elders on circuits across the world. So it was a taste of her own medicine to have a young upstart clipping at her heels.

'Suzann really hung in there, and hats off to her,' said a relieved Webb as she sat beside the trophy on Sunday evening. 'I've just found out that Suzann is only 20, and I can hardly believe it. She just didn't falter and I was really impressed with her course management.

'She didn't blast it with the driver all the time, and really thought her way round the courses. She's a big hitter, has a great all-round game and I'm sure she will have a big future on the LPGA Tour in America.'

Mind you, Pettersen came close to making an even bigger name for herself at Yarra Yarra on Sunday evening. Long after the victory ceremony, ashen-faced officials feared they might have to disqualify the runner-up.

It was at the post-tournament party that Pettersen casually revealed that she had damaged her putter when she kicked it in anger after missing a short birdie putt at the third hole.

Horrified officials realised she could have broken rule 4-3b that reads: 'If during a stipulated round a player's club is damaged other than in the normal course of play rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristic it shall not be changed or used during a round.' The penalty is disqualification.

However, after inspecting the offending putter, it was deemed that the playing characteristics had not been changed. But it was a close call for Pettersen, and another important lesson learned. The moral of the tale is that she must learn the rules - every rule - and that she must tame her temper.

Wales' Becky Morgan, another of the second year European professionals tipped for great things, did become victim to a rules infringement in the final round, although she called it on herself.

Facing a three foot putt for par at the short 15th, the Briton, who was three clear of her nearest challengers in outright third place, tickled the ball with her putter at address.

'I always line-up the ball with the maker's name at the back,' she explained. 'It only moved a dimple, but I knew it had turned and I had to call the shot. But I then missed the wee putt which was even more annoying.'

The double-bogey five saw her slip back, and with Australia's Michelle Ellis making birdie at the final hole, Morgan had to settle for a share of third place. She earned £12,000 - and the moment of madness cost her £12,000. Again, a lesson learned.

Now there is a few weeks break for the Evian European Tour before a run of events starting with the Tenerife Open at the beginning of May. But there won't be so much rest for Pettersen or Morgan.

An LPGA card holder, Morgan's next event will be the PING Banner Health in Phoenix in a fortnight, while Pettersen, by virtue of her second place in last year's European Order of Merit, will be lining-up in the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Palm Springs, California, at the end of the month.

Looking further ahead, it already seems certain that Pettersen and Marti - who play full-time in Europe - will be two of the new young guns in Dale Reid's European team for the defence of the Solheim Cup at Interlachen in Minnesota in September.

Morgan could also be a contender, although, since she spreads her time between America and Europe, she will have trouble collecting enough automatic selection points, and may have to rely on one of Reid's five wild cards that are as precious as gold dust. But it's certainly shaping up as an exciting season - and it's up to the experienced stars to respond to the youngsters.

©    4 - MARCH 2002

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