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The young 'uns are coming
For the past four months, Solheim Cup captain Dale Reid has been soaking up the sunshine down under at her second home in Queensland. But already the Scot must be turning her attention to Europe's defence of the famous trophy at Interlachen in Minnesota in September.

A lot can change over the next nine months but a glance at the Solheim rankings on the brink of 2002 make interesting reading. A case of out with the old and in with the new? Only the top seven on the list are automatic selections, but currently only two - Spain's Raquel Carriedo and Swede Sophie Gustafson - have played in the event before.

Karine Icher, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Marti, Elisabeth Esterl and Maria Hjorth are the five that have already established a platform to make their debuts. Icher, Pettersen and Marti are the rookie trio that made such a spectacular impact on the Evian European Tour last year. They combined to win five titles and it will be a surprise if they don't cling on to their ranking slots.

Hjorth had an impressive season on the LPGA Tour. She didn't win a title but she finished fifth on the money list as she stringed together a magnificent run of consistency. The Swede's Solheim debut is long overdue. She was unlucky to miss out on the final place in 1998 and, two years ago, a late loss of form contributed to her omission from Reid's list of five wild cards. It is little wonder, therefore, that she is reluctant to count her chickens. But surely it will be third time lucky for the powerful player whose ability to produce sensational scores is tailor made for matchplay.

For 110sport's Esterl, a Solheim place would be a dream come true. At 25, Elisabeth enjoyed a career high eighth place on the 2001 Order of Merit and has become one of Europe's most consistent performers. All she really needs is a first elusive win to give her confidence a final welcome boost of confidence. And she can take heart from Carriedo's transformation. A non-winner when she made a very nervous Solheim debut in Europe's glorious win over the US at Loch Lomond 15 months ago, the 30-year-old came of age in 2001. She enjoyed three victories and ended the season at the head of the Evian Tour's Order of Merit.

So, as the start of the season draws near with the Australian Masters in Queensland in February, the older hands must be desperate to get started and stake a claim for one of Reid's much coveted quintet of wild cards. 110sport's Catriona Matthew, who played in 1998, and Kathryn Marshall, a member of the 1996 team, are certainly on the list. Matthew, of course, was hurt and disappointed following a controversial absence at Loch Lomond.

But the Scot more than proved a point by bouncing back to win her first US event - the Hawaiian Ladies' Open - and a tenth place on the LPGA money list. Marshall rates the Solheim as her all-time favourite event, even above her victory in the Jamie Farr Classic on the LPGA Tour in 1995. No one will try harder to claim selection.

Annika Sorenstam, the world number one who rarely appears in Europe, must already be certain of her selection, while Laura Davies, a winner on both sides of the Atlantic in the last seven months, is another who will not be overlooked. Janice Moodie and Carin Koch are 2000 team members that will also be strong contenders.

But Swedish pair Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann and Brits Alison Nicholas and Trish Johnson are ever-presents that could be struggling to hold on and make it seven out of seven. As ever, it promises to be an interesting battle to become a member of Dale's dozen, and there is certain to be a shock or two along the way. Let's just hope that the wily Scot gets it right again, and Europe celebrates a first ever win on American soil.

©    1 - FEBRUARY 2002

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