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Take nothing for granted
The good news for the Evian European Tour is that a few welcome faces might be scurrying home on a more regular basis from the LPGA next year.

Helen Alfredsson (pictured) and Scotland's own Mhairi McKay have both intimated a desire to become more frequent visitors in a bid to secure Solheim Cup selection.

The next match between Europe and the United States is at Barseback in Sweden next September, and one of the positive spin-offs from Dale Reid's rather controversial selections this season is that it has rammed home the message that no-one can count on a captain's wild card. The only gauranteed means of entry is to earn one of the seven spots from the rankings.

Mhairi - who lost in a play-off for the final event of the Evian Tour season in Biarritz last weekend - is lying 11th on the rankings, and she admitted: 'It would be great to earn an automatic place for next year and not have to rely on a pick.

'I'll certainly be looking carefully at next year's schedule and see if I can fit in more European events. There's going to be some healthy competition for selection but I definitely want to be in Barseback.'

Mhairi was a Solheim rookie when Europe lost the trophy in Minnesota and, despite the defeat, she admits that it was the best week of her career.

'Everyone told me how good it is going to be, but it was even better,' she said. 'Getting back into the side will be my number one goal for next season.'

As for Alfredsson - who has played in all seven Solheims to date and was probably Dale's most surprising selection - she could be tempted to play a full season in Europe. Her partner, Kent Nilsson (a former Swedish international ice hockey player) caddied for her in Biarritz last week (she finished tied third) and he couldn't get over how relaxed and happy she was.

'I've told Helen that she should play where she is happy - and that's here in Europe,' he insisted. Helen herself admitted that she loves the more relaxed approach on the Evian Tour.

'Players actually talk to each other on the course,' she said in the incredulous tones that confirmed she has spent far too long on the treadmill of the US-based LPGA circuit.

'In America, every week is the same. Similar courses, the same restaurants, the same hotel chains. It becomes so boring.

'I would love to play regularly in Italy, Spain, France... the variety would be so much nicer. And I'm determined to make the Solheim again next year. I think it will be absolutely fantastic in Sweden and I want to be part of it. The crowds will be huge and I think the atmosphere will be the best yet. I'll do whatever it needs to be in the side.'

But, as both Mhairi and Helen are too well aware, the battle for places in the side to be captained by a Swede, Catrin Nilsmark, will be stronger than ever.

With this year's newcomers - Iben Tinning, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Marti and Karine Icher - all in America this week trying to win cards for next year's LPGA Tour at the final qualifying school in Florida, the dog-fight for Nilsmark's five wild cards will be fierce.

Of course, the youngsters might not all win their cards. And, even if they do, they say (at the moment) that they will still come back and support the European Tour next summer. But who says what might happen if they are either doing well - or, conversely, struggling to hold on to their US cards?

Anyway, it all adds up to an intriguing European season. Like everyone else, I was pretty down in the dumps when Europe lost the Solheim three weeks ago. But, already, I'm looking forward to a fascinating build-up to next year's match. It's less than a year away - and I'm convinced that this time Europe is going to win.

©    9 - OCTOBER 2002

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