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Rays of hope
From a European point of view, one positive that came out of the Solheim Cup was the performance of the Evian Tour rookies. Suzann Pettersen (pictured with Dale Reid), Paula Marti, Karine Icher and Iben Tinning had little or no experience of US tournament play but they all proved their class in Interlachen.

Pettersen, the youngest ever European Solheim Cupper at just 21, formed a great partnership with Helen Alfredsson and was an absolute superstar in her singles against Michel Redman. Dormie five down, she battled back to square her match with a birdie on the final hole. By then, she had turned her much more experienced opponent into such a state of bewilderment that she couldn't even remember where she'd marked her ball on the 18th green.

Pettersen is the only one of the five playing in this week's Biarritz Classic, the final event of the Evian Tour season. Next Tuesday, she will be joining the other four at the final LPGA qualifying school in Florida.

And that's when it could become crunch time for the Evian circuit. If the quintet all win their full card - and it won't be easy with just 15 available on offer from a field of around 100 - then Europe could lose some of its greatest assets next season.

The hope is that the players will still show loyalty to Europe, but who can blame them if they do decide to spend most of the year in America? The dollar far outstrips the Euro in terms of golfing currency, while the LPGA Tour is the place to test your game against the very best.

There is no doubt that the European players all have the ability, talent and attitude to make it in America, and it promises to be a great run for he 2003 LPGA Rookie of the Year award (Mexican Lorena Ochoa is another superstar in the making).

But America's gain could certainly be Europe's loss. At the moment, they re all saying the right things, promising to return for the bulk of the summer tournaments. Let's hope so.

Returning to the Biarritz Classic, it has certainly struck lucky this week with Scotland's Mhairi McKay, and three Solheim Swedes, Alfredsson, Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth, all having returned from the US to take part.

For McKay, who won one point on her Solheim debut, it is a real chance to finally make her winning breakthrough. The Turnberry 27-year-old has had a great season in America with six top-10s, and one second. A first professional victory must come soon.

Looking back on her Interlachen experience, McKay concedes that it was a huge disappointment, but an experience that she will never forget. Overall, it was a great week and made me determined to get back in the side next year, she said.

That is the one good aspect about the Solheim - there is another one next year. As expected, this year's event was completely overshadowed by the Ryder Cup, and the excitement (and the result) from The De Vere Belfry means that, even already, most Europeans have probably forgotten that the Solheim even took place.

But it won't be long before we are all thinking about Barseback in Sweden, and ready to criticise Catrin Nilsmark (the new European captain) over her wild card selections.

In the meantime, Robin Gibson, the European Tour's commercial director, and his team are working hard and desperately trying to increase the number of tournaments for next year's circuit. There could even be the outside possibility of a Scottish Open returning to the scene. And more tournaments, plus bigger prize funds, is the one way to lure the Europeans back home from the States




©    1 - OCTOBER 2002



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