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European Squad Has Right Stuff

by Lewine Mair - September 17, 2015

Normally, when a team is announced, there will be dark mutterings as to how the captain has got it wrong – but not this time. It would seem that Carin Koch, the European Solheim Cup captain, has ended up with as good a side as she could have.

It is not just that the right individuals have come on board via the European points list, the Rolex Rankings and Koch’s four wild cards. There is the additional point that there are two Germans in the mix in Sandra Gal and Caroline Masson.

In the Ryder Cup of 2012, one German – Martin Kaymer – did not seem to be enough to ignite Germany’s sporting fraternity. Indeed, Kaymer would take his country’s TV commentators to task for their lame delivery of the news that he had just holed the winning putt for Europe.

Two such disarming competitors as Gal and Masson, coupled with the fact that the Solheim Cup is being played at St Leon- Rot, will hopefully ensure that the locals get well and truly wrapped up in the contest.

“Germans,” said Masson shortly before she was announced as a team member, “enjoy their sport and I’m thinking that if we could just explain to them about match play, they would love it.”

By now, the explaining should have been done. If it has not, Europe’s chances of winning a third Solheim Cup in a row will be sorely diminished. As Alison Nicholas, a two-time European captain, has noted in the past, crowd support is huge “and it’s often the case that the American crowds ‘do it’ better.”

To detail the team, Suzann Pettersen, Gwladys Nocera, Charley Hull and Melissa Reid qualified first through the European points list, while Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Muñoz, Gal and Carlota Ciganda followed hard on their heels from the Rolex Rankings.

All of them have played in the match before, with the same applying to the four wild cards, Caroline Hedwall, Karine Icher, Catriona Matthew and the aforementioned Masson.

Hedwall, though she has struggled since sustaining a wrist injury at the start of 2014, was probably the first to be pencilled in on Captain Koch’s wild-card list. She was a key figure in 2011, while she achieved a record haul of 5 points out of 5 in 2013.

The Swede feared that poor performances in the past couple of counting tournaments could have spelt the end of her ambitions for ’15. However, Koch clearly felt that the Swede was lacking nothing more than the shot of confidence which would come with a team invitation.

Icher is the most wonderfully disconcerting of players. One moment in 2013 she could be seen pushing her baby gently about the place and the next she was wielding her putter and looking every inch a killer.

In winning 2½ points in Colorado, her moment of moments came in the Saturday afternoon four-balls when she holed a 45-footer from the back of the home green for her and Beatriz Recari to defeat Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel.

Though it was half dark at the time, the US captain, Meg Mallon, suggested that Icher’s ball had looked positively luminous to her as it headed inexorably towards the hole.

The 46-year-old Matthew is a rock-solid veteran of seven Solheim Cups. She beat Rosie Jones in the singles at Barsebäck in 2003 to clinch the winning point for Europe and to feature in her first winning side, while she tied up the half-point in Colorado which ensured that Europe won outright.

As for Masson, her record in Colorado was played two, halved one and lost one.

Going back to the rest, there is absolutely no need to sing the praises of Hull – who, like Hedwall, was a heroine of the match of 2013 – Pettersen, Nordqvist, Gal and Nocera. All are great competitors and you can guarantee that not too many of the Americans will be clamouring to come up against any one of them.

Again, many know the story of England’s Melissa Reid; how she played with distinction in the match of 2011 before so sadly losing her mother in a car crash at the following year’s German Open.

Reid lost the will to play golf but, just when she was on the point of abandoning ship altogether, a friend introduced her to Kevin Craggs, who works with Matthew. Together, coach and pupil took aim on this Solheim Cup – and Reid duly won her automatic place at the eleventh hour.

Finally, a mention for Ciganda, a quiet soul who amply demonstrated she was made of the right stuff when partnering Pettersen against Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson in the first fourball series in ’13.

She had hit into water at the 15th and all sorts of shenanigans followed when Lewis queried the referee’s decision on where the Spaniard should take her drop.

The Europeans were the beneficiaries of what was assuredly a wrong ruling but, far from being embarrassed, Ciganda added to her good fortune by holing from off the green for the most improbable of halves. Hardly surprisingly, Lewis was in no hurry to proffer her congratulations.

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