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Many top players missing from Solheim teams

They should call themselves the Dream Team. Seven of them are among the top 11 on the money list. They have combined to win half of the 24 tournaments this year on the LPGA Tour, the latest coming when Karrie Webb of Australia, the youngest woman to complete the career Grand Slam, won for the 29th time.

"That would be one powerful team," Juli Inkster said.

Only it's not a team.

It isn't even a dream, at least not a realistic one.

The Solheim Cup, a showcase event in women's golf, is limited to players from the United States and Europe.

Some of the LPGA's best aren't allowed to play.

Inkster and Annika Sorenstam were among players from both teams who took a charter from Tulsa, Okla., to the southern tip of Sweden for this year's matches, which start Friday at Barseback Golf & Country Club.

Complete Coverage of the Solheim Cup
Webb flew home to Florida to watch on TV.

It will be the first time she has not gone to the Solheim Cup since her rookie year in 1996. Even though she couldn't play, Webb loved watching the drama and pressure from outside the ropes, and she grew so close to the American team that she started getting invited to team dinners.

"I didn't feel comfortable," she said, "because it's an event I know I can't be in."

Joining Webb on the sidelines are Se Ri Pak, Grace Park and Hee-Won Han of South Korea, who have won six times this year; three-time winner Candie Kung of Taiwan; Rachel Teske, a fellow Aussie who has won twice; and rookie sensation Lorena Ochoa of Mexico.

The PGA Tour had this problem nearly 10 years ago when it discovered its best international players -- Greg Norman, Nick Price and Vijay Singh -- were from countries outside of Europe.

The answer was The Presidents Cup.

"I think the Solheim Cup is a good event and it's great for those players who are part of it," Pak said. "I would hope someday soon we can have a competition similar to what the men have with the Presidents Cup."

For the LPGA Tour, it's not that simple.

Commissioner Ty Votaw has considered several options, but all come with a cost.

"We can't do it out of the goodness of our heart," he said.

The Karsten Solheim family, which owns Ping Golf, foots the bill for the matches and likes the format the way it is. Votaw is not about to risk that sponsorship.

"We don't want to do anything to dilute the brand of the Solheim Cup," Votaw said.

There was talk five years ago about expanding the teams to make it the United States against the world, a notion met with disdain by Laura Davies and the rest of the Europeans. Besides, that would be a mismatch nowadays. Americans went 17 straight events on the LPGA Tour without winning.

"We'd have to have some draft choices," Inkster said. "If we could have Mexico (Ochoa) and Canada (Lorie Kane), maybe that would work. I know Karrie has watched a few of them. They're really missing out."

Still, Inkster is equally cautious about tinkering with success.

While relatively new to golf -- the Solheim Cup only began in 1990 -- it has been building momentum and now rivals the U.S. Women's Open as the biggest event in women's golf.

"I'd hate to see it lose steam," she said.

That limits the options considerably.

The closest the LPGA has come to getting its international players involved in team competition was the 2000 Women's World Cup of Golf, which survived just one year before funding dried up. Webb and Teske led Australia to the title that year in Malaysia.

Not surprisingly, Votaw was among the strongest supporters of golf in the Olympics, a proposal that died last year.

That leaves Webb, Pak and a litany of non-European stars to do without -- unless the LPGA is willing to show some innovation, and the Solheim family is willing to bend.

The solution is a tri-match involving 12-player teams from the United States, Europe and the Rest of the World.

It would feature six best-ball matches in the morning and six alternate-shot matches in the afternoon the first two days. For every session, the captain submits her pairings in a blind draw.

Two U.S. teams play European teams, two European teams play two International teams, and two International teams play two U.S. teams. For Sunday singles, six Americans play six Europeans, six Americans play six Internationals, and the remaining six Internationals and Europeans play each other.

The team with the most points wins the Solheim Cup.

In case of a tie, each captain submits one name in an envelope to compete in a four-hole playoff.

Otherwise, the best event in women's golf won't include all of the best players.

Samuel Ryder could not have envisioned golf becoming such a global game when he pitched the idea of matches between Britain and the United States in 1927. It wasn't until 52 years later that Europe was invited to the Ryder Cup, in part due to the emergence of Seve Ballesteros.

Webb showed up only six years after the Solheim Cup began. Pak arrived two years later.

It's not too late to change.


 

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