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Golf News: - Posted 10th December 1997

Alison Nicholas wins prestigious European Golf Writers' Trophy

London: Alison Nicholas, who won the US Open in July and topped the European Order of Merit has just beaten off the challenge of Europe's Ryder Cup team to win the prestigious Golf Writers' Trophy for 1997.

Alison stands just 5ft tall "in my golf spikes", defeated the Ryder Cup side by a mere two votes in a poll conducted among members of the Association of Golf Writers, with five-times European No 1 Colin Montgomerie - last year's winner of the award - in third place, Jose Maria Olazabal fourth and Lee Westwood fifth.

The 35-year-old, raised in Sheffield but based now in Birmingham, was part of the Solheim Cup team which lifted the award in 1992 but becomes only the third woman golfer to take the award alone in the last 35 years.

Mickey Walker won the trophy in 1972 after capturing her second successive British amateur title and Laura Davies three years ago after topping the American money list, becoming world No 1 and winning on five different tours.

The award goes to the person or persons, born or resident in Europe, who is judged to have made the most outstanding contribution to golf during the year.

Last December there was a tie between Montgomerie and Davies, with Montgomerie being declared the winner on a count of second-place votes.

"To win this in a year when we kept the Ryder Cup and there were so many other great performances is just brilliant," said Nicholas, currently playing in California.

"It's been the best season of my career and obviously winning the US Open was the highlight of it.

"My two goals at the start of the year were to get into contention for a major and to win the European Order of Merit for the first time. To win both was a dream come true."

It was the battle with 40-year-old Nancy Lopez who Alison edged out at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon to win the US Women's Open in July, for the biggest title in women's golf that will live longest in the memory of the player known as 'Big Al'.

"I liked the course. When I got there and I practised really hard for the three days before the start, but you never know that you're going to win," said Nicholas.

"Most of the attention in the build-up was on whether Annika (Sorenstam) could win three years in a row. But when we got under way it all came together for me."

While Sorenstam and 1987 champion Davies both missed the cut, rounds of 70, 66 and 67 gave Nicholas a three-shot lead entering the final day with Lopez her closest challenger.

The gap became four with five to play but a double-bogey at the 14th and bogey at the 16th set up a nail-biting climax.

Showing the determination that has marked her career, she kept Lopez at bay - and became the first player, man or woman, to finish a US Open 10 under par.

First prize was nearly 150,000 but she said: "I wasn't thinking about the money at all. Just the title. It meant so much.

"I had my worries a few years ago that maybe my best was behind me. I was getting more and more inconsistent. But then I decided to try to do something about it, starting with losing some weight."

Paul Darby, who has worked with Ian Woosnam and Peter Baker, put her on a fitness programme - he is now her manager as well - and new coach Lawrence Farmer changed her swing and got her to understand it much better. The results are now there to be seen in black and white.

Walker, who captained Nicholas in four Solheim Cups, said: "I'm delighted for Alison. The amount of effort she put in to achieve what she did this year was just incredible and for any athlete to do that when they have already been successful is fantastic. It takes a lot of discipline.

"She gets mad and gets down on herself sometimes, but the lovely thing is that she has not changed. I know how hard she has worked on the board of the WPGET (the European's Women's Tour) to improve things despite playing most of her golf in America now. She has given a lot of time, effort and energy to help her fellow players."

One of Nicholas' aims when she flies home next week for Christmas is to finally watch a video of her US Open triumph - and to read a magazine profile of herself called 'Small is Beautiful'.

"I was teased at school about my height but it didn't leave any scars and I think it probably helped to shape my character." Big-hearted.

Finding herself too easily lobbed at tennis, her father fixed up golf lessons and she worked and worked so that by the end of the first year her handicap was already down to 10.

Four years later, when she was 21, she won the British amateur strokeplay title and she turned professional the following season. Her first victory was the 1987 Weetabix British Open.

Taking the Order of Merit title was especially sweet because she was runner-up to Marie Laure De Lorenzi in 1988 and 1989 and to Trish Johnson in 1990.