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Solheim Cup Preview

Laura Davies on Europe's first win

Posted Sep 20, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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Around this time in 2001, Laura Davies reached the milestone of her 20th victory on the LPGA Tour, by capturing the Rochester International.  Then 37, Davies described it as “probably the most important victory of my entire career”, largely because it ended a 16-month slump while holding out the promise of further honours down the road.

Two more wins in the US or a fifth Major, would have earned her a coveted place in the LPGA Hall of Fame. "Obviously that's now within striking distance," she said at the time. Unfortunately, 10 years on, it still remains an unfulfilled ambition which seems likely to remain that way for the hugely gifted Englishwoman.

But Davies still has much to celebrate, especially this week at Killeen Castle near Dublin where she can claim a unique distinction as a member of the European Team for the 12th Solheim Cup meeting with the US.  It also happens to be a welcome return visit to a country where she won the Ford Ladies Classic in 1993 and the revived Irish Ladies Open in 1994 and 1995.  Her last Irish appearance was in September 2000 in the Women's World Cup won by Sweden at Adare Manor.

Now she is back on welcoming terrain as the only player from either side of the Atlantic who has appeared in every Solheim Cup match since the event was instituted at Lake Nona, Florida, in 1990.  Along the way, she has appeared in three European victories, at Dalmahoy in 1992, Loch Lomond in 2000 and Barseback, Sweden in 2003.  Her singles record is five wins and a halved match out of 11, while she has gained 16 wins and four halves from 34 doubles matches, making for a total points haul of 23 ½ overall.

By her own reckoning, team events have always held a special appeal since her amateur days.  This has much to do with the fact that she never won anything back then.  There were no British Amateur titles, though she had memorable team experiences with England, and as a Curtis Cup representative in 1984.

And there was great joy in repeating those experiences as a professional in the Solheim Cup.  Which explains why she holds the Dalmahoy triumph of 1992 in such high regard.  She recalled: “Going there as massive underdogs, we just got together as a team and steamrolled to victory on the Sunday, winning by an incredible five-point margin.”

Davies went on: “Obviously it was important that we won the foursomes on the opening day and then kept our lead by halving the fourballs.  But the Americans were expected to fight back in the singles where they were thought to have greater strength in depth.  I'll never forget that October day. On a personal level it was good that, at number one, I beat Brandie Burton by 4 and 2 to set the right mood. But I will always think of it as a wonderful team effort.

 “Looking back, I suspect if we'd lost that particular tie, it would have greatly affected the public’s interest, even if it didn't necessarily kill the matches.  After all, we had been hammered 11 1/2 to 4 1/2 when it was launched at Lake Nona two years previously and there was no reason to believe that the Americans would do anything other than maintain that dominance, as they did for so long in the Ryder Cup.”

In 1994, Davies became the first golfer, man or woman, to win on five different tours in the same calendar year. Yet for her, Dalmahoy will always stand apart.  “As we approached the big occasion, I remember thinking it would be nice if we gave them a good match, but deep down there was the gnawing fear that we'd get a thrashing,” she said.  

As it happened, it was especially memorable for Davies because of her winning partnership with Alison Nicholas, who took over as European captain in Chicago two years ago and has retained leadership this week.  Against that background, it must have been extremely  difficult for Nicholas to leave her former partner out of three pairs groupings in 2009, especially after she had shared a fourball victory with Becky Brewerton on the opening morning.

But it is rarely easy emotionally to make and accept crucial decisions at team level, as Nicholas and Davies are likely to learn once more over the parkland terrain of County Meath this weekend.    

- Dermot Gilleece

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