2002: Europe’s glamorous young guns could present Solheim surprise

Turnberry, Scotland

She may be taking six rookies to face the might of the LPGA Tour, but European Solheim Cup captain Dale Reid isn’t shaking in her spikes.

She can’t wait to unleash Europe’s young stars against Patty Sheehan’s U.S. team Sept. 20-22 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn.

Six members of Reid’s team, led by Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies, have ample Solheim Cup experience, but half her squad – Mhairi McKay, Maria Hjorth, Iben Tinning, Paula Marti, Karine Icher and Suzann Pettersen – will be competing in the matches for the first time. McKay and Hjorth compete on the LPGA and will be familiar to the American team; the other four rookies have played a majority of their golf in Europe, and are something of a mystery to players on the other side of the pond.

“All the rookies are pretty headstrong, especially the younger ones,” Reid said. “The thing I like about having rookies is that to the Americans they are unknown, and I don’t think the Americans like the unknown. They like to know what they are up against, and they don’t know how good these girls are, or what the best part of their games are. So it should work to our advantage.”

Reid could have chosen many other adjectives to describe her young players. Words such as “confident,” “brash” and “talented” leap to mind. Or how about simply calling them the future backbone of the European Solheim Cup team? That phrase aptly describes Marti, Pettersen and Icher, the oldest of whom is Icher at 23.

If any trio holds the key to Europe’s future success, it is these three.

Marti, 22, has been hailed as a future superstar since she stormed on the scene last year with two victories on the Ladies European Tour. The Barcelona native is the second Spaniard to make the Solheim Cup team, following Raquel Carriedo. However, while Carriedo is more reserved, more conservative and less comfortable with the spotlight, Marti loves being the center of attention. She isn’t afraid to flaunt what she has – namely, an abundance of talent, glamour and an innate sense of style.

Marti is easily recognizable on European fairways. She’s the one with the colorful trademark headband, the midriff T-shirts and the figure-hugging pants. And the Evian Tour has taken every opportunity to market the Spaniard.

Take a gander at the home page of the Ladies European Tour Web site (www.ladieseuropeantour.com), and there are three pictures of Marti. In one, she looks like she is posing for the cover of a fashion magazine; in another she is propped up on pillows on her bed, smiling at the camera.

At the recent Wales WPGA Championship, a film crew spent much of the pro-am concentrating on the Spaniard at the direction of the Evian Tour’s public relations department. She reveled in the attention. She knew where the camera was at all times, and took every opportunity to pose.

“Sex sells. It’s no big deal,” Marti said. “If we have the looks and the talent, then why not use it? We need more sponsors, and if we can use this to further the tour, then let’s do it.

“The younger girls from Europe have brought their own style and sense of dress to the game. It just happens to be a little tighter fit and a more athletic, modern look. That is what we feel comfortable in when we play, and it just happens to look much sexier.”

However, Marti isn’t just a walking marketing tool for the Evian Tour. She can play, and she knows it.

“Someone in the press told me I was the Anna Kournikova for golf, which made me laugh,” she said. “It may be the case that I have helped the image of the tour, which is great, but I have won twice. She (Kournivova) hasn’t.”

Marti attended the University of Florida but left after one year to turn pro. Rounds of 73-81 in the 2000 U.S. Women’s Open were enough to convince her she had what it took to play professionally.

“Even though I missed the cut, I knew from my first round that I was good enough,” she said. “That was all I needed, and I turned pro right away.”

That sums up Marti’s attitude. She fears no one, and isn’t the type to give any course too much respect. Faced with the option to play safely or aggressively, Marti almost always will choose the latter.

“I think I have hot blood,” Marti said. “It’s just a game, and I think if you have a chance to go for it, then you have to do it. Why play for the middle of the greens if you can play for the pin? That’s my philosophy.”

Pettersen shares Marti’s view. The Norwegian was named the Evian Tour’s rookie of the year in 2001, winning once and finishing second in the Evian Order of Merit. Her rise to fame comes as no surprise to those who closely follow women’s golf. The 21-year-old first displayed her talent on a world stage two years ago when she won the individual title at the World Amateur Team Championship in Berlin. The long-hitting Pettersen simply beat the course into submission to capture the title by four shots.

Pettersen has gained her share of attention over the past year because of her striking looks. But she says the public should look past the glamor hype she, Marti and Icher are attracting.

“It is great that we are getting more attention,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, and if we are using our feminine looks to do it, great. But what we can’t forget is that we can play, too. We don’t just pat it up the middle like everyone thinks we do. Some of us like to give it a rip, too! Between me, Sophie Gustafson, Maria Hjorth or Laura (Davies), we’ll take on any male amateur golfer that thinks we can’t give it a belt.”

Icher, from France, is the quietest of the group. She isn’t one to broadcast her abilities. She lets her clubs do the talking, and they’ve said quite a bit the last two seasons. Icher won twice in 2001 and has one victory this season.

“Icher has a very strong head on her for her age, maybe the best of the young players,” Reid said. “She is a very strong player and will be a strong player in the Solheim Cup.”

At 28, Tinning is the oldest of the four lesser-known rookies. The Dane is cousin to Steen Tinning, who plays on the PGA European Tour. Steen won the 2000 Welsh Open after 14 years on Tour. Like her cousin, Iben is a late developer. She has two victories this season, her seventh on the Evian Tour.

Tinning also plays the same sort of power game as her three junior teammates. The Copenhagen native leads the Tour in eagles and is second in birdies.

No wonder Reid can’t wait to get to Interlachen.


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