Players gunning for Solheim spots

LYTHAM ST ANNES, England – There is a tournament going on within a tournament here at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Some of the biggest names in women’s golf are making a last-minute push to get on Solheim Cup teams, and the American race is filled with drama.

Keep an eye on Jane Park. She can make life really complicated for U.S. captain Beth Daniel. Park needs to finish second on Sunday at the Ricoh Women’s British Open to tie Natalie Gulbis in the automatic points race. If Park wins, she gets the 10th spot. The top 10 points earners over a two-year period get on the team along with two captain’s picks. (There has never been a tie before. The tie-breaker is the current year's Solheim Cup points.)

Park is currently tied for seventh at 2 over, six strokes behind leader Catriona Matthew and three strokes behind Christina Kim, who is alone in second.

On paper, Team USA looks much stronger than Europe, so Daniel’s picks might not carry as much weight as other years in terms of results. They will, however, determine a great deal in terms of Solheim buzz (i.e. TV ratings, foot traffic and overall revenue).

The two biggest names in women’s golf – Gulbis and Michelle Wie – might be at the mercy of Daniel. There are several scenarios at play, but before we get into those, let’s take a look at those who found a welcome-to-the-team packet in their lockers yesterday.

The Locks:

1. Paula Creamer

2. Cristie Kerr

3. Angela Stanford

4. Nicole Castrale

5. Brittany Lang

6. Morgan Pressel

7. Kristy McPherson

8. Christina Kim

9. Brittany Lincicome

Pat Hurst entered the week No. 13 on the Solheim points list and, in this writer’s opinion, had a chance at a captain’s pick until she missed the cut. Juli Inkster ranks 14th on the list and missed the cut as well. It’s more likely that Daniel will pick Inkster over Hurst, since this may very well be Inkster’s last chance to play a Solheim Cup.

Laura Diaz came into this week No. 11 on the list behind Gulbis, a shocking position given that she hasn’t earned a single point in the 2009 season. She needed to finish 14th or higher to pass Gulbis on the points list and earn the 10th spot. Even she doesn’t think that’s possible, and given her abysmal year, there’s no way Daniel picks her.

“At this point in my life, I really just need to get my golf game back,” Diaz said. “It’s too late right now, the way I look at it.”

Stacy Prammanasudh is 12th on the list and needed to finish 11th or higher to pass Gulbis. She’s currently tied for 62nd after a terrible 7-over 79 on Saturday. She also hasn’t played well enough this season to deserve a pick. In points earned in 2009 alone, Prammanasudh ranks 21st with 27.

So let’s pretend that Park finishes no higher than third tomorrow. That puts Gulbis in on automatic points. Who does Daniel pick?

Gulbis said go with Wie and Inkster, and I happen to agree.

“If (Wie) had two years, I think she’d have made it very easily,” said Gulbis, who struggled with her course management at Royal Lytham.

In 2009 points alone, Wie is sixth with 133.5, well ahead of Hurst, Inkster, Gulbis, even Morgan Pressel. Like Gulbis said, points don’t lie.

Now, if Park gets that last spot then Daniel has several combinations to mull over. It would be difficult to leave Gulbis at home since she came so desperately close. If Daniel wants experience, she goes with Gulbis and Inkster. The rest of the U.S. team would love to have Inkster around because she’s the ultimate grinder. She’s an institution.

But, now is also the perfect time to bring Wie into the fold. Wie needs to remember what it feels like to be part of a team that doesn’t include mom and dad. The biggest challenge with Wie is the baggage she brings – B.J. and Bo. Daniel doesn’t need any more unofficial assistant captains/caddies. Just last week in France, Wie’s parents were reportedly seen on the course late into the evening checking the breaks and speed of the greens prior to the tournament. Daniel will have to lay down the law in that regard.

Gulbis and Wie need to be on that team no matter what. If would be great to see Inkster get on so that she can end her Solheim career on American soil. But, if Park gets it done on Sunday and earns her way onto the team, then Inkster can serve as a vice captain in 2011 and maybe captain the team in 2013 at Colorado Golf Club. All good things must come to an end.

To those who say the U.S. team will lack experience, look at the would-be European squad. No matter how this shakes out Sunday evening, the Americans will look good.

They’d look stunning, however, with both Wie and Gulbis.

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