2002: Here at the Nickname Cup

Edina, Minn.

This Solheim Cup was superlative. Of all the cups I have seen runneth over, this one had the best crowds on the best golf course with the best golf professional.

Oh yes, Interlachen Country Club also had the biggest mosquitoes in the history of mosquitodom. Minnesota, as advertised, may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but it also is the home of 10 billion hungry mosquitoes. In this golf-crazy state, I would love to be an equipment sales rep – almost as much as I would love to be the sales rep for Off! insect repellent.

Stingers aside, I was captivated by this Solheim Cup. The spectators were enthusiastic yet polite. It wasn’t a USA fest; it was a golf fest. These Minnesotans should be applauded for their knowledge of the game and their appreciation of good golf.

Interlachen, where Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open in his Grand Slam year of 1930, is a magnificent course. You could build me 1,000 Tom Fazios, and I would still take this grand old Donald Ross design. Golf tradition is alive and well here, clearly visible even in the bunkers, where heavy, wide-toothed wooden rakes create shallow furrows that speak eloquently of another time.

The golf professional, Jock Olson, recently was named national PGA Professional of the Year. He is a Donald Ross specialist, having come here nine years ago from another Ross course, the greatly underrated Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Country Club.

All this being said, I must add that the Solheim Cup, for better or worse, has finally grown up. In the 12 years since its 1990 inception, it has completed a transition from congenial international competition to a fierce, sometimes-bitter, not-always-so-friendly slugfest.

In short, what I saw was a bunch of women hell-bent on victory. In the end, at the closing ceremony, it was all about hugs and kisses. In the middle, though, it was all about winning. Some of the players grew fangs. As each match ended, I didn’t see many heartfelt congratulations.

Being tough is part of the modern sports environment, so let’s be honest about this change in the Solheim Cup. It was inevitable. The Ryder Cup, once it moved into the global golf spotlight in the 1980s, underwent a similar metamorphosis. The “War By the Shore” in 1991 was an acerbic confrontation, symbolized by a bad-blood, bad-mouth feud between Paul Azinger of the U.S. team and Seve Ballesteros of the European squad.

Here at the Solheim Cup, it was no wonder that European captain Dale Reid lashed out, in her own way, at U.S. captain Patty Sheehan. “After that, we welcome Catrin Nilsmark with open arms,” Reid said, referring to the U.S. player introductions by Sheehan at a Wednesday night dinner attended by both teams. Sheehan, using nicknames for her players, took most of them directly from critical comments made by Nilsmark. Sheehan was attempting to be funny, but many of the Europeans felt the standup routine was in bad taste in a public arena.

Because Nilsmark will captain next year’s European Solheim Cup team, with the matches scheduled in her home country of Sweden, there is bound to be an edginess still hanging over the competition.

Animosity between U.S. and European players may have increased because the Europeans, as characterized by Nilsmark, have grown more assertive. When the No. 1 golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam, is on your side, you tend to act that way.

So, after the conclusion of this year’s spirited Nickname Cup – er, Solheim Cup – it seems appropriate to announce the formation of the Catrin Nilsmark Nickname Hall of Fame.

The inductees, all of them U.S. Solheim Cup members, and what I imagine to be their candid remarks:

Patty “Gambler” Sheehan: “So what if I almost lost the farm by keeping Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, Laura Diaz and Michele Redman out of four-ball matches at the same time?”

Cristie “Little Brat” Kerr: “Sure, I’m a brat, but I’m not so little. I’m a weightlifter; feel my biceps.”

Meg “Her Best Years Are Behind Her” Mallon: “At least I’ve had my best years.”

Michele “No Talent” Redman: “Catrin Nilsmark? Didn’t she play some sport?”

Laura “Cocky” Diaz: “The U.S. will win the next 140 Solheim Cups in a row.”

Beth “The Human 1-Iron” Daniel: “All I can say is that Carin Koch is a better putter than Gary Koch.”

Juli “Stinker” Inkster: “I stink, I stank, I stunk, but I bounced back.”

Rosie “Rosebud” Jones: “Call me anything, but don’t call me a loser.”

Wendy “The Annika Assassin” Ward: “I specialize in upsetting No. 1 players.”

Kelli “Oh-Fer” Kuehne: “Next time, the “oh” will be on the other side of the equation.”

Emilee “Woody” Klein: “I keep waiting for Callaway Golf to invent a 15-wood. I’ve got all the others.”

Pat “Arnold” Hurst: “I’ll be back.”

Kelly “Red, Red” Robbins: “Red is for birdies, baby. All the way, USA.”

And, of course, Catrin “Ann Landers” Nilsmark: “You ask for my opinion, I’ll give it to you. You don’t ask for my opinion, I’ll give it to you anyway.”

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