2005: Walker: Euro system is ‘wrong’
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Europe will not field its strongest Solheim Cup team at Crooked Stick Golf Club because the current selection system works against the European side, according to former European captain Mickey Walker.
Europe takes the first seven players on the European Solheim Cup points table, with the captain adding five wild-card picks. In contrast, the United States takes the top 10 players off points, and the captain has two selections. Walker says the European points table should be abolished and future European captains should be allowed to pick all 12 players.
“The system does not always allow for Europe to have its strongest team,” Walker said. “The only way, in my opinion, is for the captain to have all 12 picks. We had a tough time getting the LPGA to agree to five picks initially because they, quite naturally, wanted both selection systems to be the same. The system was wrong then and it’s worse now.”
Walker captained the European team for the first four matches, leading it to an 111⁄2 -61⁄2 victory in 1992 at Dalmahoy, Scotland.
She campaigned unsuccessfully for 12 picks when she was captain. She feels the selection system does not produce the best European team because so many Europeans now play full time on the LPGA.
“We had so many debates about this over the years. I remember sitting in a meeting with Sir Richard George (chairman of Weetabix, sponsor of the Women’s British Open) and members of the (Ladies European) Tour, and he was adamant that there had to be more automatic places to get the best players to come back to Europe and play. However, I don’t see that as a valid argument, especially now when so many of our top players play full time in America.
“At the end of someone’s career they are not going to be remembered for how many Solheim Cup appearances they made or how many Solheim Cup points they won. They are going to be remembered for how many tournaments and how many majors they won. The people who are aspiring to be the best can’t help but play in America. That’s why the system is wrong.”
Catrin Nilsmark’s dilemma in choosing her final captain’s pick this year reinforces Walker’s claim. The European captain already had settled on Catriona Matthew, Sophie Gustafson, Carin Koch and Suzann Pettersen before the conclusion of last week’s Ladies Finnish Masters, and was faced with a tough choice to fill out her team. She opted for 2004 Women’s British Open champion Karen Stupples, but in doing so had to overlook four experienced Solheim players.
“It’s been a very, very hard decision,” Nilsmark said. “There are quite a few players in the States who have played very well. Karen obviously was one of them, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc from France another, Liselotte Neumann, Janice Moodie.”
Nilsmark acknowledged that Stupples got the nod because she partnered with Laura Davies at the World Cup in February, signaling that they will probably join forces at Crooked Stick.
“That definitely had an impact,” Nilsmark said.
Walker, who works as a television commentator, says the system is particularly hard on European rookies when the match is in the United States.
“It’s not quite an issue when the match is in Europe and we are playing on European soil,” she said. “At least the newcomers to the match have a chance to feel comfortable because they are playing in familiar conditions and in front of a home crowd. When it’s in America and we have a lot of European rookies, or even several, then I think it is very,
very tough. No matter how strong someone is mentally, they can’t possibly be comfortable in that environment because they haven’t been there before.
“There will always be exceptions to the rule, because in any sporting event when some are given a huge stage like that they just love it and excel. Others just can’t cope with it.”
France’s Ludivine Kreutz will make her Solheim Cup debut this year, but her resume backs Walker’s argument. The 31-year-old’s only tournament experience in the United States came at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run Golf Club, where she missed the cut. Her only other LPGA experience is confined to the Women’s British Open and the Evian Masters, the two European tournaments included on the LPGA money list.
Kreutz is a three-time winner on the LET, with two victories this season – the Tenerife Ladies Open and the OTP Bank Ladies Central European Open in Hungary – that led her to the third spot in points.
“She is obviously a good player, as her record shows, but she will be at a disadvantage because she has not played enough in the United States,” Walker said. “She will not know the Americans, and she probably won’t know many of her teammates.”
Kreutz has been a virtual lock since winning in Hungary in early July.
“I’m very excited and it’s hard to imagine the atmosphere before I get there,” Kreutz said. “I tried to calculate the points with my dad just to know if I was in for sure, but it’s nice to hear it, especially following in the footsteps of Marie-Laure (de Lorenzi), Patricia (Meunier-Lebouc), Karine Icher and then Gwladys (Nocera) and me. It’s nice to have two French players in the team.”
Nocera entered the final tournament in the seventh and last automatic spot. She stayed there when no player made a successful run in Finland. The 30-year-old is not short of U.S. experience.
She is a graduate of New Mexico State University at Las Cruces.
No Solheim Cup rookie who has played in a match on U.S. soil has set the match ablaze. Of the 11 European players who have made their Solheim Cup debuts in the United States, only Lora Fairclough (1994) has a winning percentage above 50 percent. She was 2-1 that year.
Walker still expects the matches to come down to the wire.
“I don’t think any of the Americans have got the ‘wow’ factor for any European player who is drawn against them,” she said, “certainly not for any European who plays in America. So on that basis I think it’s going to be a very tight match.”