Futcher feeling no pressure at Solheim crunch time

Katie Futcher during the Women's British Open.

Katie Futcher during the Women's British Open.

Katie Futcher estimates she has looked at the U.S. Solheim Cup points list once this year. She may or may not know then that she’s 11th on the list, 17.5 points behind Christina Kim. The top 10 after this week’s Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., automatically qualify for the U.S. team. Captain Rosie Jones will announce her two captain’s picks at 7:30 p.m. PDT Sunday.

Futcher needs a top 10 this week at Pumpkin Ridge to surpass Kim, should Kim fail to earn any points. Players must finish in at least 20th place to earn points. At this point, only Futcher, Kristy McPherson (12th) and Vicky Hurst (13th) can unseat Kim. 

Juli Inkster, Jones’ assistant captain, is a mathematical lock. She’s in ninth place. 

“It took a while for her to get around to admitting that she really wanted to play,” Jones said. “I knew if she wasn’t competing, once she got there she would rather be competing.”

Jones also pointed out that Inkster hasn’t played well in the last three events, missing the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, Evian Masters and Ricoh Women’s British. Inkster will play, which will make her the first playing assistant in Solheim Cup history, but she’ll need to get her game turned around if she wants to spend more time competing and less time captaining.

“She will have to be able to split her brain a little bit, but majority-wise I don’t want to take her out of her player element,” Jones said. Not surprisingly, she’ll rely heavily on Inkster to help corral the players and determine lineups and room assignments.

These are the other eight players, in order or ranking, who will comprise the U.S. team: Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang. 

Futcher’s name was the first out of Jones’ mouth when asked to discuss players on whom she is watching. The Texan’s back-nine 29 in the final round of the Women’s British at Carnoustie caused plenty of chatter. She posted a 64 to vault into a tie for 14th. That finish, along with her T-3 at the Kraft, makes the 30-year-old a likely pick for Jones, should she fail to qualify on points.

“The rest of the gals have lad a lot of chances to make some movement,” Jones said.

McPherson, who debuted as a Solheim rookie in 2009, has cracked the top 20 only once this year, a tie for 18th at the Kia Classic. While she’s a hard-working, patriotic player who gets along with everyone, there’s no getting around the fact that she has earned only six points in 2011.

Christina Kim’s season is just as lackluster. She has missed the cut in four of the past six events and finished inside the top 20 only twice: Avnet LPGA Classic (T-13) and HSBC Women’s Champions (T-16). 

Don’t be surprised if it’s the elder Hurst who gets a captain’s nod on Sunday. Though Pat Hurst is 15th on the Solheim points list, she’s first in the mix regarding experience. Any Solheim veteran knows the added pressure that comes with competing on foreign soil, and Hurst knows how to handle it. Plus, she’s a grinder. Inkster and Hurst play practically every practice round on tour together, so she’ll have at least one assistant captain in her corner.

“Knowing that she has a lot of great Solheim experience, you never can count somebody out like that as a pick,” Jones said of Pat Hurst, a veteran of five Cups. 

Jones isn’t 100 percent sure of her picks “but has a pretty good idea.” She’s been to at least 10 events during the past two years and kept an eye Futcher at the Kraft and British. When Futcher’s caddie suddenly was unable to travel abroad for personal reasons the day Futcher flew to Scotland, Jones offered to help find a replacement. (They found an American.)

Futcher said the biggest change to her game this year has been controlling her speed on the greens. She credits sessions with David Edel, a clubmaker in Austin, Texas, for her improvement. She uses a putter custom-designed by Edel, and has traveled to Austin three times this year to work on her short game. 

The rest, she said, will take care of itself. Solheim pressure has not and will not consume her.

“I’m going to continue to do the same things I’ve been doing the last eight months,” Futcher said. “I’m not putting any more pressure on myself. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.”

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