France's Karine Icher enjoys breakout season

Karine Icher was a surprise standout for the European Solheim Cup team.

Karine Icher was a surprise standout for the European Solheim Cup team.

There’s only one Frenchwoman ranked in golf’s top 100. Karine Icher, an unexpected hero at last month’s Solheim Cup, is in the midst of the best season of her career, and just in time for a homecoming of major proportions.

The 34-year-old mom will be the pride of France as the newly-minted Evian Championship – the LPGA’s fifth major – gets underway this week in Evian-les-Bains.

“The fact that it’s in France is huge for us,” Icher said via Skype. “We have a small country, and golf is not very popular.” (France has about 423,000 golfers, according to a 2013 KPMG study, from a population of some 66 million.)

Icher arranged the phone interview for 10 p.m. local time last Friday, her baby Lola fast asleep. She had planned to make the five-hour drive from her parents’ home to Evian the next morning and still needed to finish packing. Of course that task was nothing compared with the Asian swing, when Icher takes her parents and more than 300 diapers to the other side of the world.

“We have to be very well-organized,” Icher said of her traveling brood.

As for the massive amounts of diapers, well, the explanation is simple: Supermarkets aren’t always close to player hotels and, even when they are, Icher can’t read the labels. She also packs a stroller, car seat, toys, clothes, food and golf clubs.

“We pay a lot of excess weight,” she said.

Lola turned 2 years old the week of the Solheim Cup, and the Euro team celebrated with cake and balloons. Little Lola could’ve saved an extra slice of cake for mom.

Icher deserved a second helping after dropping a show-stopping 45-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th hole Saturday evening to give Europe a 4-0 sweep in the four-ball session. That thrashing set up Europe’s first victory on American soil in event history.

“I think it’s going to stay in my mind for a long time,” Icher said. “It was a very nice souvenir.”

With a 2-1-1 record in Colorado and Europe’s emphatic victory, Icher headed to Canada brimming with confidence. Once a player realizes she can thrive in the pressure of a Solheim Cup, her perspective quickly changes.

“Everything seems to be easier,” said Icher, who finished second to amateur Lydia Ko in Canada, taking home the first-place check but not the trophy.

Icher met Fred Bonnargent when she was 12 years old. He was 19. The two were members of the same club in Chateauroux in central France, where an elderly American pro first taught Icher how to play.

Nearly a decade later, they started dating, and after two years Icher asked Bonnargent, a golf-shop owner in Paris, if he wanted to caddie for her. The rest, as they say, is history. In November 2004, the couple moved to Florida as Icher prepared for her career on the LPGA. The lifelong friends wed in April 2006.

Icher’s LPGA tenure has been quietly solid. Since 2005, she has finished 30th or better on the money list four times. This year, she ranks 11th.

She still is searching for the elusive first victory, but improved putting might be the ticket. In addition to her work with Andrew Park at the David Leadbetter Academy, Icher began visiting the putting studio of Frank Thomas at Reunion Resort.

“I searched for a long, long time for this putting because I knew putting was the most important thing in the golf game,” she said.

Thomas reminded her of the basics, focusing on her rhythm, in particular, by practicing with one hand.

As anyone who has spent time on the practice green can attest, hours of putting easily can lead to boredom. Thomas introduced her to putting exercises and a skills test to keep things fun and to simulate pressurized situations. He discourages players from putting from the same position over and over.

“In golf, you don’t get a second chance at any putt,” Thomas said.

At the Solheim Cup, Icher didn’t need one.

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