Nilsmark ploys work perfectly

CATRIN NILSMARK momentarily had the feeling that she could walk without her crutches, so pumped up was she as her European team put the finishing touches to a famous Solheim Cup success.

CATRIN NILSMARK momentarily had the feeling that she could walk without her crutches, so pumped up was she as her European team put the finishing touches to a famous Solheim Cup success. The scoreline, at the moment of victory, was 14 1/2 -8 1/2 but, in the confusion which followed as the rest of the players did not know whether to carry on or to stop, the result for the record book was a resounding 17 1/2 -10 1/2 .

The victorious European team with the trophy. -- Pic. DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES-

Only the Americans were feeling pain. Their captain, Patty Sheehan, and Meg Mallon and Kelli Kuehne linked arms as they walked back to the club house, all of them in tears which would spread to the rest. Kuehne said: "We lost and it's hard. We weren't here for the money, we were here for our country."

For a while, it looked as if Annika Sorenstam would be the one to hole the winning putt for Europe. As it was, she defeated Angela Stanford five minutes too soon, paving the way for Scotland's Catriona Matthew to shine. Two up with two to play against Rosie Jones, Matthew sensed she was safe when she struck a breathtaking second to nine feet at the 17th. The match was soon conceded.

Nilsmark was happy for Matthew for she had felt that the player should never have been dropped from the sides of 2000 and 2002. "I wanted Catriona in my side and she deserved to do what she did," said the captain.

Midway through this season, Nilsmark had spoken to Sam Torrance and, she followed the European Ryder Cup captain in putting strong players out first in the singles.

It worked perfectly, with Janice Moodie gamely contributing to the plan by going four up on Kuehne over the front nine. Carin Koch never really got going against Juli Inkster, but there was plenty more to cheer in the third game as Sophie Gustafsson romped home against Heather Bowie — and in the fourth, as Iben Tinning defeated Wendy Ward.

Nothing was maybe more significant than the closing match between Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen and Kelly Robbins and Laura Diaz. It may have taken 5 1/2 hours and finished 45 minutes behind the rest but no one resented a minute of it, so great was the golf.

It looked like a certain point for the United States, whose Robbins was the furthest from the 17th hole in two, as they used the format to have Diaz tackling her four-foot birdie putt first. Diaz holed — seemingly to put the Americans one ahead — only for Sorenstam to follow her in from 22 feet.

Much the same happened at the 18th, only this time Diaz was in too much of a rush to make her four-footer. She missed and Pettersen rammed home a 15-footer to give Europe a 9 1/2 -6 1/2 lead.

American captain Patty Sheehan (driving the golf cart) and some of her team-mates dejectedly watching the proceedings on the final day. -- Pic. DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES-

"Absolutely fantastic to get a point there," said Nilsmark, before presenting a singles line-up which, perhaps because Sheehan did not like the look of who was playing whom, prompted the American captain to go off at an extraordinary tangent. She suggested that Nilsmark had not shown her players "enough respect" by playing Mhairi McKay and Ana Belen Sanchez only once before the singles.

However, Sheehan could not have been more gracious. "That was the most beautiful golf I have seen played by a winning Solheim Cup side," she said of Nilsmark's troops.

None among the Europeans had any doubt as to the part the Swedish crowd had played in adding the Solheim Cup to the present collection of Ryder Cup and Walker Cup. In a land where Sorenstam and Co. have won seven majors and the men none, the people worship women golfers as nowhere else. There were no men standing behind the ropes at Barseback insisting that they could do better.

Swedish television will find it hard to live down the way in which they substituted cartoons for golf at a time when Sorenstam was on the 16th, but what of Sky? The women had to set out at 8 a.m. in order that the afternoon would be free for their coverage of the men's Lancome Trophy.

All the women, it seemed, have become resigned to such treatment but the 46-year-old Beth Daniel was not as negative as the rest. Asked whether she felt things could ever change, Daniel responded: "I see things changing right now.

"I guarantee that none of the men's tournaments is being played in front of a bigger crowd than the one we have here." As many as 90,500 spilled over the course over the three days.