Laura Davies is talking tough about the Solheim Cup. At last week's Standard Register Ping Classic in Phoenix, Davies took a shot at the U.S. team while predicting a European victory in September. "We're getting stronger. They're getting older," Davies said.
It's a little early for bulletin-board material, but Davies does have a point about Europe's getting stronger since being pasted 13-7 in 1994. With the development of Annika Sorenstam, the resurgence of Liselotte Neumann and the continued excellence of Davies's own play, the Europeans could field the top three women players in the world at St. Pierre Golf Club in Chepstow, Wales.
As for the American team's getting older, yes, Beth Daniel (39), Patty Sheehan (39) and Betsy King (40) are no longer kids, but they aren't collecting Social Security either. And behind them are Kelly Robbins and Michelle McGann, who have yet to celebrate their 27th birthdays. Normally combative Dottie Pepper, who was criticized for openly rooting against her opponents during the last Solheim Cup, let Davies's comments pass with a wry smile. "I guess Laura's right," Pepper said. "After all, I did just turn 30."
What could, in the end, benefit Judy Rankin's U.S. team the most was the decision to expand the competition so that 12 players from each side will participate instead of 10. The LPGA is much deeper than the European tour. Of course, the same thing was said about the PGA Tour before the Ryder Cup last year.
Davies is the one person who can get away with making brash statements because she has proved that she can back up her words. In 1992 Europe appeared to be badly overmatched going into the inaugural Solheim Cup, but Davies predicted a European win, then rallied her teammates to a stunning 11½-6½ victory.
Clearly the most dominant player in women's golf, Davies showed no signs of letting up last week in Phoenix, winning the Standard Register Ping for a third consecutive year and becoming the first LPGA player to take an event three straight times since Sandra Haynie won Charity Golf Classics in 1973, '74 and '75.
Two for the Show
Courses from opposite sides of the tracks, Merion and Bethpage Black, have emerged as the two favorites to host the 2001 U.S. Open. Merion, near Philadelphia, which had to surrender the 1994 U.S. Women's Open because it did not comply with the U.S. Golf Association's membership guidelines (it didn't have any African-American members), is one of the most exclusive clubs in the East. Bethpage, on Long Island, is the quintessential muni where golfers line up at 4 a.m. for starting times.
Minority membership is no longer a problem at Merion, and the USGA scoffs at the notion that the 84-year-old course isn't long enough (at 6,544 yards, it is the shortest to have hosted an Open). The association's only worry is that because of limited parking and access roads, just 18,000 tickets can be sold daily. Trains and a bus system could solve the traffic flow problem, as they did at Oakmont in Pittsburgh in 1994.
Merion has held four Opens, the last in 1981. It was won by David Graham with a score of 273, seven under par. "A lot of people had questioned whether the game had passed Merion by," says USGA executive director David Fay. "I don't think that's the case. Merion has always had a number of holes that were not driver holes. They were layup holes in 1934, and they still are today."