by Graham Otway
THE entry list of names for the 115-strong field at the ANA Inspiration, the first ladies’ golf Major of the year, which starts at Rancho Mirage in California tomorrow, barely gives a clue to an intriguing question.
The Mission Hills Country Club, which hosts the ANA, has been chosen by the Ladies European Tour as the venue where later today they will announce their Solheim Cup captain for the match against the Americans in Iowa in August next year. But who will it be?
Potential and obvious candidates are numerous but, since most of them are not playing this week, the LET has not had too many secrets to keep about the identity of the player chosen to exact revenge for America’s narrow 14½-13½ win at Heidelberg in Germany last September.
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew will tee up tomorrow and, aged 47 and having played in nine Solheim Cups (she was one of captain Carin Koch’s invites last year), she has the CV for captaincy.
But as she revealed in The Golf Paper last week, this season will be her last on Tour and she has one other aspiration – and that is to play well enough to make the British team for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And as far as captaincy is concerned, Matthew would like to be in charge when the Solheim Cup is staged at Gleneagles in two years’ time.
Two other non-travelling Brits could be in the frame, especially Dame Laura Davies who starred in the first Solheim Cup back in 1990 and went on to play in every transatlantic battle through to 2011, recording a total of 25 points with only 18 defeats.
But like Matthew, she and 50-year-old Bristolian Trish Johnson are still competitive full-time Tour players who would also like to have the Olympic experience before they retire.
A strong case could be made for reappointing Koch because her locker-room pairings worked so well. Europe led 10-6 after the opening two days of foursomes and fourballs, and only suffered their first defeat since 2009 because they failed to dominate the third-day singles.
Koch, however, is unlikely to be catching a plane to California after her family Easter holiday was sadly interrupted by the death of her mother from Alzheimer’s disease.
At St Leon Le Rot, Koch had three vice-captains in Sophie Gustafson, Maria McBride (formerly Hjorth) and Annika Sorenstam.
And of that trio the last named should be the person to lead the team. And since she now lives and works on course design in America, and runs her own golfing academy in Florida, it would not be a surprise for her to be in California tonight.
There is no doubt that Sorenstam has the right credentials for captaincy on so many fronts.
For two decades the Swede was Europe’s outstanding female golfer, winning 93 international titles (ten of them Majors), topping the LPGA money list eight times and playing in every Solheim Cup match between 1994 and 2007.
To this day she is still the only lady golfer on the planet to have shot 59 in a tournament and has been a Solheim Cup vice-captain three times, so she must know how to handle a locker room that’s under pressure.
But her last two vice-captaincies have not been without controversy. In 2013 in Colorado, it was claimed she had broken the rules while walking the course by advising one of Europe’s caddies that a putt should be conceded to the Americans.
There were further whispers of a repeat offence in Heidelberg last year, though she was not named as the culprit. But throughout her playing career, Sorenstam was known to have a strong and individualist character and that’s just what Europe will need in Iowa, especially as, way back in December, the Americans announced the feisty Juli Inkster would captain their team again.
During their victory in Germany, Inkster made no effort to water down her criticism of the Europeans for a controversial unconceded putt incident, and it will take a strong character like Sorenstam to stand up to her in 16 months’ time.
*This article was originally published in TGP on 30 March.