JULI INKSTER’S first experience of Alison Nicholas was a good one. She took care of the English player 3&2 in the singles at the 1992 matches at Dalmahoy near Edinburgh.
The American debutante was one of only three players from the United States to win matches as Mickey Walker’s European underdogs pulled off a surprise 11.5-6.5 victory.
Nearly two decades later the two ladies will again engage in combat on Celtic soil with Inkster again a debutante. This time they will not hit a shot, with Inkster one of Rosie Jones’ vice-captains and Nicholas Europe’s underdog skipper once again.
That day on the outskirts of Scotland’s capital 18 years ago began an illustrious career in the Solheim Cup for Inkster, one of the true greats of the game.
She played on eight teams in total and gathered a US record of 18 points – including an overall singles record of six wins and a half. Only Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies have a larger haul in the history of the matches.
And Inkster (nee Simpson) still plays on tour, 27 years after turning pro. After helping to win the 1982 US Curtis Cup the native Californian has chalked up 31 wins and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Within 12 months of turning pro she was a Major champion, claiming the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In fact, she was a double Major champion as the (now defunct) Du Maurier Classic followed later that season.
Inkster won the title again in 1989 and also claimed the LPGA Championship in 1999. She retained it the following year when she edged Italy’s Stefania Croce.
The highlights of her career came at the US Women’s Open though, defeating Lotta Neumann in 1999 and Sorenstam three years later as this stalwart appropriately lifted the most prestigious title in the women’s game.
Her playing ambitions achieved, Inkster is now excited about the chance to influence matters off it, starting with next year’s Solheim Cup. A player on America’s victorious 2009 side, she is now looking forward to her role alongside Jones at Killeen Castle, as she explained to NCG on a trip there a year before the matches.
There is 10 times more pressure in the Solheim Cup than in a Major. If you screw up as part of the team that is a lot more difficult to deal with. How pleased were you to be asked to be a vice-captain?
I am honoured that Rosie has such faith in me to choose me to be an assistant captain. I look forward to helping her and Sherri Steinhauer lead the US team in Ireland.
The Solheim Cup has been such a big part of my LPGA career for so many years and I’m sure this will be a continuation of those great memories.
You are still playing well – so why did you decide you didn’t fancy playing in another match?
I knew that I didn’t want to play any more but that I wanted to stay involved so was very happy to be asked by Rosie.
I’ve played eight times and there are young players coming through who are more than capable of producing good golf.
They are talented, young, fun and it’s fun to be around these sort of kids.
As you suggest, this will be another young American team. Would your vast experience on the side not have been useful on this youthful side?
Good golf beats experience every time. You just go out and play your own game. You concentrate on getting the ball in play, then onto the green, then into the hole, and you will be successful.
They haven’t played away from home all together, though. Is that a factor?
That’s true. But the likes of Michelle (Wie) has been an international player for what seems like forever. So they are used to playing away from American soil.
But you’re right, it is different than playing in front of US galleries and it’s something we have to learn – you can’t teach it (how to play away from home).
Is this star-studded American team better than the early ones you played on?
Beth (Daniel), Patty (Sheehan), Dottie (Pepper), Meg (Mallon) – we had some great teams you know! But now we have Paula, Michelle, Cristie, Morgan and Co – so, yes, they’re pretty good too! And they have the length as well as the game, that is undoubtedly a difference. You know, Europe has often had more length off the tee than the US side – but now we are up there if not ahead.
Can you compare the pressure you feel in a Major with that in a Solheim Cup?
There is 10 times more pressure in the Solheim Cup than in a Major. If you screw up for yourself then you think ‘fair enough, my own fault’, and deal with it but if you screw up as part of the team that is a lot more difficult to deal with.
What sort of captain do you think Rosie will be?
Rosie will be totally organised and on top of everything. We need to make sure all the players have to do is play good golf and do nothing but concentrate on that.
I will work with Sherri so we give good advice to Rosie and allow them to just to go out and play golf.
Rosie certainly knows what it takes to win a Solheim Cup and she is good fun to be around.
So it’ll be a ‘loose’ environment but at the same time Rosie has a lot of respect from the players, which is vital for any captain to have.
Did you enjoy coming up with the pairings?
Well, between us we have a lot of experience of the Solheim Cup so we should know what works well together.
During the week we will get a feel for the girls and take their opinions.
And we’ll also consider who we want to take the odd holes and the evens – you know, you might want a good iron player hitting into short holes and so on. So there will be a lot of strategy involved and especially in the alternate-shot format. It is even more important in this regard.
Also, we might want to split the experience up and maybe balance it up a bit – or we might just let the rookies we have just go for it!
What did you make of Killeen Castle?
It’s beautiful. It’s not really what I expected. I expected more of a linksy course. It’s pristine. Its set up great. The greens are very undulated and there is good bunkering.
Rookie Year: 1983
Wins (last): 31 (2006)
Career low round: 62
Career earnings (rank): $12,779,800 (4)
Solheim Cups: 1992,1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009
Overall singles record:
Overall foursomes record:
Overall fourball record: 3-2-5
Overall doubles record: 9-5-9
Overall record: W15-H6-L10
Total points scored: 18