Next week, the Ryder Cup takes center stage, but this week it's the female professionals who will be making the most noise at the Solheim Cup.
Europe won two years ago in the last meeting, 14 1/2-11 1/2, in the rain at Loch Lomond in Scotland. It was Europe's second victory in six matches, but the U.S. is 3-0 when hosting the event, and these matches are being played at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn.
Janice Moodie of Scotland was 3-1 and Catrin Nilsmark was 3-0 in the last Solheim Cup, but neither is playing on captain Dale Reid's team. Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson and Laura Davies are Europe's top three players.
As for the U.S., Patty Sheehan is the captain of the 12-player team led by Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon and Rosie Jones.
So far, the Solheim Cup has taken a wide lead over the Ryder Cup in pre-match hoopla, thanks to Nilsmark's column posted on a Swedish Web site that ripped Cristie Kerr, Michelle Redman and Laura Diaz. Also, Reid has had to defend her decision not to select Scots Moodie and Catriona Mathew and has been roundly criticized in some areas of the European media--largely Scottish.
The U.S. team has been silent, at least so
Whether it happens remains to be seen, but if the National Council of Women's Organizations does indeed back off and allow Augusta National Golf Club some room to make a decision to invite women members, it could be the perfect solution so both parties come out looking good.
Insiders believe that Martha Burk of the NCWO is going to have trouble making headway pressuring CBS to drop its telecast of the Masters, or with her probe into who pays membership dues, or with asking players to take her side or by pressuring players' sponsors to consider sitting out the Masters.
From Ron Drapeau, chief of Callaway Golf: "Callaway Golf is one of the biggest supporters of women's golf in the world. Martha Burk has not contacted Callaway. We do not direct the professionals that endorse our products as to which golf tournaments they enter."
From Bob Wood, chief of Nike Golf: "Although we are not a sponsor of the Masters, we look forward to the day that the doors to Augusta National will be open to women. We acknowledge the legal right of any private organization to determine its own rules. Nike Golf will continue to stand behind its players who choose to play at the Masters...."
Then again, if this issue is still simmering by April's tournament, the amount of interest by the mainstream media is going to be off the charts and CBS may be squirming indeed.
The NCWO has a chance to take the high road, herald its campaign a success, then call on Hootie Johnson and his peers at Augusta National to do the right thing. When it no longer appears any action Johnson takes would be bowing to a pressure campaign, he saves face, and chances are the club will move steadily toward admitting women, although that's improbable before the 2003 Masters.
Women's Point of View
Some LPGA Tour players preparing for the Solheim Cup told the Associated Press they think it's time Augusta opens up its membership to women.
"I can't believe we're still fighting this stuff--racism, gender equality or whatever," Inkster said. "But that's life, I guess. It's not going to change overnight, but hopefully, in the coming years, it will change."
Several players at this week's Solheim Cup said they have played as guests at Augusta--"I was 10 over after six holes, do we need to go on?" Sheehan said--and been treated well.
But there's a difference between playing as a member and playing as a guest.
"I played earlier this year, I had a great time," Kelly Robbins said. "Obviously, things have progressed quite a bit since then, as far as what's taking place. I think it's a shame. I do."
Said Davies: "All I have ever said is that if they're looking for their first woman member, I would love to join."
But Alfredsson said she thought it was "a ridiculous issue, period."
Last month, right after she won the U.S. Women's Amateur, Becky Lucidi looked at the trophy and quickly scanned it for the names she was looking for, and found Grace Park, Jill McGill and Inkster.
"I know where they are now, what they're doing on the LPGA Tour," said Lucidi, "and I thought, 'That's where I want to be in a year or two.' "
Don't put it past the fifth-year USC senior from Poway, who turns 22 on Monday. After all, Lucidi had never won a collegiate event until she defeated Brandi Jackson, 3 and 2, at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y., to win the top women's amateur event in the nation.
"Oh, I'm on top of it right now," Lucidi said. "It's the tournament that every amateur wants to win and I still can't believe I did it. It's the best first step I could take to become a professional, with all the recognition and prestige that goes along with it."
It's probably going to be a different world now for Lucidi, who plans to defend her title at next year's Amateur, then try her luck at LPGA qualifying school.