View From the Bunker
The Ladies European Tour (LET), which more appropriately might be called the Duramed Futures Tour East, has helped protect its existence by carving out a role for itself in the Solheim Cup selection process, but in doing so it has damaged Europe's chances of remaining competitive in the biennial matches. One-third of the nine automatic qualifiers for the European team at Halmstad GC last week would not have made the squad if the Rolex Rankings were used as the selection criteria.
In trying to keep some of its best players from defecting to the richer, more talented LPGA, the LET selects five players for the Solheim Cup through points earned on its circuit. Four others are determined by the Rolex Rankings and three are captain's picks. What resulted was a hopelessly outclassed side for Europe that lost to the United States 16-12.
Trish Johnson, Gwladys Nocera, Becky Brewerton, Bettina Hauert and Laura Davies made the team off the LET points list. Based on the Rolex Rankings as of Aug. 27 -- when the qualifying process closed -- Johnson, Hauert and Brewerton (1-4-3 combined) would not have made the team. Maria Hjorth and Linda Wessberg, who were both captain's picks, would have replaced them along with Mhairi McKay, who is the ninth-best European based on the Rolex Rankings. There were 11 Europeans ranked above Hauert, who was No. 121 in the Rolex Rankings, including Solheim Cup vets Liselotte Neumann, Carin Koch and Janice Moodie. "I don't think we could have had a better team," Euro captain Helen Alfredsson insisted after her team was routed in singles Sunday. Laura Davies, who won her match, 4 and 3, against Brittany Lincicome, said: "Perhaps we could have ended up with a better team [by using the Rolex Rankings] but to the detriment of the LET, and that is never going to happen."
The U.S. team would have been virtually unchanged if the Rolex Rankings had been used in the selection process. Betsy King's squad was extremely talented, deep and battle-tested -- it is also young and will be tough to beat for Cups to come. Eight members of the U.S. squad have won LPGA events this year and seven of those are younger than 30. One member of the team -- Suzann Pettersen -- has won this year on the LPGA Tour. By the way, if the Rolex Rankings were used to select a Rest-of-the-World team, it would be a pretty impressive squad. Ten of the top 17 players in the world ranking are from countries not eligible for the Solheim Cup, including Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. That's a situation women's pro golf is going to have to accommodate (perhaps with an elimination process where the losing team sits out the next competition).
For now the problem is this: The best European players are competing on the LPGA Tour. Those who have stayed at home are those who can't make it on what is the true world tour. And those who are good enough to make it on the LPGA should not be penalized through the Solheim selection process. For Europe to remain competitive, the LET points criteria must go.