Kelli Kuehne started looking forward to next month's Solheim Cup
nearly two years ago, when she missed qualifying for the U.S.
team by a lousy point and then was passed over as a wild-card
pick by captain Pat Bradley. Since then, "the Solheim Cup is
where my head has been every day," says Kuehne, whose wait is
The biennial match against a team representing Europe is set for
Sept. 20-22 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., but the
teams will be finalized in five weeks, after the Aug. 29-Sept. 1
State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill. That means that the
25-year-old Kuehne, who moved to ninth in the Solheim standings
with her eighth-place finish at last week's Sybase Big Apple
Classic, has five more chances to lock up a spot among the top
10 and earn an automatic berth on the team. (Patty Sheehan, the
2002 captain, will complete the squad with her two selections.)
Kuehne's presence could add some spark to an event that is
struggling to get noticed this year. Sandwiched between the Aug.
15-18 PGA Championship at Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.,
19 miles from Interlachen, and the Sept. 27-29 Ryder Cup, which
was postponed for a year because of last fall's terrorist
attacks, the Solheim Cup clearly has been devalued. To make
matters worse, the event has been switched to odd-numbered years
starting in 2003 to avoid future conflicts with the Ryder Cup,
so the women will have to play another us-against-them grudge
match next year.
The biggest blow, however, came last week, when Dottie Pepper,
the player who has come to define the Solheim Cup every bit as
much as Spain's Seve Ballesteros defined the competitive nature
of the Ryder Cup, announced that she would sit out the match for
the first time in its 12-year history. Pepper, 36, is suffering
from pain and lack of mobility in her left shoulder, on which
she had surgery for a torn labrum in March. "Realistically, with
the recovery time, I knew it was going to be tough to play [in
the Cup]," Pepper says, "but emotionally it was hard to let go
of the fact that I wasn't going to play."
Pepper has been more than simply the U.S. team's emotional
leader. She has also been the Americans' ace, scoring the most
points (14, on a 13-5-2 record) and having the highest winning
percentage (.700) of anyone who has played in the event more
than once. Who's going to fill Pepper's shoes? Juli Inkster, the
42-year-old, two-time U.S. Open winner, is the obvious choice.
"If anyone can do it, it's Juli," says Meg Mallon, a five-time
Solheim Cupper. "She plays with as much emotion [as Pepper] and
knows match play."
Rosie Jones, third on the points list behind Inkster and Laura
Diaz, will be expected to lead too. Jones, also 42, has a 7-5-0
record in four Cups and is often compared to Pepper because of
her impassioned play. "I think Patty is going to look to me to
take over Dottie's role," says Jones. "She was the leader in
intensity, but I've always been pretty vocal too. The difference
is that Dottie got the crowds fired up, and I like to get the
If veterans like Inkster and Jones are unable to provide a
spark, Kuehne would give anything to take a shot. "Of all the
players, I relate to Dottie's competitiveness the most," she
says. "I love match play. It lights my fire. If I get a chance
to play, there will definitely be some vibing going on."
With Sheehan's blessing, Pepper says she will attend the matches
to "iron the girls' shorts" and help mentor the rookies. Pepper
has already identified Kuehne as a perfect protegee. "Kelli
would be especially great because of her match-play background,"
Pepper says of the only woman to win the U.S. and British
Amateurs in the same year (1996). "She has made an effort to get
to know the players, and she's really starting to warm up to
some of the veterans."
It's all part of Kuehne's master plan to join the LPGA elite.
Last week Kuehne arrived at Wykagyl Country Club in New
Rochelle, N.Y., with three top 10 finishes in 2002, including a
tie for seventh at the U.S. Open. She shot a six-under 65 in the
second round of the Big Apple to forge a two-stroke lead midway
through the tournament. She slipped to fifth with a 73 on
Saturday but closed with a 69 to finish six shots out of the
playoff between Hee-Won Han and Gloria Park, which Park won on
the first extra hole. The good news for Kuehne was that
finishing eighth was worth six Solheim points. "Don't get me
wrong; I want to win every week," Kuehne said on Sunday, "but
I'm thinking about the Solheim Cup and top 10s and what I need
to make the team. I'm not disappointed by any means with my play
Pepper is fourth in the Solheim standings, so the top 11 on the
points list will automatically qualify for the team. Players are
awarded points only for top 10 finishes. In a Solheim Cup year
points are worth 50% more than in an off-year. However, players
earn fewer points for any top 10 finish if they end up in a tie,
and fewer still if they are tied with more than one player.
Confusion about the points system led Dorothy Delasin to call
the LPGA office to ask just how the points are calculated.
"Basically they said it was a hard math equation," Delasin says.
"I sort of gave up trying after that." (According to the LPGA,
points will not be split on ties in the future.)
Delasin finished 20th at Wykagyl and is 11th on the points list.
At 21 she would be the youngest member of the U.S. team. A shy
Filipino-American, Delasin has been overshadowed by more vocal
players like Kuehne. "A lot of people don't even know that I'm
an American," she says. "I get players who come up to me and
say, 'Are you qualified for the Solheim Cup?' I say, 'Yeah, I
was born in Texas [Lubbock].' I want to be part of the team and
let the world know that Dorothy is here."
Like summer interns hoping to land a full-time job, there are six
potential first-time Solheim Cuppers in their 20s among the top
15 on the points list. "The rookies are going to bring a lot more
excitement than the veterans," says Cristie Kerr, 24, who is the
only American besides Diaz and Inkster to win an LPGA event this
season. "They'll be more anxious, and that will fire up the
Twenty-four-year LPGA veteran Beth Daniel, seventh on the points
list, is more blase. "I'm not out there every week focusing on
making the team," she says. "If I don't make the team, it won't
be the end of the world. I've already played in five Cups." When
asked whom they would prefer to be paired with in the Solheim
Cup, Delasin, Kerr and Kuehne all chose Inkster or Jones over
Daniel. "It'll be interesting to see how the pairings turn out,"
says Kelly Robbins, 32, a veteran of four Solheim Cups and a
likely team member. "I don't envy Patty Sheehan. Being captain
is a tough go, maybe more so because of the makeup of this team."
Sheehan had the top 20 players in the standings fill out a
five-page questionnaire at last month's U.S. Women's Open. She
asked the players things like what type of balls they played,
what were their sleeping habits and who would they prefer to
play with. "Patty already has three bulging file folders,"
Mallon says. "There are going to be 12 very different and strong
personalities, so she's trying to prepare the best she can."
The young and old factions on the U.S. team will no doubt be
motivated by the 14 1/2-11 1/2 whipping laid on the U.S. by the
Europeans two years ago at Loch Lomond. That match got ugly when
Bradley called Annika Sorenstam for hitting out of turn and made
her replay a chip shot in a four-ball match against Robbins and
Pat Hurst, leading a tearful Sorenstam to pronounce herself
"disgusted, disappointed and outraged."
Says a nonplussed Robbins, "We played by the rules of match play
and chose to use the rules. Looking back, the decision was done
with respect. We're all competitors, and we want to win. I'd
like to see more good, tight matches this year. That's what the
Solheim Cup is about."
Sorenstam, the runaway points leader on the European side, tried
to put the incident behind her last week, saying, "I love the
intensity of the Solheim Cup, but I think we need to stay away
from the ruling and the rivalry and go forward. American
patriotism makes the Solheim Cup fun, but you don't want to have
that atmosphere again."
After years of being blasted in the British press and by her
European archnemesis, Laura Davies, Pepper has learned to dismiss
the criticism that comes with the aroused passions of the Solheim
Cup. She has some counsel for the U.S. players. "Emotions will
run high," she says. "You don't go in trying to agitate a
situation, but over the course of three days something inevitably
pops up. The only difference this time is that [the Europeans]
can't blame me."
In Kelli Kuehne there is at least one young American who is
willing to run that risk.
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE First-time Cuppers like Kuehne (top left) and Delasin (top right) would mix well with vets Robbins (right) and Daniel.
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL WARNER/AP (TOP RIGHT) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK MISSING SPARK The U.S. team's emotional leader, Pepper, who has played in all six Cups, will be tough to replace.
How They Stand
With five tournaments left before the Sept. 1 cutoff for earning
Solheim Cup points, the U.S. team is shaping up as an
interesting mix of veterans and Solheim rookies. The top 10
automatically qualify for the U.S. team, and captain Patty
Sheehan gets two wild-card picks. The top seven automatically
qualify for the European side. Captain Dale Reid gets five
U.S. PLAYER/AGE SOLHEIM RECORD PTS.
1. Juli Inkster (42) 5-4-2 220.88
2. Laura Diaz (27) NR 211.40
3. Rosie Jones (42) 7-5-0 146.50
4. Dottie Pepper (36) 13-5-2 122.50
5. Cristie Kerr (24) NR 107.29
6. Michele Redman (37) 0-2-0 107.12
7. Beth Daniel (45) 7-6-3 93.65
8. Wendy Ward (29) NR 81.50
9. Kelli Kuehne (25) NR 73.75
10. Kelly Robbins (32) 8-6-2 72.92
11. Dorothy Delasin (21) NR 72.45
12. Emilee Klein (28) NR 69.28
13. Pat Hurst (33) 5-2-1 63.00
14. Nancy Scranton (41) 0-2-0 58.47
15. Meg Mallon (39) 8-5-5 57.58
EUROPEAN PLAYER/AGE SOLHEIM RECORD PTS.
1. Annika Sorenstam (31) 9-6-2 229.00
2. Raquel Carriedo (31) 0-1-1 196.67
3. Karine Icher (23) NR 154.50
4. Suzann Pettersen (21) NR 125.00
5. Iben Tinning (28) NR 123.00
6. Paula Marti (22) NR 106.33
7. Elisabeth Esterl (25) NR 93.92
8. Sophie Gustafson (28) 2-2-2 90.00
9. Maria Hjorth (28) NR 89.00
10. Marine Monnet (24) NR 79.42
11. Laura Davies (38) 13-8-2 59.67
12. Helen Alfredsson (37) 9-10-2 50.75
13. Marina Arruti (30) NR 47.89
14. Janice Moodie (29) 3-1-0 47.00
15. Carin Koch (31) 3-0-0 43.50