European Captain Alison Nicholas reflects on her team’s sensational week at The 2011 Solheim Cup in Ireland.
How does it feel to have The Solheim Cup in your hands again?
Amazing. It was just a great occasion, wasn’t it? A sporting moment that you’ll never forget.
What are your abiding memories?
The team and how they came together. Their passion and desire and never give up attitude. They believed in themselves and they went out and did the business. I can’t thank them enough for what they did and how they conducted themselves. I thought it was phenomenal and it’s really special to be a winning captain.
Looking back, what do you feel was your best strategy?
Because we won, we were successful. I felt and some of the players felt that playing five matches was just too much in the past and so I was going to run with that strategy. Fortunately for me after Saturday morning we were two points ahead. If we hadn’t been then I might have had to change my strategy. I rested some of my players on Saturday afternoon ready for the singles. Obviously that played its part on Sunday because they weren’t as tired, they weren’t as mentally exhausted and they were able to perform to the best of their ability. In the past we’ve over played players and expected them to get all the points. I have had the luxury of being able to play everybody on a regular basis because we had such strength and depth.
There were key performances from several players such as Catriona Matthew, who beat Paula Creamer 6&5 in the first match. How important was that?
Catriona is just a great, steady player. She is probably one of the world’s best matchplayers. She loves The Solheim Cup; she loves that head to head situation in matchplay and she played suberbly and was a great leader. She had a very successful partnership with Azahara Munoz and Sandra Gal and had an emphatic singles victory over Paula Creamer. That’s why we put her out first and she was great. Sophie Gustafson was again, phenomenal. Four points out of four: what more could you ask? An inspiration as well and Suzann Pettersen and all the others played their part. Everybody contributed in every way and it was a great team effort from all concerned.
Tell us about the key moments, such as the last 45 minutes when it could have gone either way.
Everyone played a part and without the point before that, they wouldn’t have been in that position. Pettersen, Hedwall and Azahara were incredible. It was Pettersen’s leadership in terms of a pep-talk on the way out during the second rain delay. They were in the second buggy, the three of them and they had a chat with one another and said, right, we need our points. To be fair to them, they believed in themselves, they talked about it and then they put it into action and delivered: superb; immense.
How did you instil that belief in your team?
I talked to them all the time leading up to the event and during the event saying that I believed in them and this was their destiny. Everybody played a part in that: my vice captains were superb, my helpers were superb and the caddies were phenomenal. Everyone joined in and created that great team spirit and enjoyable atmosphere which helped them perform to their best. Every player believed in every player and me as a captain, my vice captains Jo and Annika and the helpers, we all believed in all the players and that helped the psyche.
How inspiring was the poster of Seve in the team room?
Seve obviously died earlier this year and what a great loss to the game of golf. What he did for the game of the golf was second to none and his whole charisma, his passion, his never say die attitude: he always fought to the end. It didn’t matter whether he was in the trees on the right or the trees on the left or on the fairway: he was just incredible from that point of view. He was an inspiration.
What sort of response have you had from the public?
I’ve had all sorts of people say all sorts of things to me. Just: well done and what a fantastic display of golf and it was better than watching the Ryder Cup and it was the most fantastic sporting occasion they’ve witnessed for years and years and years and said it was phenomenal, hoe they were sitting on the edges of their seats and how it was so exciting. I had a lot of male and amateur golfers coming up to me and saying that they weren’t fans of women’s golf in any shape or form until they watched The Solheim Cup, so that’s praise indeed.
Do you think the European team will have a good chance in the United States in 2013?
No question. They’ve got to take this momentum forward and continue to believe in themselves, work hard and come together as a team when they do. I believe that they can win in the United States: there’s no question. They’ve got that foundation now of believing that they can beat them, which has always been the other way round over the last six years. I believe it’s the other way round and I think we’ve got to keep repeating it to ourselves because they are just as good and they can beat anybody on a given day in matchplay. They’ve proved it this time round and they can go onwards and upwards with it.
How will the Americans react in two years time?
The Americans will be tough to beat, there’s no question. We can’t relax in any shape or form. They will be up for it and be wanting it in front of their home fans. They will be inspired and ready and we’ll have to be tougher but we can still beat them. Just keep believing, keep practising, keep playing and keep coming together as a team and dream the dream, because they can do it. It’s not going to be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination but they have proved this time round that they can handle it and that they are up for it, so there is no reason why not.
How special would it be for the team to win a major national or international award?
It would be unbelievable. I don’t think we’ve got a chance because unfortunately women’s golf isn’t high up in the sporting world in terms of its awareness and we don’t get as much publicity as these other sports. I doubt very much that we’ll get the BBC Award, we deserve it, but that’s neither here nor there. That doesn’t worry me, to be honest. That would be an addition to the win. If we happen to, it would be great and if we don’t, we can still pat ourselves on the back at the end of the day. They produced a performance worthy of any award, I think. Certainly a lot of people have confirmed that to me, but we don’t do the voting so it’s one of those things. Hopefully we may win something and if we do, that would be great. If we don’t, it won’t take anything away from the win in any shape or form.
You are a US Women’s Open champion, but does this top all of your achievements?
It does. I feel this is the final chapter in my golfing career and that has topped it off perfectly. Now it’s time for others to go forward with The Solheim Cup and for me to take a back seat and do some other things in my life.
Are you coaching?
I’m doing some coaching and spending a bit of time doing other things that I like to be involved in, spending time with friends and family. I’ve got plenty to do but I do feel that there are times when you have to move on and I do believe it’s important for someone else to be captain. I will be in there in 2013 no doubt in some capacity cheering them on but it’s important to share the opportunity around.