Live from the Nations Cup

Matt Cooper’s final Sunday report from a highlight of the LET season – the European Nations Cup.

Old rivals
The penultimate group on the final day saw the English team of Laura Davies and Mel Reid take on the Welsh pair of Becky Brewerton and Lydia Hall. On Twitter, and in person, both teams were ramping up the contest, looking forward to seeing who would emerge on top. Around them, however, the national boundaries were not quite so straightforward. The English team had one Welsh caddie and one Scottish, whilst the Welsh had one Irish bagman. The galleries were no less confusing: the English were being cheered on by Scottish friends whilst the Welsh had both Scottish and English fans (they also had Welsh support including Lydia’s father Wayne who played rugby for Wales). On the front nine the backing worked as the two teams raced into a chase of the Swedish leaders. The Welsh had three birdies in the first four holes; England began with five birdies in six holes. On the back nine, however, the charge stalled until Davies rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt on the final hole to claimed a tie for second. Wales were also becalmed on the back nine and finished fourth.
Caroline Masson
“You see that girl?” one caddie asked me, as we watched Germany’s Caroline Masson complete her 72nd hole. “She’ll win on tour this year. She’s too good not to.” I first met the 22-year-old this time last year in Turkey when we visited an ancient theatre together as part of a Rookie feature for the TV production company. At the time she struck me as shy but I’ve since seen that on-the-course she is feisty and very determined. Also present on that trip to the theatre was the Australian Kristie Smith who earlier this year won her first LET event, the Pegasus New Zealand Open. The caddie is not the only person who thinks that Masson might follow Smith into the winner’s circle – tour staff and other players agree that she has the ability to go low. Indeed, at the S4C Wales Championship of Europe last year she shot a final round 64 to make on of her eight top twenty finishes in her rookie year. This year she started slowly on the Australasian Swing but then finished second in the Lalla Meryem Cup. Second again here alongside compatriot Anja Monke, Masson will be worth watching in the next few weeks. She plays in Turkey in three weeks time (she was sixth there last year) and at home in Germany a couple of weeks later (she was fourth after three rounds there in 2010). Older by one year and wiser, she might be about improve on those consecutive runner-up finishes.
Solheim thoughts
This tournament was always going to be viewed in the context of the Solheim Cup in September. The news for the European captain Alison Nicholas has been good. Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson have continued to impress as an uncomplicated and low-scoring partnership, Laura Davies and Mel Reid have also combined well (they enjoy one another’s sense of humour and have been driving the ball similar distances) and the Spanish team of Aza Munoz and Maria Hernandez were also impressive, if a little tense on occasions under the weight of home nation support. Nor will Nicholas have overlooked that Becky Brewerton played superbly – she has a fine Solheim Cup record and proved herself an adaptable partner. The story for the US team was less positive – apart from a birdie-fest around the turn in round three (seven of them in just eight holes) the Christina Kim-Brittany Lincicome combo never fired. It would be extremely naïve to read too much into that (for one thing Lincicome was ill for much of the week), but it’s a reminder that American golfers are not in a different class to European performers.

Party time
Friday night is party night at the European Nations Cup, when everyone – players, caddies, officials and media – head from the La Sella Golf Resort to the marina at Denia. First up is contest for the players – hitting wedge shots into the ocean, aiming at a small green about 100 yards out. Then everyone moves to the Zensa rooftop bar for a pool party. Unlike last year none of the players braved the inflatable ‘hamster ball’ on the pool, but we were chased around by a man dressed as the devil.
Clash of the day
Twenty years ago news that the USA and Russia were about to meet in a sporting clash would produce massive media reaction around the world. But times change (not to mention ladies golf doesn’t really rate much of a mention). But that didn’t stop me anticipating the second pairing of the day however: Christina Kim and Brittany Lincicome of the United States and Maria Verchenova and Anastasia Kostina of Russia.
It might not have been quite as dramatic as the famous basketball match of the 1972 Olympics or the ice hockey in 1980, but there was some good golf on the front nine (when the players weren’t steering clear of the dangerously protective swan between the second and eighth fairways, that is).
The Americans took the honours, exerting their class with a burst of seven birdies in eight holes around the turn. It has taken them some time to find their form this week, but another low round tomorrow might give them a top five finish. Today’s birdie-fest was in part inspired by a side-bet – who could hit the most birdies. Tomorrow’s format is slightly different but they’re hoping to maintain momentum.
I got chatting to Brittany Lincicome’s mother as I made my way around the course. Almost every father or mother of a golfer I have met has a story to tell about a sibling’s win and this was no different when I asked where she had been when her daughter executed her superb final hole eagle to claim the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship. “I was at home, on the floor, with the dog,” she told me. “I was screaming at her not to take her hybrid, but she took it, and she hit a great shot. She still had to hole that little putt, but thankfully she did. Wow, that was some experience, I’m telling you!”
Role reversal
One hour after Anna Nordqvist completed her third round she back out on the course. But this time she was carrying the bag instead of hitting the shots – and her player was none other than her Solheim Cup captain Alison Nicholas. The tall Swede is almost certain to make the team by right, but should she need a captain’s pick, it might be a tick in the box.
Wales’ Becky Brewerton was also in action, carrying clubs for her bagman Shane Codd, but she took the easy route – getting a lift on the buggies and (mock) collapsing on the tee when asked to do any work. Codd, incidentally, recently married the Irish player Rebecca Coakley and was yesterday the tour production team made a short film about him. He revealed that when he got a message from them it was addressed to “Shaun Coakley”.