Alison Nicholas - ‘Winning the Solheim Cup is a real team effort’

Alison Nicholas - ‘Winning the Solheim Cup is a real team effort’


Alison Nicholas hit the first ever shot in Solheim Cup history. At Lake Nona, in 1990, she was put forward by her partner Laura Davies to do the honours in their foursomes match with Pat Bradley and Nancy Lopez and the English pair would go on to claim a rare point in an 11.5-4.5 defeat.

Two years later Europe would turn the tables on the Americans at Dalmahoy in Scotland, with Nicholas and Davies, now an MBE and Dame respectively, winning both their matches. Nicholas, who this year joined the WPGA Committee, would feature in the first six Solheim Cup matches.

In 2009 and 2011 Nicholas would captain the Europeans and, after a run of three American victories, oversaw a home win at Killeen Castle in Ireland. For much of the Sunday singles it appeared that the Americans would see out another victory before the back end of Europe’s line-up dazzled and snatched a 15-13 triumph. Here Alison looks back on her two-time captaincy, a period that coincided with her completing her PGA training.

Whose brains did you pick ahead of your captaincy in 2009?

I talked to Mickey Walker who was captain in the first four matches, Peter Baker, who assisted Ian Woosnam at the K Club, and I had a fantastic three-hour session with Colin Montgomerie. I got someone who knew Bernhard Langer and Bernhard sent me two sheets of A4 paper with his thoughts on captaincy. And I spoke to Sam Torrance’s manager and we used the guy who helped him with his speech and Ian Poulter and Seve Ballesteros helped with some videos.

I also chatted to the players about what they did and didn’t like and what could be improved. As a player myself my main focus was always on trying to win my matches but being supportive and communicating well were the main things that I wanted from the captain.

What do you make of the qualifying campaign?

The one thing that I changed was the qualifying process as that wasn’t getting us the strongest team and Catriona Matthew re-did it to get more picks and I had an extra one in 2011. Both Ryder and Solheim Cups have increased the number of picks and it’s always a common conversation among past or present captains – ideally it would be 12 picks but that’s never going to happen.

How did you view putting players together?

We looked at all their stats but also their personalities as well and we considered who would energise a team. And then you have an eye on the singles too as that is the crunch factor with 12 points available in one day. In foursomes they’ve got to get on, there’s no point putting two players together who don’t get on. You want steady players in foursomes and then your big bombers in the fourballs. I got advice from Ryder and Solheim Cup captains and that was always the general feeling.

Golf balls are a consideration which is often forgotten. We don’t all play the same ball, now the balls are more similar but we played Balata balls back then so there was a big difference between a Surlyn and Balata ball.

Why were you and Laura paired together so often?

One reason was the first time around at Lake Nona I was considered a very good putter and she wanted someone who was good from three to four feet so she didn’t feel like she would be lagging it up to the hole every time.

What do you think you improved across your time in charge?

You would have to ask the players but I had an incredible team around me with two vice-captains and eight helpers. You can’t be everywhere and using those people as my eyes and ears and being in constant communication really helped in being able to put things right or celebrate things together. That was crucial, my support team was fantastic.

I can’t thank them enough, it is a real team effort and I also had the LET staff doing a fantastic job in helping to create an environment for the players to produce their best golf.

How do you think the competition has evolved over the years?

There’s always room to grow it but it has grown massively. In Ireland the stands were huge on the 1st tee and at Gleneagles they were massive. I couldn’t imagine teeing off in front of that many people. There were only a few hundred people at Lake Nona and now the 1st tee is amazing.

You can’t compare things to a Ryder Cup, there will always be a lot of emphasis on how far the men hit it but the girls hit it a long way, a lot further than people think.

Linn Grant and Maja Stark were part of your Junior Solheim Cup team in 2017, what were they like then as players?

Yes and now they’re making their debuts this week, and Rose Zhang for America too. You knew that Linn was always going to make it, she had a really good amateur career and it was only a matter of time and Maja was also always very good and she then went to college in the States and progressed further.

We also had players like Esther Henseleit and Frida Kinhult in that team.

What are the fundamental differences between playing at home and away?

The conditions of the course are different with the faster greens in the States and they will set up the course for what they’re used to. If you only played in Europe it takes a bit of adjustment. You can win away but it’s only happened twice, the crowds are big and you have to ignore them and just play your own match. Maybe some of our players struggled a bit with that and being in awe of some the home players.

It is difficult away, in 2009 they just don’t cheer for a good European shot. I remember Catriona Matthew hitting a shot into a foot and she hardly got a ripple so you have to accept that and deal with it. If it gets to you then it’s problem.

You can’t be afraid of anyone, in matchplay it’s totally different and I would tell my players that all the time. Everyone looks at stats over 72 holes of strokeplay and they look at the final result and not the individual 18 holes. An American player might have won over 72 holes but they might have only won two of the individual rounds so you might have beaten them in some of the rounds. You need to remember that you’re playing matchplay.

At home you’ve got that support and you will try to set up the course to suit the Europeans. If you’ve got a good team and they’re all playing well then you can win home or away, the golf ball doesn’t know which country that you’re in.

If you were playing you in a singles what would you be up against?

I had a lot of tenacity. I’ve been told by some of the Americans that I never gave up and that I could get up and down out of a tin can. I wasn’t one of the best ball strikers but I found a way of doing it.

How do you look back on that win in Ireland in 2011?

The players were exceptional and Suzann Pettersen played a huge part in that victory, it was very similar to Scotland where things turned late on. You need leaders in your team and Suzann gave Aza Munoz and Caroline Hedwall a team talk on a buggy after a rain delay that they had to win their matches and that helped to turn it around. It all happened so quickly and I certainly didn’t want to be a losing captain twice! It will be interesting to see what happens this time around, I’ve certainly got a lot of fond memories from the matches.


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