O’Sullivan ready for US dream teens

GREAT BRITAIN & Ireland Curtis Cup captain, Monkstown’s Ada O’Sullivan, is planning to use the spectre of playing against teenage sensation Michelle Wie to motivate her eight-member squad.

They will be taking on the United States in the biennial amateur ladies event which starts at Formby tomorrow.

And with the Ryder, Walker and Solheim Cups already in European hands, there is a huge incentive for O'Sullivan and her team to make it a grand slam of major transatlantic golf competitions, as well as showing the Americans that youthful exuberance can be countered by grit, determination and skill.

O'Sullivan will field a team of six rookies and two veterans this weekend at Formby Golf Club on the English west coast and she plans to play the Wie card heavily to spur her side on to its first victory since 1996.

"There hasn't been a lot of talk amongst the girls about Michelle Wie," O'Sullivan says. "It's me who has been bringing it up to them to motivate them. She is my reverse trump card. I've been saying to them 'Who would not like to play against Michelle Wie?' and they have all said they would relish the chance to play against her.

"It will be like the Tiger Woods/ Gary Wolstenholme scenario in the (1995) Walker Cup when Gary beat Tiger. Every member of the team would love to win a point off her."

O'Sullivan says two factors should help her side.

"The way the course will be set up, length will not be a huge factor," she said.

"The tees will be set up so that the girls will be hitting irons and fairway woods off tees.

"Besides, Michelle Wie is a superb stroke player, but this is match play and the GB&I girls have a lot more experience in match play than her."

Emma Duggleby, 32, and Fame More, 22, are the only two GB&I members with Curtis Cup experience. Duggleby is making her third consecutive appearance in the competition. The reigning English Ladies' champion has a 4-3-1 record from the last two matches, while More lost her only match at Fox Chapel in 2002.

Six rookies round off the team, including Ireland's Claire Coughlin, 24, who won the 2003 Irish Stroke Play title; Anna Highgate, 21, from Wales, who has been a Welsh International for five years; Scotland's Anne Laing, 29, who is the Scottish Amateur champion; England's Danielle Masters, 21, a former winner of the England U21 and U23 titles; Nicola Timmins, 23, from Folkestone, England, who won the English Ladies' Intermediate Championship last year; and Shelley McKevitt, 24, from Reading, England, who is a former University of North Carolina player and the current Ladies' British Stroke Play champion.

"We have three cups on this side of the Atlantic," O'Sullivan says.

She adds: "I'm very, very confident we can add the Curtis Cup to that."

For her part, Michelle Wie feels there will be nothing she cannot cope with at Formby except the notorious pot bunkers dotted around the Lancashire links.

The 14-year-old American wonder- girl is already revelling in being the star attraction, but she admitted yesterday: "When I saw my first one I got very excited.

"Then I got into it and I decided I did not want to see another again."

In reality, Wie can propel the ball such impressive distances that she probably will not have that experience too often over the weekend.

She hits her driver "about 300 yards" which she hopes will not intimidate her opponents.

The US may have won the event on the last three occasions, and are hot favourites to do so again but O'Sullivan, who says she has already written her winning speech, believes the Wie factor can not only inspire her own players, but also frustrate the Americans.

"Some of the US players have not been happy about her getting all the attention but none of our girls is complaining."

For her part, Martha Wilkinson Kirouac is in charge of the youngest American team ever to take part in a Curtis Cup.

The oldest player is Sarah Huarte, a 21-year-old senior at California who won the prestigious South Atlantic Ladies Amateur earlier this year. It was the first time no mid-amateurs (25 or older) were included on the US team.

She is joined by Paula Creamer and US Women's Amateur runner-up Jane Park, both 17; Duke freshman Brittany Lang, 18; Arizona sophomore Erica Blasberg, 19; Duke sophomore Elizabeth Janangelo, 20; and Annie Thurman, a 21-year-old junior at Oklahoma State who won the 2002 Women's Amateur Public Links.

"They're not lacking," Kirouac says. "You can't hold age against them."

Kirouac, 54, has some experience with youth and star power. She played on the 1972 Curtis Cup with 16-year-old Laura Baugh, at the time the youngest player in Curtis Cup history. Also on that team was 18-year-old Hollis Stacy, who went on to win three US Women's Opens.

"It was a bit of a challenge because we had two very young players," Kirouac said.

"The difference was, you had somebody there who had previous Curtis Cup experience. You had people to create a mentoring role."

She doesn't have that luxury with this team. But this US team is about more than one player, and Kirouac said she would not hesitate to drop Wie in a singles match the first day.

"They look at this team like this," she says, holding her arms in the shape of a tower.

"They think if they can knock Michelle off, this whole team will crumble. They think without Michelle, we're nothing. They don't understand our depth. Michelle is like a shield out front, drawing all the flak. Everyone else is playing in relative anonymity behind her, but playing very, very well."

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