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Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Meg Mallon embracing role as Solheim captain

By Mechelle Voepel

Meg Mallon
Meg Mallon, making a recent appearance at the Colorado Golf Club, knows all about the Solheim Cup: She played in it eight times.

Davis Love III performed one of his most important jobs as Ryder Cup captain Tuesday: making the captain's picks for the U.S. team that will compete later this month.

Meg Mallon won't have to make those choices for the Solheim Cup until next year. But that doesn't mean she isn't plenty busy in the meantime.

"It's been fun. There's been some overwhelming moments -- it's a lot of work," said Mallon, who played in the Solheim Cup eight times and was an assistant captain to Beth Daniel in 2009.

"It's basically a year and a half of organizing things. Thankfully, we've done it a long time, so it's a bit of a well-oiled machine. But there's always those things that come up that are different every Solheim Cup."

The biennial event between the top women's golfers from the United States and Europe began in 1990, and the Americans hold an 8-4 lead. All of the Europeans' wins have come in Europe, including last year's 15-13 victory in Ireland.

The 2013 Solheim Cup will be held Aug. 16-18 at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo., about 25 miles southeast of Denver. The LPGA certainly hopes it will get much better weather there than it did at the last big women's golf event in Colorado, when thunderstorms practically washed out the 2011 U.S. Women's Open in Colorado Springs.

Mallon, who had a 13-9-7 record in Solheim Cup play, is looking forward to participating again in what is one of the most entertaining events in women's sports. She also spoke about a recent breakthrough of sorts for women in the sport of golf: the announcement that Augusta National had invited two women to be members.

"It was a terrific move on Augusta's part; it's nice to see good people do the right thing," Mallon said. "... Obviously, it was going to be done on their time.

"I have played Augusta National before, and I was treated wonderfully. I couldn't say enough about my experience; it's a special place in golf."

Meg Mallon
As a player, Mallon had a record of 13-9-7 in eight Solheim Cup appearances. She also was an assistant captain in 2009.

Which is a big part of why Mallon thinks it's important the club now has female members. Sure, it really doesn't change anything for the 99.9 percent of all people who never will have a chance to play there. But it means something symbolically.

"It hasn't always been this way -- with the popularity of golf and the worldwide reach that it has now," Mallon said. "Augusta is just a reflection of the growth of golf; it actually has become the 'symbol' of golf. And I think that's what has constituted the change as far as opening up to female members.

"The club has kind of become bigger than it ever thought it would be, as far as having a worldwide social bearing. They've adjusted. Maybe it was too slow for some people, but it was on the time frame that they were ready for."

In 2002, when the Martha Burk-Hootie Johnson debate was red-hot, most of the participants in the Solheim Cup that year were asked about it. Some abstained from comment, but Mallon didn't back away from the topic. She said then pretty much the same thing she did recently: It would be the right thing for Augusta to do, but the club couldn't be forced.

Mallon has long been one of the LPGA's top spokeswomen and diplomats. Now as she's wound down her playing career at age 49, she's still a passionate ambassador for golf. And she knows the Solheim Cup is one of the LPGA's best things to sell.

Admittedly, the USA-Europe format has taken criticism because it leaves out what's become some of the biggest forces in women's golf in the past decade-plus: Asian players.

Of the LPGA Tour's 19 events so far in 2012, 13 have been won by players either from Asian countries or of Asian descent (recent 15-year-old Canadian Open winner Lydia Ko was born in South Korea but moved to New Zealand at age 6.)

Four Americans have won LPGA titles this year (Stacy Lewis did so twice), but only one player from Europe has won: Spain's Azahara Munoz. The LPGA has the Kingsmill Championship starting Thursday in Williamsburg, Va., and we will see if an American can win for the first time since Brittany Lang on June 24.

Mallon believes the Solheim Cup has been wise to stick to its Ryder Cup-like roots and remain a USA-Europe event. She thinks the long-discussed idea of a new Presidents Cup-style event for women -- USA vs. the rest of the world -- could still happen.

"I believe the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup stand well alone," Mallon said, "with the whole tradition of the U.S. vs. Europe that goes so far back for both continents. But because it's such a worldwide game now, it would behoove the LPGA to do an event like [the Presidents Cup]."

However, she also points out that golf will be returning to the Summer Olympics for men and women in 2016.

"With the Olympics coming, we have to be careful to not saturate the audience," Mallon said. "The Olympics will be an event that includes the whole world competing, obviously. Still, it would be great to have something else that kind of piggy-backs with the Olympics in that regard.

"As we saw in London, what the Olympics does on a worldwide basis is just incredible. This will make golf even larger and open up more doors for young people to think they can have access to this game."

That's a ways off, though. For now, Mallon is focusing on the event that is just less than a year away. She met with media last week at Colorado Golf Club -- as did European captain Liselotte Neumann -- to promote the Solheim Cup.

"There's a great golf community in Denver, and they really show up," Mallon said. "And with the Solheim Cup, so many people travel for it, too. What will be really fun is that a lot of Europeans will come that maybe have never been to Colorado before. It's going to be a wonderful venue."