FRANCE CLAIMS WOMEN'S WORLD AMATEUR TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP BY 7 STROKES
BAD SAAROW, GERMANY -
Steady rounds from its three players in the week's most difficult conditions proved more than enough Saturday as France produced a seven-stroke victory over 1996 winner Korea in the Women's World Amateur Team Championship at Sporting Club Berlin. France, which claimed the title on its home soil in the event's first playing in 1964, will hold the Espirito Santo Trophy, emblematic of superiority in women's amateur golf, until 2002 when it is scheduled to defend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The victory came a year after France secured the Women's' European Amateur Team Championship, making it the first nation to hold those titles concurrently. Three of the players from that six-woman European team - Maitena Alsuguren, Virginie Auffret and Karine Icher - combined this week to shoot 4-over-par 580 at the Nick Faldo Course and earn the gold medal.
"I am once again very proud of them," said France's Gwladys Nocera, a former player now in her fourth season as an assistant coach at New Mexico State University, who at 25 becomes the youngest winning captain in Espirito Santo history. "They are three great golfers and wonderful friends, and I think that is a necessity."
Korea's silver-medal performance meant it has not finished below a tie for fourth since 1994, a remarkable record for a nation that first entered the competition in 1990 in Christchurch, New Zealand. It ensured the runner-up position on the podium by shooting 4-over 148 and giving up only a stroke on the day to the winners.
The real battle on a sunny but windy day was for the bronze, which Great Britain and Ireland took with a total of 15-over 591. A non-winner that has now placed in the top three seven times, GBI skidded out of contention with a 152. Still, that left it one shot ahead of Sweden and two ahead of 593s by Denmark and Spain, the latter returning a 2-under 142 to vault from a tie for 13th place. Japan was solo seventh at 594, followed by Italy and Netherlands sharing eighth at 595, the latter tying its best-ever showing. Australia, which equalled Spain's 142 on the day, concluded the top 10 at 596. Germany claimed a share of 11th with Norway at 24-over 600 while the United States of America, a 13-time champion, recorded its worst finish. Never below a tie for fifth until this week, it was 17th at 32-over 608. The record field of 40 countries was six larger than 1996 in Manila, Philippines. Although no individual honours were presented, Suzann Pettersen of Norway closed the week with a 1-over 73 to total 3-under 285. Hers was the only total beating par on the 6,155-yard (5,626-meter) layout that began the week soggy from frequent rains, but by the end of the week was running hard and fast. Pettersen posted the fifth-lowest individual total in the event's 19 playings and stood four ahead of Joo-Mi Kim of Korea and Alsuguren. Icher was fourth individually at 4-over 292. France showed early that it would not retreat when Auffret, the first player on the course, birdied the 461-yard (421-meter), par-5 first hole. She played the front nine in 1-over 37, a welcome change from the 83 she'd suffered through in the first round.
"I don't think we realise we've won the World Championship," a stunned Auffret said after shooting her 76, which combined with Icher's 71 to form the team's return for the day. The French national team began preparing for this championship shortly after the Espirito Santo was awarded two years ago to the USA. Holding second place after the first round in Santiago, Chile, France steadily dwindled to a disappointing sixth-place finish. Shortly after the squad began working with a trainer who developed a daily stretching regimen, workout program and dietary guidelines.
"It is not a sacrifice," Nocera attested. "It's not strict when you want to be number one. You have to make some decisions. It is wanting to do it. You don't become a champion like this," she added, snapping her fingers.
France became only the third team to regain the Espirito Santo, joining Spain and the USA. And the 36 years between its triumphs is also a record that likely will stand for decades. Before this, the longest term between titles was six years by Spain in 1986 and 1992.
The championship is conducted by the World Amateur Golf Council, founded in 1958 to encourage the international development of the game and to employ golf as a vehicle to foster friendship and sportsmanship. Recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the official international federation for golf, the WAGC comprises the national governing bodies of golf in more than 90 countries. Play for the Espirito Santo began a fortnight during which the world's best amateur golfers will gather at this 36-hole complex outside Berlin. The men's Eisenhower Trophy begins Thursday over both the Faldo and Arnold Palmer Courses. GBI is the defending champion. That field is also expected to break records, surpassing the 52 countries from two years ago in Chile.