From having Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies on the posters in her room during her university days to sharing training, experiences and matches with them against an imposing opponent, the U.S. team, in the Solheim Cup. Such was the dizzying experience of Paula Marti, the second Spanish player to defend the European flag and the first of our players to win a match in the most important women’s competition in the world.
The legend of her participation in the Solheim Cup was forged little by little, like a delicate work of goldsmithing. Martí took the necessary steps to make her way in a competitive amateur scene, first as part of the European team that played in the Junior Ryder Cup in 1995 and 1997 and then establishing herself in the Florida Gators of the Florida State University, one of the strongest teams in the NCAA. After a stint in the United States and a jump to professionalism, the Barcelona-born player soon made her mark on the Ladies European Tour, winning two victories in 2001, her rookie season. Her victories in Italy and Great Britain were only a prelude to what was to come in 2002, where she won the EDUCOM ALPG Players’ Championship in Australia at the beginning of the season, finished second in the Women’s British Open and topped the Ladies European Tour earnings list, succeeding Raquel Carriedo, who had done so the previous year.
Having this list of merits accumulated in just two years and her automatic qualification for the Solheim Cup to be played in 2002 at the Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, it was natural that Dale Reid, captain of the European Solheim Cup team, looked at Martí as a possible pillar of the team. After the American team defeat in 2000, the United States wanted to make the “home field factor” count and beat an illustrious European team that included Annika Sörenstam, Laura Davies, Helen Alfredsson, Sophie Gustafson and Raquel Carriedo, who were joined by Iben Tinning, Karine Icher, Maria Hjorth, Suzann Pettersen and Paula Martí, with Scotland’s Dale Reid at the helm once again.
Paula Marti made her debut in the competition in the best possible way, as she had the honor of opening the competition with her first shot and also won the first day of foursomes with Laura Davies against other fearsome rivals, Juli Inkster and Laura Diaz. Martí became the first Spaniard to win a Solheim Cup match.
“Playing in America is different because of the public´s influence, but being part of that team was a brutal experience. Besides, I remember the captain told me: “There are two players who want to play with you: Annika and Laura Davies”, what an honor… And I answered: “As I am a rookie, partn me with whoever you want, I get along well with all of them”. She partnered me with Laura Davies and we made a great couple. In fact, I got along great with her after that,” recalls Martí.
“We finished with eagle. Laura hit an inhuman drive on the 18th and I hit a 3-wood that I left three feet away. We finished the match and Laura jokingly told me: ‘Hey, you’ve taken all the limelight away from me. You’ve done it all yourself”, always with her known irony “, recalls Martí “The players who have played a little bit well, the more public you have and the more pressure, the more motivated we become and the more we grow. You become better in those moments and you lean on your partner, and Laura was a great support. I played all the matches with her as my partner, although I lost the singles against Laura Diaz. I think the Europeans have always played very well as a team, but in the individual part we were crushed… although that story has changed.”
Martí had to deal with the American team, always with Laura Davies as her partner in crime, and in the afternoon fourballs of the first day they lost by only one hole against Rosie Jones and Cristie Kerr, while the next day, in foursomes, they lost by 2&1 against Meg Mallon and Juli Inkster. In both matches, very disputed and decided by small details, the Spanish “rookie” responded to the confidence of her captain and her accredited partner.
“Our captain gave us a lot of confidence. The captain’s job is to remind the players how good they are, to take good care of them that week, to make them feel they are winners… and Reid did that very well even though we didn’t win. It was a great experience for me. I’ve always gotten along great with all the players, even the top ones, whom I had posters of in my college room. Sharing a team with them was a real honor. It’s true that you arrive as a rookie and you don’t really know what to do, but once you become part of the team everything changes”.
Paula Martí remembers with affection and nostalgia the bustle of the tee one and the public´s energy, although she has noticed an evolution in the participation of both the spectators and the players.
“I think the influence of the public began to be more noticeable in later editions than the one I played. It is true that there was animation on the 1st tee, but it cannot be compared with last editions, such as 2017 or 2019. You could hear the songs of the Americans and the Europeans, but not as big as now, that the players themselves ask for more noise and what confidence they exhibit! Now they like to lean more on the public, but it was not so popular at that time. It is also true that Europe it´s different. In Scotland they have a lot of golf culture and they shout when they have to shout and applaud when they have to applaud, not when the opponent fails”.
The memories come flooding back, but the Barcelona native was impressed by the spirit with which the Europeans faced the competition, the union of all of them in pursuit of the same goal, regardless of luck.
“The best thing is the fact of sharing a tournament. Golf is so individual, we are so alone when we compete and travel the world, so the fact of supporting each other, of being all together, reminds us of our amateur days, when we shared teams and went to play the Europeans. You look for teamwork”.
The Solheim Cup impacts the players to such an extent that any occasion to live the experience again is seized and treasured, and Paula Martí had the opportunity to enjoy another facet of the tournament by serving as team assistant under Annika Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew in the 2017 and 2019 editions.
“For me it was a key goal to make the Solheim team because it’s a source of pride. I was lucky enough to play in 2002 and in 2003 I fell just short, and I even got a call from the captain telling me that she was very unhappy not to pick me at the expense of Helen Alfredsson. I enjoyed a great experience and I wish I could have played many more. I didn’t win the Solheim but I do have a win as an assistant for the European team and that’s very satisfying. First of all, Annika Sorenstam asked me to accompany her on that adventure that was an incredible honor for me. It´s amazing that the best player in history asked you to do something like that… I really wanted to be part of the team with Annika and to live again the feeling of the competition and be with the best in the world. Being part of the team was a brutal experience, even though we didn’t win that time. When Catriona asked me again it was wonderful, and on top of that we won in Scotland. It was amazing: how the week went, how we won, the atmosphere in the team… It was all very smooth.
After the triumph in Scotland Paula Martí experienced in 2019 and the designation of Finca Cortesín (Costa del Sol, Andalusia) as the venue for the 2023 edition, the competition is experiencing a dazzling moment that cannot be compared to the impact of its first participation in 2002.
“At that time we went unnoticed. Men’s golf already had the reference of the Ryder that had been played in Spain, and players like Seve, Olazábal, Miguel Ángel… but it was harder to talk about us. This has changed a lot, with social networks and the great players we have now, like Carlota and Azahara, who are doing a lot of good for Spanish women’s golf. Now that we have won the Solheim Cup we have to make a lot of noise. We have to get the girls to have the fame and recognition they deserve. Let’s hope that the ones who are already part of the team will be there and that some of the new generations will join the team,” Martí concluded.
As an ambassador for the 2023 Solheim Cup, Paula Martí will once again be linked to this historic tournament that is close to her heart. Her efforts, along with those of Raquel Carriedo and Ana Belén Sánchez, our first three representatives in the tournament, were essential to open the door to other Spanish players who shone so brightly in subsequent editions, and will be an inescapable reference for those who come in the future. Hopefully many of them will make up the European team that will compete in Finca Cortesín in 2023.