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Americans Motivated After Solheim Rout In The Rockies

by Steve Eubanks - September 17, 2015

Disappointment is one thing. But this was something more, something bigger. Sitting beside the 18th green at Colorado Golf Club as twilight fell on the high desert sky, the group on the easternmost edge of the fringe, their faces alight with laughter and celebration, did their best not to make eye contact with the others, the ones 30 yards to their west, sitting solemnly with the sun at their backs, their shadows as still as the distant mountains.

Anguished minutes turned to hours as group after group continued to play on after Caroline Hedwall birdied the 18th hole to secure the 2013 Solheim Cup for Europe. By the time Cristie Kerr and Karine Icher called their final match a draw, the American players seemed more than beaten: They looked shattered. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not at home. Despite the fact that Liselotte Neumann’s European team was deeper and ranked more highly than the team Meg Mallon fielded for the United States, playing in the States, especially in Denver, a city built on can-do Americanism, was supposed to turn the tide in favor of the red, white and blue.

It had always been that way. Europe had won the Solheim Cup only four times in the 20 years prior to that week. And those wins had come in Scotland (twice), Ireland and Sweden. For the Americans, losing at home – and losing the matches twice in a row – was a hammer blow to the noggin.

America’s finest women professionals left Colorado facing some difficult realities. They weren’t the best players in the game. And they hadn’t been for quite some time.

But a strange thing happened in the months that followed. Rather than put the loss behind them, players such as Kerr, Michelle Wie (who was on the losing end of the Hedwall match that sealed the deal for Europe), Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel embraced it, internalizing the hurt until it burned.

“I think we have all been motivated from Solheim and from answering those questions all the time: ‘Where are the Americans?’ ” Lewis said in the year following the defeat. “It was kind of a wake-up call.”

Lewis certainly answered that call. Always a grinder, she retooled her body to match her game, become stronger and more consistent, a player who would win three times after the loss in Colorado and pick up her second Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy.

Lewis wasn’t the only one who found another gear. Wie finally overcame her demons to win the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, beating none other than Lewis. That came just two months after Thompson won her first major, the ANA Inspiration, beating Wie in a Sunday showdown.

Paula Creamer won again. Lincicome won another major (the 2015 ANA Inspiration in a playoff with Lewis). Kerr won another title, claiming to be “playing the best golf of my career.” Lizette Salas picked up her first career win. And Pressel retooled her swing and had her best season in years.

“All of the Americans are very motivated,” Wie said on more than one occasion following the Rout in the Rockies. “We kind of got our butts kicked last Solheim. I think after that a lot of us just really looked into ourselves and re-evaluated what was happening. It was a good reality check.

“(Now) we push each other. I definitely feel a lot more camaraderie out there on tour with a lot of other Americans. It’s exciting when another American plays well.”

Two years ago, the Europeans had better world rankings and more experience. Now, the Americans have an average world ranking of 24.6 as compared to 50.6 for Team Europe. Juli Inkster’s squad has won 16 LPGA Tour events in the past two years. The Europeans have won only four. Even Alison Lee, the only rookie in these matches, had five top-10s in 2015 and two in her past two starts entering last weekend.

“(The Solheim Cup) has really played a big part,” Creamer said. “We’ve lost the last two and it’s been hard. I don’t like that and I’ve been trying to get better.”

The game isn’t played on paper but even with the matches being contested in Germany, the Americans have to be given the pregame edge, despite the protests of Captain Inkster, who insisted that, “We’re the underdogs.”

Don’t count on it. Team USA brings a level of determination and experience not seen in recent outings. Their will to win is strong but not as powerful as their fear of losing. And fear coalesces. It crystallizes a common goal. These Americans bonded into a unit long before Inkster made her picks to round out the team.

“When we go to Germany, it will be a different team,” Creamer said. “We relate to each other. We’ve been there and we don’t want to lose again. That whole mentality has taken over into our individual games.” And that, in the end, will make all the difference.

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