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Solheim Cup boasts singular legacy

by Lewine Mair - September 17, 2015

TO UNDERSTAND WHY THE SOLHEIM Cup has captured the imagination as it has, you have to go back to the beginning and that week in 1990 when the Europeans arrived at Lake Nona.

Eight American household names awaited, these including Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Patty Sheehan and Pat Bradley. From the ranks of the Europeans, only Laura Davies and Liselotte Neumann were in their league.

“I think it’s fair to say,” said Davies, “that our supporters had their fingers crossed. They weren’t beginning to think in terms of a European win. Instead, they were simply praying that we would not be too much of a disaster.

“As players, we were marginally more confident of giving the Americans a run for their money. But, at the back of our minds, I suppose that we knew that our first priority was to avoid the whitewash which not a few of the Americans had predicted for us.”

Presumably because of the concerns outlined above, not too much had been done to encourage spectators at Lake Nona. The match was staged on the quiet and almost as a trial run, albeit one which could not have been more beautifully presented.

The Ping organisation had thought of everything and, as in a Ryder Cup week, one glittering social occasion following another on the days leading up to the contest.

The result, US 11½-Europe 4½, came as something of a relief to everyone. Yes, the Americans had won with ease but the Europeans had done well to make a bit of a match of it.

Tellingly, the week had also included a touch of the aggro known to every “mattering” contest in sport.

Let Davies tell the story …

“The second singles was between me and Rosie Jones. I have to admit that I was a shade disappointed when I heard that I had got Rosie. It is not that I don’t have a huge admiration for her as a player, it was simply that I wanted to get my hands on a Patty Sheehan or a Beth Daniel, one of the ‘in’ players of the moment.”

All that would change with something Jones said at the first hole.

It may well have been nothing more than an instance of the kind of lighthearted banter that is part and parcel of these things. Whatever, Davies was suddenly imbued with the feeling “that there was no-one I wanted to beat more than Rosie Jones.

“To explain, I had hit a 2-iron from the tee and, as we started off down the fairway, Rosie turned to me and asked, ‘Is there a screw loose in your driver or something?’

“I was amused but there was a touch of frustration in there, too. Mercifully, I had the presence of mind to reply, pretty good-naturedly, that I didn’t need my driver – and I won by 3 and 2.”

Kathy Whitworth, an endlessly gracious US captain, was proud of her team whilst sending the Europeans away with some encouraging words. She said she could see for herself how the gap in standard between the Americans and the Europeans was narrowing. “The next match,” she predicted, “might be a good deal closer.”

What neither Whitworth nor anyone else on the golfing globe had envisaged was that the Europeans might win. Indeed, if you had to name the most shocking results in golf’s long history, the Europeans’ 11½-6½ defeat of the Americans at Dalmahoy in 1992 surely woud feature in the top five.

The scale of the upset was best captured in Mark McCormack’s The World of Professional Golf.

“The cumulative haul of the ten Americans was more than $23 million in prize-money to the Europeans’ $5 million. Again, the Americans had 23 majors among them to the Europeans’ two.

“So how in the name of Old Glory,” he demanded, “did the United States manage to go down 11½-6½?

“Blame it on Beth Daniel and a seemingly innocuous statement she made in mid-summer at the US Women’s Open,” he continued. “It went like this: ‘You could put any one of us on the European side and make it better. But the only Europeans who could help us are Laura Davies and Liselotte Neumann.’ ”

As judgments go, Daniel’s was pretty astute. However, just as surely as Tiger Woods has often singled out something in a rival’s remarks to fuel his competitive instincts, so Davies wasted no time in capitalising on the Daniel comment.

“That’s a load of old rubbish,” she cried. “Let’s just wait and see what happens on the golf course.”

When the time came, no-one could believe what was happening during the first couple of days as Europe set up a slender 4½-3½ advantage going into the singles.

Davies, leading the way on the last day, won her third point of the week, notching six birdies as she defeated Brandie Burton by 4 and 2. Helen Alfredsson dispatched Danielle Ammaccapane by 4 and 3, Trish Johnson beat Sheehan by 2 and 1 and Catrin Nilsmark, though she had not been used previously, won the crucial point when she defeated Meg Mallon by 3 and 2.

“I don’t think anyone envisioned this,” said Mickey Walker, the European captain. “We went out and beat the best players in golf and beat them totally.”

In 1994, JoAnne Carner was brought in as captain to steady the US ship. Carner, a larger-than-life character even before she donned her star-spangled and sequined baseball cap, was not going to have any nonsense.

In a week when Davies felt as low in the European uniform as Carner was on a high in her hat, the Americans won by a relatively emphatic 13 points to 7.

It was in 1996 at St Pierre, when the match became a 12-a-side affair, that the Americans finally inflicted the kind of wave of destruction on the opposition that had been anticipated at the start. And what made it all the more wretched for the home team was that they had been ahead 3-2 after the foursomes and level at 5-5 after four-balls.

Cars had been pouring into the adjacent Welsh fields at 7 in the morning to watch what was shaping to be a famous European victory.

But almost from the start, the cracks opened. Though Annika Sörenstam defeated Bradley by 2 and 1 at the top of the lineup, the Americans won nine of the remaining games and halved two. Val Skinner, Michelle McGann, Burton, Dottie Pepper, King, Jones, Jane Geddes, Sheehan and Mallon were the relevant victors.

A third successive US victory in 1998 – 16-12 at Muirfield Village – prompted all the anticipated newspaper chatter as to how the match should become America versus the Rest of the World rather than America versus Europe.

Yet demoralising though that sounded to Europeans ears, it was not what anyone wanted.

Nor were things any different when the Americans captured another three in a row in 2005, 2007 and 2009. (Incidentally, 2009 was the year when the crowds poured in to watch Michelle Wie making what was a memorable debut.)

Yet the situation today is that Europe, though down 8-5 overall, are chasing a hat trick of their own in Germany. They won at Killeen Castle in Ireland in 2011 and they won again in Colorado in 2013.

Caroline Hedwall was the star of the show in winning 5 points out of 5 in Colorado but, equally, no-one will forget the performance of the teenage Charley Hull who, upon defeating Paula Creamer, promptly asked for her autograph.

It was when she was being clapped from the 14th green by none other than Nancy Lopez that this young innocent seized the chance to get Creamer’s signature for an admirer at home. She handed across her match ball for the purpose and the American, though her teeth may have been firmly gritted, obliged.

The story lives on.

When, earlier this summer, Creamer and Hull came together for a Q&A session for corporate guests at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, it was inevitable that the compere would make bold to ask Creamer about that Sunday afternoon in Colorado.

The corporate guests did not need to be reminded of the incident and Creamer, in turn, wasted no time in furnishing them with a follow-on tale.

With a delicious touch of humour, this all-round professional recommended that the compere should be banned from asking any further questions.


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