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US keen to redress matchplay balance

A desire to redress the balance of match-play power across the Atlantic has given the United States added incentive for the defence of their Solheim Cup title at Barseback, near Malmo, in Sweden this week.

Although the U.S. women's team staged a dramatic comeback to win last year's Solheim Cup at Interlachen, Minnesota, they will desperately want to hold on to their crown following recent U.S. defeats at the Ryder Cup and amateur Walker Cup competitions.

The Solheim Cup, the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup, is a biennial team match-play competition featuring the best U.S.-born players from the LPGA Tour and the best European-born players from the Ladies European Tour (LET).

Last September, the European men clinched a famous Ryder Cup triumph at The Belfry in central England, beating the U.S. by 15-1/2 points to 12-1/2 after dominating the last-day singles matches.

Britain's Colin Montgomerie providing the inspiration, ending the week with a record-equalling points haul of 4-1/2, but it was Ireland's Paul McGinley who secured victory for Europe's professionals, holing a nine-foot putt at the last.

"This is probably the best day ever for European golf, it means a huge amount," said Montgomerie after three days competition in which he never trailed the Americans during a remarkable 82 holes.

"It means more for us to win it than I think it does for the might of the U.S. Tour."

The U.S. men's amateurs had a chance to salvage honour in last week's Walker Cup at Ganton, Yorkshire after opening up a 9-7 lead over Britain and Ireland going into the final day.

However the hosts, inspired by Walker Cup veteran Gary Wolstenholme, mounted a stirring fightback in Sunday's singles matches before snatching victory by 12-1/2 points to 11-1/2.

The 43-year-old Wolstenholme beat emerging American talent Casey Wittenberg 3 & 2 to complete a record ninth Walker Cup win, paving the way for Britain and Ireland's third successive triumph.

"I don't know why we leave it so late," said Britain and Ireland's jubilant captain Garth McGimpsey.

"I was a shattered man yesterday (Saturday) and not in my wildest dreams did I think we could pull it off. They pulled everything out of the fire today."

Non-playing U.S. captain Bob Lewis, who won the Walker Cup four times as a player, could offer only words of consolation to his charges.

"The team is down," he said. "I've got great players on my team and they wanted to win badly. It will hurt for a while and they'll get over it."

The U.S. lead the competition 31-7, with one tie, but Britain and Ireland have now triumphed in five of the last eight matches.

In the much younger Solheim Cup, the U.S. also enjoy overall dominance, leading 5-2 and never having lost on home soil.

However they had to battle hard on the last day in the 2002 showdown to preserve their home record, fighting back from 9-7 at the start of the singles matches before sealing victory by 15-1/2 points to 12-1/2.

U.S. captain Patty Sheehan described her team's effort as the best moment of her illustrious career.

"This is definitely the tops, it just can't get any better," said Sheehan, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame whose 35 LPGA Tour victories include six majors.

"I'm so proud of my team, they have so much heart and I never even dreamed it would feel as good as this when we won."

For European captain Dale Reid, who had led her side to victory at Loch Lomond in her native Scotland two years earlier, defeat was "desperately disappointing".

"I don't think the Americans are better players, but some of our players just didn't fire (on the last day)," she said.

"But it was a funny week, there were so many ups and downs. I've never known a Solheim when fortunes turned around so much."

Reid has since handed over the European captaincy to Sweden's Catrin Nilsmark for this week's matches, which begin Barseback Golf and Country Club on Friday, but Sheehan remains in charge of the U.S. team.

The eighth edition of the event is likely to be tightly fought once again, although close observers of the women's professional game expect Europe to have a slight edge because of home advantage.

As they bid to redress the balance of trans-Atlantic match-play power, the U.S. team should remember that their amateur equivalents won last year's Curtis Cup competition 11-7 against Britain and Ireland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


 

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