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Europeans revel in cup victories

For the second time in less than a year, the best collection of American golfers took a chartered flight home from Europe and left behind the most important piece of luggage.

The cup.

A year ago at The Belfry, Europe won the first three singles matches to build momentum and carried that to its largest margin of victory at the Ryder Cup in 17 years.

Sunday in southern Sweden was not much different.

Giving some 30,000 delirious fans cause to get even louder, Europe won five of the first seven matches at Barseback Golf & Country Club and won the Solheim Cup, 17 1 / 2 -10 1 / 2 , for the largest margin of victory since the women's matches began in 1990.

For the first time, the United States does not have possession of either cup.

``It's a lot better feeling, the one we had last year,'' Laura Diaz said in a somber voice, recalling a U.S. victory the previous Solheim Cup in Minnesota. ``I think this will motivate those of us who were not on a losing team yet to make sure it never happens again.''

U.S. captain Patty Sheehan knows better.

``Uh, it may actually, Laura,'' she interrupted. ``I just want to prepare you for that.''

Diaz only has to look around each week she plays.

No other golf organization is more global than the LPGA Tour, where the current crop of headliners are a Swede (Annika Sorenstam), a South Korean (Se Ri Pak) and an Australian (Karrie Webb). The best American is Juli Inkster, in her 20th year on tour.

Nine members of Europe's winning Solheim Cup team make a living in America.

``The Europeans are getting better,'' Sorenstam said. ``We do play in the States, and that's how you become a better player.''

Europe now has won two of the last three Solheim Cups, both times before raucous home crowds, and both times it wasn't even close.

The theories used to be that Europe had better teamwork on the course, better camaraderie in the clubhouse and was united by a desire to beat the Americans.

This time, it might have had something else on its side: better players.

``The Americans have to go up against all the other countries together,'' Laura Davies said. ``When you put the combined forces of all the European countries together ... you've just got to look at the talent around the table.''

They could hardly be called world-beaters, but neither are most of the Americans.

Six players on the U.S. team have accounted for only nine victories, and Heather Bowie, who went 0-3 at Barseback, was the first captain's pick who had never won on tour.

``We've always thought they were so much better,'' Sorenstam said. ``This year, I didn't think the gap was that big.''

Inkster wasn't willing to concede the talent that easily.

``I don't think you can say they're better players than us,'' Inkster said. ``I just think for these three days and five matches, they made probably a half-dozen more putts. That's really what it comes down to.''

Europe's record margin of victory should come with an asterisk because it picked up three points from conceded matches where it led by one hole with at least four to play.

Then again, Europe was more dominant throughout the week.

Only five of the 28 matches went the distance.

Europe had to play no more than 16 holes in nine of its victories. That happened just three times for the Americans -- twice with Inkster, the other coming from Diaz.

The last two years are a reminder that golf is more global than ever, and that winning the cups is going to get harder, especially when it's a country vs. a continent.

``The gap is closing,'' said Curtis Strange, the U.S. captain at last year's Ryder Cup. ``When you come to the U.S., you get better because the competition is keener.''

Strange came to Sweden during his early years on the PGA Tour to promote golf in Scandinavia. In fact, a young lad named Jesper Parnevik caddied for him at one of the exhibitions.

Since then, golf in Sweden has taken off.

Joakim Haeggman was the first Swede on a Ryder Cup team. Liselotte Neumann was the first to win the U.S. Women's Open. Sorenstam has become Sweden's best female athlete, and her popularity is getting close to the same level of Bjorn Borg.

``In the last 10 years, Sweden has developed some of the best players,'' Strange said.

He also mentioned the sports federations in Australia, which have produced Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Adam Scott and Aaron Baddeley.

Shigeki Maruyama of Japan has won on the PGA Tour, and Hidemichi Tanaka, Kaname Yokoo and Toshi Izawa have all had their chances.

All of them are playing on the PGA Tour.

Six players from Europe's winning Ryder Cup team plan to play more on the PGA Tour.

``If you talk about having the better players, you have to prove it,'' Strange said. ``If you don't, then all you're doing is blowing smoke.''

In the meantime, it won't get any easier next year in the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. And if anyone thinks this is just a trend, consider what happened last week in England.

Britain and Ireland won the Walker Cup for the third straight time.


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