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Americans looking for Solheim Cup revenge

The pictures were supposed to be for posterity.

As European players doused themselves with champagne to celebrate a Solheim Cup victory in Sweden two years ago, Meg Mallon gathered the old guard on the U.S. team for group photos of what many figured would be the last time together playing for their country.

Mallon and Beth Daniel had played on seven teams. Rosie Jones was on six teams, Juli Inkster on five. They were in their 40s and had combined to play in 87 matches. All of them had a winning record.

"We thought that might be our last one,'' Mallon said. "Now we have another chance.''

Yet the ninth Solheim Cup, which starts Sept. 9 at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., is not about making memories, rather purging them. Still fresh in their minds is the beating the Americans took two years ago in Sweden, and the chaotic finish that contributed to the biggest blowout in these matches.

Catriona Matthew earned the decisive point for Europe, and confusion joined the celebration. Spectators ran through the bunkers and across the course, even with five matches still in progress. Some players were told to stop playing, others continued. Ultimately, it was decided that whoever was behind would concede her match.

The final score: Europe 17 1/2, United States 10 1/2.

"I don't even look at it as a proper score,'' Mallon said.

If there is a score to settle at this Solheim Cup, it comes with the added pressure of having never lost on U.S. soil. The closest Europe has come was three years ago at Interlachen in Minnesota, where it led 9-7 going into the singles until succumbing to an American rally.

"I'm not quite sure how this course is going to set up, but I feel like our team is playing good,'' Inkster said. "There's nothing better than winning at home. I can't imagine anything worse than losing at home, and we don't plan on doing that. We just need to get off to a better start.''

For the quartet in their 40s to go out in style, they'll need help from kids young enough to be their daughters. Never has there been such an infusion of youth on the U.S. team, led by 19-year-old Paula Creamer, whose two victories enabled her to become the first LPGA Tour rookie to earn a spot on the Solheim Cup team.

Creamer was in Sweden two years ago, with red, white and blue paint on her face, having played in the Junior Solheim Cup. She also starred for the U.S. at the Curtis Cup last summer in England.

And she is not afraid to speak her mind.

Standing with her teammates last week in Ohio, Creamer oozed so much confidence that even the veterans were shocked at her message to the Europeans.

"All I can say is they had better get ready,'' Creamer said. "Because they're going to get beat.''

Also playing for the first time are 22-year-old Natalie Gulbis and 21-year-old Christina Kim. Joining them on the team is 27-year-old Cristie Kerr, the woman atop the U.S. standings.

And to think that only a few years ago there was a dearth of good young U.S. players. The next team might include Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie, if she ever joins the LPGA Tour.

"I have to say, four years ago I was like, 'Who's going to play?' There was no one out there,'' Inkster said. "I'm quite pleased we have some good young players that can carry on that tradition. Younger players are stepping up. It used to be younger meant you were 25 or 26. Now it's 18 and 19.''

While the United States brings young and old, Europe answers with power.

Crooked Stick, a Pete Dye creation outside Indianapolis, is where the world was introduced to the grip-it-and-rip-it style of John Daly, the ninth alternate who overpowered the course to win the 1991 PGA Championship.

"It's the toughest Solheim Cup course ever,'' European Captain Catrin Nilsmark said. Asked what type of players Crooked Stick suited best, she mentioned long hitters, good short games and Sorenstam.

Europe has no shortage of length, led by Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Maria Hjorth and Sophie Gustafson, all of whom are among the top six in driving distance on the LPGA Tour.

The Europeans also have a collection of players unknown in these parts, the way the Ryder Cup used to be in the 1980s and most of the 1990s. Newcomers include Ludivine Kreutz and Gwladys Nocera of France, and Karen Stupples of England, whose eagle-double eagle start carried her to the Women's British Open title last year.

"America has got a lot of young, non-afraid players,'' Nilsmark said. "But so do we.''

The U.S. captain is Nancy Lopez, which should lead to an emotional week at Crooked Stick for a Hall of Famer who teared up while speaking to her team before a practice session last month.

She made her captain's picks -- Daniel and Wendy Ward -- on instinct. But she studied past results and set up two practice rounds for the Americans to work on the alternate-shot format that has crippled them.

Two years ago, Europe won 6 1/2 points from the eight alternate-shot matches; the Americans got their points from that format by halving three matches.

"We all know we stink at it, and we don't know why,'' Inkster said. "Sometimes, we try too hard for each other. But these practice rounds have helped.''

Despite the vast difference in age, Lopez has seen them come together over the last few months at tournaments and practice sessions. She sees the quiet determination of Mallon, Daniel and Jones, who is retiring after this year; and the unbridled excitement of Creamer, Kim and Gulbis.

"This team has all the experience we need to win the Solheim Cup,'' Lopez said. "We've got young players who are so enthusiastic, and I think they're going to keep us going. And then you've got the veterans to help them along if they have any problems with pressure. But I don't think that's going to happen.''

 

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