Americans win third straight Solheim Cup
August 24, 2009
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Despite the instructions not to, Juli Inkster couldn’t resist checking out the scoreboard.
She didn’t like what she saw.
The heavily favored Americans, long dominant in singles play at the Solheim Cup, were trailing in six matches with the lead groups already on the back nine. Inkster herself was 2 down to Gwladys Nocera.
“I just kept chattering to myself to say, ‘This is an important match, you’ve got to get at least a half a point here. It’s two holes. If you can’t win two holes, then you don’t deserve to be out here,”‘ said Inkster, at 49 the oldest player in Solheim Cup history and a captain’s pick.
Inkster and Brittany Lang, who trailed European great Laura Davies all day, managed to turn around matches that appeared to be solidly in Europe’s win column, scratching out critical halves and helping turn the momentum firmly in the Americans’ favor. It wasn’t long before the Americans were partying on the 18th green, celebrating a 16-12 decision that gave them the Solheim Cup for a third straight time.
And those singles matches? The United States won six of them outright and tied four others, earning eight points and raising its winning percentage over the tournament to .608.
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“It’s awesome, especially since it was such a hard-fought battle,” U.S. captain Beth Daniel said. “They had to dig deep, they really had to dig deep to win this, and I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”
Some performances, though, will linger.
Like that of Inkster, who closed out what she swears is her last Solheim Cup with the type of gritty play that has defined her career. She hit her approach on the 14th to 8 feet, and pumped her right arm when her birdie putt dropped in. She matched birdies with Nocera on the next hole, then evened the match with a solid shot into 12 feet on the par-3 16th.
She bogeyed 18, but it didn’t matter. She had gotten the critical half-point.
“It’s great,” Inkster said. “I don’t have anything to hang my head at. I played really well today. She played great today. I think we deserved a half there.”
So did Lang.
Laura Davies was up 3 on the rookie through 15 holes, and went to 17 knowing the worst she could do was win a half point. But the four-time major champion, benched for the entire day Saturday, closed with back-to-back bogeys.
“I was obviously very disappointed because it looked like it was going to be 6-all or 6 1/2 one way or another,” Davies said. “But now, as it turns out, it wasn’t that important.”
That the Europeans even had the Americans scrambling is worth something. It was the Americans who had the roster filled with top players, Europe that had four ranked 125th or lower. The Americans had won the last two Solheim Cups, too, and had never lost on home turf.
But Europe captain Alison Nicholas pulled out every trick she could this week to inspire her team, including video messages from Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, whose “Spanish Armada” was regarded as the greatest partnership in Ryder Cup history.
“The girls have played well,” Nicholas said, choking up. “It was good fun, but it’s a disappointment.”
Not for the Americans.
They waved so many flags it looked like a Fourth of July party. They hugged and high-fived, and if any of them have voices left this week, it’ll be a shock. They grinned as they passed around the Solheim Cup at the closing ceremony, some kissing it, others holding it up for fans to see.
“It was the most fun I’ve had playing,” said Michelle Wie, whose 3-0-1 record was the best of any American this week. “Every hole seemed like walking down 18 of a major championship, times 100.”
A captain’s pick, Wie wound up being a revelation this week.
Her assignemt Sunday was one of the toughest. Third out, she played former European captain Helen Alfredsson. And on the par-5 No. 2, Alfredsson let Wie know this wasn’t going to be a gimme, putting her second shot four feet from the pin.
Not to be outdone, Wie hit to three feet.
“I think that second shot was the best shot I’ve ever hit. Ever,” Wie said as a few teammates nodded their heads. “I gave myself a little pat on the back, I wasn’t ashamed to do that.”
That eagle set the tone, and Wie was up 3 after six holes. But Alfredsson capitalized on Wie’s poor tee shot on the eighth hole, and the match was squared after the 11th hole.
“It was tough,” Wie said. “Helen’s the best. She’s just so tough to beat.”
But Wie reminded everyone why the expectations of her are so high.
She needed only an 8-iron for her second shot on the par-5 15th – yes that’s right, an 8-iron – and hit it to 20 feet. She two-putted for the birdie, and Alfredsson couldn’t make the putt to match her. She lost the 17th hole, and was so amped up after another booming drive on 18 that she started walking as soon as she hit it, leaving her tee stuck in the box. Her approach landed 25 feet below the hole, and she left it 2 feet short.
Alfredsson’s 35-foot eagle putt was short, too, and Wie tapped in to win the match.
She screamed “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” and pumped her fist before being bearhugged by Stanford. When Morgan Pressel’s 3-and-2 victory over Anna Nordqvist gave the United States the cup, Wie grabbed an American flag and ran around with it held high in front of her.
“People have seen a different side of me,” Wie said. “This was just a lot of fun. There’s nothing to describe it.”