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By: Steve Eubanks of Global Golf Post
When Paul Azinger held his first meeting of past Ryder Cup captains, a meeting where he laid out the pod system Team USA would use to win the 2008 Ryder Cup and the one the Juli Inkster would copy to win the Solheim Cup in 2015 and 2017, Dow Finsterwald smiled, put an arm on Zinger’s shoulder and said, “There was this fighter I knew once. Before every fight he’d kneel and make the sign of the cross. So I asked him: ‘Do you think making the sign of the cross helps?’ He said, ‘Yeah it does. But it also helps to be able to fight.’ ”
Inkster did everything right. She made captain’s picks that nobody questioned, even though Angel Yin and Austin Ernst were both Solheim Cup rookies. She insisted that all her players have fun. She gave out hard hats to go with the lunch pails she had given out in Germany, a reminder that this was a working-class group. She danced on the first tee as a DJ played walk-up music for each group. And she led the cheers around the course.
But she also had players who could fight. That mattered more than anything. Given the quality of play this American squad put out at Des Moines Golf and Country Club, Inkster could have made the pairings by pulling names out of a hat. Her team was too talented to lose.
The final score was 16½ – 11½, the largest U.S. victory since 1996. But that doesn’t mean that Europeans didn’t put up a fight. Saturday afternoon was arguably the finest display of women’s golf in the modern era. In the four-ball session of the second day, Annika Sörenstam’s European team made 35 birdies and an eagle and lost three of the four matches. The eight pairs on the course that afternoon were a combined 76-under par on a Pete Dye golf course that was anything but easy.
That show came after a Friday four-ball session in which the Americans won all four matches, the first time in Solheim Cup history that a U.S. squad swept a session.
“We just got outplayed,” Sörenstam said. “that’s all there is to it. Congratulations to the USA. They played some great golf.”
The lead going into Sunday was 10½ – 5½. A European comeback would have been the largest in team history of any professional team match-play event. And for a couple of hours it looked like that might be possible. Anna Nordqvist put an early whipping on Lexi Thompson, getting America’s top-ranked player (and the only player on either side in the top 12 in the world) 4 down through the first nine holes. While that was going on, Georgina Hall, the 21-year-old English girl few Americans had heard of, held Paula Creamer all square through the front nine, Germany’s Caroline Masson jumped to a 3-up lead on Michelle Wie and Karine Icher seesawed between 1-up and all square with Angel Yin.
On it went. Charley Hull jumped out to an early lead on Brittany Lang. Carlota Ciganda held a steady 2-up edge on Brittany Lincicome. Jodi Ewart Shadoff remained all square with Lizette Salas, and Madelene Sagström, the Swedish player one season removed from the Symmetry Tour, jumped out to a 3-up advantage on Austin Ernst. There were few roars and very little red on the leaderboards, which, if her expression meant anything, worried Captain Inkster more than she ever would admit.
But bouts are 15 rounds. And fighters fight. Two hours after the first tee shot was struck on Sunday, the Americans found found another gear. Thompson put together the greatest comeback in Solheim singles history, playing the seven holes between Nos. 10 and 16 in 8 under, with four birdies, two eagles and a par. She went from 4 down to 1 up with two holes to play. Then Thompson had a 6-footer on the 17th green to put the first American point of the day on the board. The putt hung on the low edge, which allowed Nordqvist, who made six birdies in 17 holes, to add a seventh on the 18th to halve the match.
Every half point helped the United States and Thompson’s match turned the momentum in the Americans’ favor for good. Creamer won on the final green. Cristie Kerr beat Mel Reid, 2 up, in a match that featured nine birdies between the two of them. And Yin, the 18-year-old bomber who proved herself to be the longest hitter in the women’s game, halved her match with Icher to ensure the United States would retain the cup.
Fifteen minutes later, Salas made it official, rolling in a 4-footer at the last to win her match with Ewart Shadoff, 1 up, the point that put the American’s over the top.
“They bought into (our plan),” Inskter said when asked about the pod system and all the elements she brought to the team. “They played for the people around them. They played for each other.”
It also helped to be able to fight.
Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.