When will women’s sports competitions get the respect they deserve? For three days in August United States women golfers played their hearts out to win the Solheim Cup. The Solheim Cup is the premier event in women’s golf. It is the equivalent of the Ryder Cup in men’s golf. How many people realize this? If my local newspaper is any indication, not too many people seem to care. There were few articles written about the matches and those articles were hidden on page six of the sports section. It finally made the headlines the day after the last matches announcing that the United Sates had won.
The Solheim Cup was hosted by Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Admittedly, the fans there were very aware of the competition and came out in force to support the U.S. team. The competition is between the best U.S. lady golfers and the best European women. Differing from normal stroke play, the format includes four ball, foursomes and singles matches. In four ball matches, two players are partners and the lower of the two scores counts for the hole. Foursome matches are played as best ball with the players alternating drives, one driving the even holes and the other the odd holes. Although the U.S. team was the favorite, the Europeans did well in the four ball and foursome formats.
Emotions run high during the Solheim Cup. It is a very different atmosphere from regular competition. The ladies are playing for the team and for their country. Patriotism is evident not only in the uniforms but in the face paint on the players, ribbons in their hair and flag-waving fans. The players are aware of their standings all year long; their desire to be on the team is evident.
Day one opened with four ball matches. The captain of each team decides when and with whom each player will play. Beth Daniel was the U.S. captain. The European captain was Alison Nicholas. The teams were well matched and play was exciting. Paula Creamer sank a 20 foot putt to put the U.S. team in the lead by one point after day one. Juli Inkster was a captain’s pick and also made some critical points. At 49, Inkster is the oldest player to compete in the Solheim Cup. There was exciting play on both sides. European Catroina Matthews, playing with Maria Hjorth, birdied the 18th hole to tie that match against rookie Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel.
Day one power players were Europeans Laura Davies and Becky Brewerton competing against Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome from the U.S. Laura Davies, who has never had a formal golf lesson, has played in every Solheim Cup. She did not play well on day one and didn’t play at all the next day. “The Brittanys,” as they were nicknamed, won that match.
The afternoon matches were foursomes. Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim from the United State lit up the course in the afternoon. Their enthusiasm and their great play made their match against Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson delightful to watch. The two Americans were happy to be part of the team, happy to be playing together and happy to win their match.
Although the U.S had never lost at home, the team was only ahead by one point at the end of day one. The same format was used on day two. Once again the Europeans exhibited their strength. After the morning matches the teams were tied 6 all. By the end of the day the Europeans won 4 ½ of 8 points putting them tied at 8 to 8. The next day would be the real test, as the Americans have dominated in the singles matches in the past.
The format for the last day of the tournament is 12 singles matches. Each player is playing for the sheer love of their country and love of the game. The atmosphere is electric. Angela Stanford from the U.S. was the first to win her match against Becky Brewerton. Even after that recorded win, however, it was touch and go for the Americans. The lead went back and forth.
Michelle Wie’s play transformed her image. At fifteen she was considered the next great star, by age 19 she still hadn’t won a match. She played her heart out at the Solheim Cup. At one point, Wie was ahead of Helen Alfredsson by three points. After 11 holes the two were tied. Wie drove the ball 305 yards on hole 15 and sunk a 20 foot putt for birdie. That was all she needed to do to win the match. The Europeans also have their gutsy players. Judy Rankin, commentator for the Golf Channel, said that certain players have “golf courage,” which Rankin described as “Players who come back after poor shots.” One European player with golf courage was Anna Nordqvist. Nordqvist, however, was beaten by Morgan Pressel who won the clinching point for the Cup. After that match, the U.S. retained the Cup. It was Christina Kim’s 18th hole win over Tania Elosegui that won the Cup outright.
After the last match there was as much excitement and back patting as there is after a gold medal Olympic win. It was, after all, a win for America; just as a Ryder Cup victory is a win for the U.S. Granted, the Ryder Cup was first played in 1927 and the Solheim Cup has only been around since 1990. Maybe in the years to come, women’s golf will get the recognition it deserves and make the national television networks as well as front page headlines. This year’s victory was certainly a giant leap for women’s golf.
Sources: Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper; “Putt Gives U.S. the Lead at Solheim Cup” by Nancy Armour, The Associated Press; “Americans Win the Solheim Cup” by Nancy Armour, The Associated Press.