The charm of the Jr. Solheim Cup
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
AURORA, Ill. — Here’s a scene you’ll never see at the 2010 Ryder Cup: Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin holding hands. How absurd.
Yet, there stood Nancy Lopez and Carin Koch Aug. 19, walking the plank hand-in-hand as their Junior Solheim Cup teams screamed from the deep end. Actually, the players were upset their captains opted for the 1-meter diving board rather than the 3-meter. But, hey, Lopez has battled enough health problems at age 52. She can’t even remember the last time she jumped into a pool.
Team camaraderie is part of the Junior Solheim’s charm. Minutes after posing with the trophy, Team USA invited Team Europe to an impromptu pool party at Aurora Country Club. As dark clouds gathered ’round, the two teams lined up behind the 3-meter board and took their turns. Only one player – one of Ireland’s Maguire twins, not sure which – attempted an actual dive. Many players, including Alexis Thompson, grabbed the hand of a fearful friend and coaxed her off the edge. Most jumped more than once.
“Oh God,” said a worried-looking Jennifer Johnson as she took off her shoes and headed toward the diving boards. She looked more nervous at the pool than she did all week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Team Europe partied despite their 15 1/2-8 1/2 thrashing. Lopez was as emotional at the Junior event as she was four years ago when she captained the big girls at Crooked Stick.
“Meg (Mallon) said ‘Let’s see how many times our captain cries in two years,’ ” said Lopez during the closing ceremonies, as Tiffany Lua stood up to hand her some tissues. Lopez got out seven words – “It was a great week for me.” – before getting choked up.
Three-time Junior Solheim Cup player Jane Rah praised the Hall of Famer for really trying to connect with players early on.
“She really got on a personal level,” Rah said. “And I think that made the difference.”
Lopez has a 17-year-old daughter, but that doesn’t mean she came prepared to speak the lingo. The captain was teased relentlessly for referring to a social networking site as "MyFace," accidentally merging Facebook and MySpace.
“I love you all so much,” Lopez said to her players. “You’ll have to get my number so we can text.”
Four players on the U.S. team posted a perfect 3-0 record: Alexis Thompson, Sarah Brown, Tiffany Lua and Kristen Park.
This year’s Solheim Cup team features four graduates of the Junior program in Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang. In fact, both Creamer and Pressel managed to qualify for a Solheim Cup two years after competing as a junior. That’s an incredible feat, one that’s not likely to be repeated in 2011.
Thompson, 14, might be the most talented player on this year’s team but will be too young.
Brown, 17, is the only player planning to turn professional next year. She hopes to sign up for both the LPGA and Duramed Futures Tour Qualifying schools if her family can come up with the money. Brown turns 18 in December after LPGA Q-School, but the tour already gave her permission to play.
Both Lopez and Koch were impressed with the young talent on display this week.
“My only concern is that this event is held the same week (as the Solheim Cup),” said Koch, “because I think some of them could qualify for both teams.”
That, of course, is impossible. But the LPGA can look forward to several young stars coming from this crop, most notably Thompson and 16-year-old Jessica Korda.
When Korda was 4 down through seven holes, Lopez asked assistant captain Beth Reuter to put her radio to Korda’s ear.
“Nancy told me to calm down and loosen my grip,” said Korda, who immediately turned things around after her Nancy-fix, eventually winning, 3 and 2, over Rosanna Crepiat.
Lopez took her captaincy seriously, meeting many members of the team last spring at the Thunderbird Invitational.
“Instantly, we all fell in love with her then,” Brown said. “Just to be in the presence of someone like that is amazing let alone playing for her.”
As the U.S. team van pulled out of Aurora Country Club, the speakers blared Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
It was a week they won’t soon forget.