U.S. earns Junior Solheim title with key singles play
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When Kathy Whitworth and Casey Danielson spoke of each other Wednesday in the aftermath of the Junior Solheim Cup, you could almost see the passing of a torch. Whitworth, at 73, wondered what kind of influence she could have on a squad of teenagers so far removed from her era of greatness – one in which she won 88 tournaments and twice was awarded the Solheim Cup captaincy.
“I was the first one, and now it’s like I’m being recycled,” Whitworth joked at the closing ceremonies, right before she accepted the trophy from John Solheim.
The impact she had on Danielson and Co. during a whirlwind two days at Inverness Golf Club was tangible. Whitworth, as Danielson put it, always “knew all the right things to say.” The captain’s greatest concern entering the week had been the generation gap, and how she could get to know all 12 players well enough to find the right foursomes and four-ball teams. That, she said months ago, truly would be the key.
The U.S. entered Wednesday’s singles matches at a 6-6 draw with the Europeans. In the team room Tuesday night, Whitworth said many players were asking for the anchor spot, so Whitworth started at the other end of the roster. Danielson’s voice rang out for the lead spot.
“I wanted the first spot because I don’t mind getting up early,” said the Stanford freshman from Wisconsin. “I wanted to get some points on the board and then go cheer on the others.”
Shortly after requesting that spot, Danielson found out she had drawn England’s Georgia Hall, who was just a few weeks removed from winning the British Women’s Amateur. Hall is No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“I was happy with the pairing,” Danielson said.
Danielson trailed for most of the match, but she birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to draw even by the 17th. As Whitworth tells it, chest puffed out, Hall stuck her approach to kick-in range on No. 18, and Danielson was left to sink an 8-footer for birdie to halve.
Walking up the 18th, Danielson turned to Whitworth and said, “This is fun.” Whitworth knew Danielson had gotten the message she was trying to deliver the night before: “The fun part is in the trying and the being there at the end.”
Nicole Morales backed up Danielson with a 3-and-2 victory over England’s Amber Ratliffe. Two matches later, Samantha Wagner added the Americans’ second big halve when she tied Emily Pedersen of Denmark, the World No. 6 amateur.
“That was a big halve for us because it kind of quelled any momentum,” Whitworth said of Wagner’s half point.
As for that anchor spot? It went to UCLA freshman Alison Lee, who arrived in Denver fresh off a run to the semifinals at the U.S. Women’s Amateur on Aug. 10. Lee drew Swede Jessica Vasilic and won her match on the 17th hole. By that time, however, the contest already was over. Krystal Quihuis had ended it a few minutes earlier on the 18th green, when she won the Americans’ 11th point by sinking a 20-footer for birdie – one she chased into the hole with fist raised. The U.S. contingent, having recently arrived at the green on Whitworth’s bright red captain's cart, went berserk. The final score stood 14.5 to 9.5.
“This tournament, this format, playing as a team, it’s so much fun,” said Lee, who requested that anchor spot as a three-time Junior Solheim Cup participant.
Whitworth asked only one thing of her players: that they play with heart through the end of every match. She told them that she wouldn’t tolerate any less. The message seemed to sink in.
As the Americans lined up for pictures near Inverness’ long reflection pond at the end of the day, a voice rang out from the upper levels of the nearby hotel. U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon’s face barely was visible behind the screen.
“Hey, Whit!” she cried. “Way to go, you guys!”
Whitworth lamented that she couldn’t come back with anything quickly enough. The captain had only just removed a star-spangled headband that she put on only when European counterpart Janice Moodie production a long, stringy wig in Marge Simpson blue.
“If I wear this, you'd better win,” Whitworth had said.
As for Moodie, the chance to mingle with the next generation of Solheim Cuppers was one that she cherished. Two years ago, Charley Hull played on the European team, and at 17, will play in this week’s Solheim Cup down the road at Colorado Golf Club. It’s proof of the bright futures at Inverness.
“What I take from it is how good of a shape junior golf is,” Moodie said.
Then, Moodie pointed at Whitworth, standing a few yards away and conducting an interview in her headgear. That, she said, is what it’s all about.
“Look at Kathy,” Moodie said with a smile, “She doesn’t even remember that thing is on her head.”
Perhaps the only thing about the day she could forget.