OWINGS MILLS, Md. – It’s probably safe to assume that if the International Crown blossoms into an event rich in history like the Solheim Cup, few details of opening day will be stored in the memory bank decades from now. Except for this startling fact: The Americans were shut out.
That’s right, the host team and No. 1-seeded USA failed to score a point against eighth-seeded Taiwan. The Americans never led in either match and, of the eight teams who qualified, were the only ones pointless in Day 1 four-balls.
“We hate losing,” said Paula Creamer.
For many players, it was an emotional start to the day as players carried their nation’s flag onto the first tee and listened to their national anthem.
“I haven’t heard it in a long time, man, and that was, I was teary,” said Spain’s Belen Mozo. Only two players – Yani Tseng and Lexi Thompson – in the field used driver on the first hole at Caves Valley and a good portion of the field missed the fairway. Nerves were cranking for players who haven’t played in a team event since their amateur days.
Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn struck the first shot in event history. The stands were half-empty early on but started to fill as officials cranked up the pop music and passed out miniature flags. It wasn’t Solheim Cup loud by any stretch, but a healthy start.
Yani Tseng smiled from the moment she stepped onto the tee box until she ripped a drive that nearly drove the green.
“I felt like the old Yani is back,” said Tseng, who is currently ranked 53rd. “I haven’t had this feeling for a long time.”
Tseng, hands shaking, dropped a 14-foot downhill birdie putt on the 18th hole to seal a 1-up victory against Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson. The last time Tseng’s hands shook like that was when she won the 2010 Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale. Before she teed off, the former World No. 1 told herself to “walk like a champ.”
The 2009 Solheim Cup served as a huge boost for the career of Michelle Wie, who left Rich Harvest Farms not only as the most valuable player on the team (3-0-1), but with the admiration and respect of her U.S. teammates.
“I actually feel like hopefully this is my turning point for the rest of my life,” Tseng said.
Playing alongside Tseng was little known Phoebe Yao, who made crucial birdies at Nos. 12 and 3 to swing the moment back in Taiwan’s favor. Elsewhere, Yao provided the steady pars needed for Tseng to play her naturally aggressive game.
Meanwhile Candie Kung and Teresa Lu made early work of Cristie Kerr and Creamer, dusting them 4 and 3. Creamer posted only one birdie in 15 holes.
The average world ranking for Team Taiwan is 80 compared to seven for the Americans. Upset city.
“There’s a lot of golf left this week and some teams that maybe won three points today might get shut out tomorrow,” Kerr said.
Karrie Webb rode the fine play of amateur Minjee Lee to a 2-up victory over Korea’s Na Yaon Choi and I.K. Kim. Webb, who has served as a cart driver and overly-qualified gopher for Team USA at Solheim Cups, was surprised by the amount of emotion she felt on the first tee.
“Actually … a little bit more nervous than I thought I was going to be as well,” she said.
There are no captains in this format and teams had to determine their pairings 30 minutes after finishing play. Of the eight teams in the competition, only the Americans changed up their pairings for Day 2.
Team USA will face Spain on Friday. The close-knit Spanish contingent amassed three points against Thailand.
“We’re going to be coming out guns a blazing,” said Kerr. “We having nothing to lose from here on in. We have to fight as hard as we can fight.”