Grit, Guts & Glory: USA repeats in Solheim Cup

Solheim Cup 2017 USA AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Grit, Guts & Glory: USA repeats in Solheim Cup

Professional

Grit, Guts & Glory: USA repeats in Solheim Cup

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – There was a moment early on Sunday at the Solheim Cup when supermom Juli Inkster wrapped her arms around a lost Lexi Thompson and said You’re the best player on this team. You can birdie six of the next six.

A shaky Thompson had lost the first four holes in the lead-off match against Anna Nordqvist. Emboldened by her captain, the top American player came screaming back with four birdies and two eagles in a dizzying seven-hole stretch. It was a head-shaking, eye-popping, rip-roaring comeback that highlighted the quality of golf that dominated the 15th staging of this biennial event.

Julie Inkster Solheim Cup

Captain Juli Inkster celebrates Team USA’s Solheim Cup golf win. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“I fought strong for my country,” said Thompson, whose right hand was still shaking when she adjusted her visor in her post-round interview. 

The final tally shows that a hobbling European team lost by five points to the Americans – 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 – but it wasn’t due to shoddy performance.

“We just got outplayed,” said European captain Annika Sorenstam. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Sunday singles at packed Des Moines Golf and Country Club couldn’t match the overall drama of two years ago in Germany, but it delivered on grit and guts. Rookies from both sides delighted new fans, and a couple of savvy alternates from the envelopes – Paula Creamer and Catriona Matthew – turned in 3-1-0 performances on the week.

The Americans built a three-point advantage after Day 1 by sweeping a four-ball session for the first time in Cup history. The start proved insurmountable for Europe. 

Inkster, 57, solidified her place as not only a Hall of Fame player, but a world-class captain, the kind of leader who can connect with anyone and bring out their best. She joined Judy Rankin as the only U.S. captains to win twice. 

Two years ago, Inkster gave her players lunch pales and told them to get to work. This year it was hard hats. Players praised her pod system and were grateful for the emphasis on fun. Inkster essentially helped the Americans learn how to be a team again.

“To me my best memories of the Solheim Cup – some we won, some we lost – but it’s being together and being, not only being together as a team but bringing our families together,” said Inkster. “And I’m just trying to bring that back the last couple of years because I know that’s when I had my most fun.”

Angel Yin, a sponsorless LPGA rookie who might have the most raw talent on either side, retained the Cup for the Americans with a 4-foot par putt on the 18th that halved her match with Karine Icher. All week long Yin, a captain’s pick, smashed drives 340-plus yards, outdriving her opponents and teammates by as much as 80 yards.

“I’ve never seen this many people in a crowd before,” said Yin. “It made me hit it farther than I’ve ever hit in my life.”

Lizette Salas, whom Inkster called the team’s spark plug, posted the point needed to win the Cup outright with a 1-up victory over Jodi Ewart Shadoff (5 under). Salas extended her overall singles record to 2-0-1.

Her caddie, Benito Olguin, pulled an American flag out of his caddie bib and draped it around Salas’ shoulders. She had to claw her way up from the bottom of the Solheim points list to play for Inkster a second time.

“It was stressful,” said Salas. “It was a stressful year. My mom would always say, ‘Oh, you like to make things interesting for yourself.’ But we got the job done. And to secure the last point for the Cup, it’s pretty special … my hands are still shaking thinking about it.”

Sorenstam, the winningest player in the modern game, focused on the journey when it was over. Like Inkster, she came into the week looking at the big picture. Of course she crunched all the numbers and worked through more contingency plans that she ever could’ve dreamed. Sorenstam wanted to leave Iowa a winner. But when she stepped onto the first tee late Sunday morning in a Viking hat with fake blonde braids and danced with Inkster, it was clear that she’d make peace with whatever unfolded in the hours ahead.

After all, there wasn’t much she else left to do. Suzann Pettersen, the hard-nosed, high-octane Solheim intimidator was out with a sore back and armed with only a radio in Iowa. Charley Hull sat out both session on Saturday with a wrist injury. Nordqvist, the highest ranked player on Europe’s team who had battled mononucleosis, understandably asked to sit out on Friday due to exhaustion.

“Sometimes it’s not always about the results,” said Sorenstam, whose team ended the day by walking arm-in-arm across the fairway in support of the day’s final match.

Inkster held onto a styrofoam cup that had “vodka-tonic” written on it as she watched the singles matches wind down. There’s a story there no doubt. 

Inkster is a notorious grinder. But she’s also a hoot. 

Winning never looked more fun.

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