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How Swede It Isn't Teamwork helped the U.S. overcome a bevy of Swedish stars at the Solheim Cup

Sept. 28, 1998
Sept. 28, 1998

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Sept. 28, 1998

How Swede It Isn't Teamwork helped the U.S. overcome a bevy of Swedish stars at the Solheim Cup

It was a pretty raucous scene on Sunday evening at the closing
ceremonies for the Solheim Cup. The band was blasting, the crowd
was roaring, and the Europeans were gloating about their victory.
"It's nice to have won the singles," Helen Alfredsson said above
the cacophony. "That was our goal."

This is an article from the Sept. 28, 1998 issue

The Europeans did indeed take the Sunday singles matches, 6 1/2
points to 5 1/2, giving credence to the widespread pre-Cup
belief that their top players were better than the best
Americans. Alas, the Solheim is a team competition, and it was
the U.S. players' superior depth and their ability to meld their
games that in the end allowed them to prevail. The Americans
assured their victory--the final score was 16-12--during the
first two days of team play, when they ham-'n'-egged it around
Muirfield Village Golf Club, in Dublin, Ohio, with uncanny
efficiency.

"I've never been on a team like this," said Dottie Pepper, who is
one of only two Americans, along with Betsy King, to have played
in every Solheim Cup since the event was inaugurated in 1990. "We
all bonded together so fast. I mean, at the opening ceremonies
some of the players' shoes didn't fit, so we just switched pairs.
When have you ever heard of a group of women doing something like
that? Because the chemistry was so good each of us felt we could
lean on anyone else and they'd come through. That trust showed up
on the golf course."

And how. The Americans dominated the alternate shot foursomes,
"the truest test of teamwork" according to Pepper, winning six of
the eight matches.

Meanwhile, the European team had a fractured identity,
reflecting the fact that its players were drawn from two tours
(the American and the European LPGAs) and four countries. On
Friday evening Laura Davies, the stalwart Englishwoman, was
asked if she was a believer in "European unity." "No," she said
flatly, and then with a self-conscious laugh she tried to
recover. "As a golf European, I am," Davies said. "All that
other stuff--I'm just a golfer; I don't know anything about it."
European unity was a hot topic because European captain Pia
Nilsson had raised more than a few eyebrows when she used four
of her five captain's selections on Swedes, meaning she had the
same passport as half the players on her team.

Making the European chemistry even more combustible were a
couple of spats involving Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam, the
first sisters to play together in the Solheim Cup. It's old news
that there's no love lost between Annika and her kid sis, who
was a Cup rookie, and according to one team insider, "They acted
the same as always--they ignored each other all week."

The bad blood between Charlotta and another prominent Swede,
Carin Koch, was also felt at the Solheim because the feud has
forced players to choose sides and may have played a part in
Koch's being left off the European team. Once upon a time Koch
and Charlotta were best friends, but all that changed after
May's LPGA Corning Classic, when Sorenstam's fiance, Robert
Klasson, witnessed Koch's husband and caddie, Stefan, shake an
errant drive by Koch out of a tree. (Sorenstam wasn't present,
while Carin Koch was unable to see the tree in question.) After
the round it was ruled that Koch should have been penalized for
her caddie's actions, and she was disqualified for signing an
incorrect scorecard. Sorenstam and Koch have been estranged ever
since, and when Koch was passed over in favor of 24-year-old
Sophie Gustafson, a less experienced Swede, charges and
countercharges were leveled in the golf press on both sides of
the Atlantic. Nilsson copped a plea, saying Koch was unable to
play because she's pregnant, which is funny considering Tammie
Green teed it up for the U.S. squad even though her pregnancy is
six weeks further along than Koch's.

With all this intrigue as the backdrop, the Solheim kicked off
at 8 a.m. on Friday morning with a tabloid-ready foursome match,
Davies versus Pepper (with their partners, Trish Johnson and
Juli Inkster, respectively, in tow). Davies and Pepper have been
the emotional leaders of their teams since at least 1994, when
they got into a very public scrap about Pepper's on-course
comportment, which might be described as enthusiastic. Pepper
and Inkster ambushed the Europeans from the first swing, and
they forged a 4-up lead after only five holes. Davies and
Johnson fought gamely to get back into the match, but they were
forced to concede, embarrassingly, in the middle of the 17th
fairway after failing to recover from Davies's monstrously
crooked drive. This was not an encouraging start for the
Europeans.

After the teams split the next two matches, things got worse for
the Europeans when the U.S. team of Solheim rookie Pat Hurst and
Kelly Robbins beat the world's third-ranked player, Liselotte
Neumann, and her tenacious partner, Lisa Hackney, with a
cold-blooded birdie on the 18th. Thus began the parade of
unlikely stars for the Americans. "From Friday morning on it
seemed like we had a new hero every hour," said Inkster.

Hurst and Rosie Jones opened the afternoon better-ball four ball
with a record 7-and-5 whupping of Gustafson and Hackney, putting
the U.S. up 4-1, an advantage it held by going 1-1-1 the rest of
the day.

On Saturday morning the Americans took two of the first three
matches, pinning losses on the teams led by Annika Sorenstam
(the world's No. 1 player) and Neumann. The final foursome match
was brilliantly played, with Pepper and Inkster reaching
Muirfield's brutal par-4 18th all square with Alfredsson (ranked
fourth in the world) and France's Marie-Laure de Lorenzi. With
the Europeans short of the green in two, Inkster had a
terrifying 45-foot downhill birdie putt to win the match. Her
lag took about two days to trickle down the green before
settling within a foot and a half of the cup. The Europeans
conceded that putt, giving the Americans par for the hole. When
a jittery De Lorenzi flushed her chip 15 feet by and Alfredsson
couldn't make the tricky par putt coming back, the U.S. was up 8
1/2 - 3 1/2. But that's not what had the European team seething.

After collecting Inkster's gimme, Pepper nearly blew out her
rotator cuff pumping her fist and giving the now antiquated
raise-the-roof hand gesture to the crowd. This was bad form,
since the Europeans had yet to finish out the hole. Davies, who
was watching greenside with all the other players, was so
torqued she buttonholed U.S. captain Judy Rankin after the match
and gave her an earful, and she blasted Pepper to any reporter
within earshot. "It was unsporting," Davies said. "That was just
unprofessional, unnecessary, and it spurred us on. It was a big
mistake." Davies later took out her aggression on a punching bag
in the European locker room.

Pepper was hardly contrite. "To me, it was patriotism," she
said. "No motion was made to another player or caddie. It was
only toward the crowd to get them into it. Emotion is part of
this game."

It certainly is for her. No player is as rah-rah for the Solheim
as Pepper. On Saturday she accented her blue shorts and white
shirt with red and white shoes, a red, white and blue manicure
and bright-blue eye shadow. She didn't, however, dye her hair
red, as she had for the '94 match. As over the top as all of
this was, it's hard to argue with Pepper's play. With her
singles victory on Sunday, Pepper became the first player to go
4-0 in the Solheim, and her 12-4-1 career record is the finest
in the event's history. When Rankin was asked if she thought
Pepper rubbed the Europeans the wrong way, she said, "That's why
I played her first Friday morning."

Perhaps to ensure Pepper's safety, Rankin gave her a breather
during Saturday afternoon's four ball, and while Pepper was
napping (literally), the Euros made a little rally, taking two
of three matches and leading the fourth at the turn. But
Neumann, who was the unofficial goat with her 1-3 record, blew a
two-foot putt on the 14th hole that put the U.S. one up, and
Inkster closed out the match on the 17th with a dramatic 35-foot
birdie putt in the gloaming. That sent her twirling across the
green in a little boogie that she later described as "weak."

Inkster's second crucial putt of the day had pushed the U.S.
lead to 10 1/2 - 5 1/2, meaning the Europeans needed to win nine
of 12 singles matches on Sunday to take home the crystal trophy.
They had a paradoxical bit of inspiration from the 1996 Solheim
Cup, when the U.S. went 9-1-2 in singles to storm to victory
from a two-point deficit. Nilsson didn't leave any bullets in
the chamber, sending Davies, Alfredsson, Sorenstam and Neumann
out in the first four matches. Each produced a victory--Davies
and Alfredsson sullying the 3-0 records of Hurst and Inkster,
respectively--but the U.S. countered with early blowouts by
Pepper and Jones, pushing the Europeans to the brink.

Their hopes all but vanished when Robbins birdied 16 and 17 to
close out Charlotta Sorenstam, who had impressed all week with
her ball striking and tenacious 'tude, though she did show her
sister's inconsistency on the greens. The Solheim Cup was then
officially clinched in a battle of captain's selections when
Sherri Steinhauer made two late birdies to beat Catriona Matthew,
a rookie from Scotland, 3 and 2.

Afterward the Americans were openly emotional. They talked about
how lonely it felt playing singles, and they reveled in the
fresh memories of the laughter and camaraderie of their evenings
spent together, of intimate gatherings of 13, in contrast to the
sprawling parties of the Europeans, which included caddies,
significant others and a random assortment of guests.

For their part, the Europeans were gracious losers, all the way
through the end of the closing ceremony, when their various
national anthems were played and selected team members lowered
the flags of the represented countries. And with that, the
European players headed for the Muirfield clubhouse, slipping
away one by one.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Green glees U.S. team members (from left) Burton, Pepper and Steinhauer (obscured) celebrated Steinhauer's Cup-clinching putt. [Brandie Burton, Dottie Pepper, Sherri Steinhauer and caddies celebrating with American flag]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND A fine mess Charlotta Sorenstam, the younger sister of Annika, was brought to her knees during Saturday's competition. [Charlotta Sorenstam hitting bunker shot]COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Raise the roof Pepper, the emotional spark of the U.S., went 4-0 and enraged the European team with her exuberance. [Dottie Pepper reacting to putt]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Boogie fever After the 35-foot putt that clinched her Saturday four-ball match, Inkster broke into a dance even she called "weak." [Juli Inkster celebrating on golf course]
After collecting Inkster's gimme, Pepper nearly blew out her
rotator cuff pumping her fist.