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Slam, Bam, Thank You, Uncle Sam Enraged at a questionable call by U.S. captain Pat Bradley, Europe stunned the heavily favored Americans in the most contentious Solheim Cup ever

Oct. 16, 2000
Oct. 16, 2000

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Oct. 16, 2000

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Slam, Bam, Thank You, Uncle Sam Enraged at a questionable call by U.S. captain Pat Bradley, Europe stunned the heavily favored Americans in the most contentious Solheim Cup ever

There was a moment on Sunday afternoon at the Solheim Cup--as the
scoreboard was bleeding the red of the U.S.A. and the British
press was calling for the heads of more Ugly Americans--when
another international golf event seemed on the verge of
disintegrating into pure melodrama. It had already been a week in
which tears outnumbered raindrops, a contentious Cup during which
no one was immune to press-conference shrapnel. Now the two teams
were at each other's throats over an incident that had a stench
far worse than anything that emanated from last year's Ryder Cup.
So be thankful that Europe won, because a U.S. victory would have
been poisonous not only to the health of the Solheim Cup, but
also to the spirit of the game. When it was finally over, when a
furious Sunday rally by the Americans had been snuffed out, there
was a sense that Europe had won far more than an oversized
crystal trophy.

This is an article from the Oct. 16, 2000 issue Original Layout

"A great wrong has been righted," Laura Davies said, a bottle of
Miller Genuine Draft in each hand. "Quite a few of them, in fact.
This was the most satisfying day of my golfing life, bar none."

The final tally was 14 1/2-11 1/2, but the numbers hardly do
justice to the dramatic sweep of this European victory. Played on
the boggy, boggy banks of Loch Lomond Golf Club outside Glasgow,
Europe outplayed a team of Americans who for most of the week
seemed afraid to get their red, white and blue fingernails dirty.
The U.S. trailed 7 1/2-2 1/2 when this Solheim Cup nearly imploded.

Due to heavy rains, a quartet of vital Saturday four-ball matches
was suspended until Sunday morning, with the Americans Pat Hurst
and Kelly Robbins clinging to a one-up lead against Janice Moodie
and Annika Sorenstam. Playing their first hole after the restart,
the par-5 13th, Moodie and Sorenstam were both in the rough left
of the green lying three, while the Americans had knocked their
third shots onto the green, Robbins to 25 feet, Hurst to three.
Both watched as Sorenstam went through her methodical preshot
routine. She followed with a delicate chip and run that dived
into the cup, the kind of dramatic shot that can turn a match. Or
not.

With the Europeans still giddy over the shot, Robbins informed
Sorenstam that, come to think of it, she might have played out of
turn. A lengthy discussion ensued among the four players; U.S.
captain Pat Bradley and her European counterpart, Dale Reid; and
a pair of rules officials. Eventually one of the officials paced
off Sorenstam's and Robbins's respective distances from the hole
(a task complicated by the fact that Sorenstam had not left a
divot and had to guess where her ball had been). It was
determined that Sorenstam had been two feet closer to the hole
than Robbins and, per Rule 10-1c, the Americans were entitled to
make her replay the shot taken out of turn, which they did.

Tears and makeup streaking her face--"I told her she looked like
Alice Cooper," said Sorenstam's caddie, Terry McNamara--Sorenstam
failed to jar the reload, and Hurst bloodlessly rapped in her
birdie putt, extending the U.S.'s lead to 2 up. Hurst and Robbins
would go on to win the match 2 and 1 in stony silence.

The Americans didn't violate the letter of the rules, but they
certainly sullied the spirit of what is supposed to be a goodwill
match. The histrionics of the U.S. men at the '99 Ryder Cup were
spontaneous eruptions. This was an act of gamesmanship. Bradley
tried to cast herself as the heavy, saying, "I took the decision
out of Kelly's hands," but the fact is, if Robbins or anyone else
had doubts as to who was away, those doubts should have been
expressed before any ball was played, not after a rousing
chip-in. "That's the hard part about it--it's all after the fact,"
said Moodie. Indeed, does anybody believe the U.S. would have
made a fuss had Sorenstam not holed her chip?

The usually mild-mannered Sorenstam went off as never before in
the subsequent press conference, calling the incident "an
embarrassment" and pronouncing herself "disgusted, disappointed
and outraged." According to her husband, David Esch, "Annika was
so upset she almost walked off the course in the middle of the
match."

"Our goal," Sorenstam said, "was to make this a first-class
event, in that we would show the men how to do it. I don't think
it turned out that way. Is this how badly they want the Cup? It's
really sad."

The effects of the brouhaha still lingered when the singles began
upon the completion of the four-balls. Sorenstam was sent out as
the leadoff hitter, but, still rattled, she got creamed 5 and 4
by a bogeyless Juli Inkster. Robbins, who had played abysmally
all week, was suddenly fired up enough to take down Davies,
Europe's other team leader, in a 3-and-2 rout. At one point the
U.S. led or had already won 11 of 12 matches. Clearly, the
Europeans were going to be pushed to the brink, but they were
well versed in adversity. They had been fighting off various
attacks since well before the competition began.

With bookmakers installing the U.S. as an 8-to-15 favorite, the
European press produced a spate of vitriolic articles calling for
the dismantling of its own team and clamoring for help from the
Aussies, the Koreans and whoever else might be needed to prevent
the kind of butt-kicking the U.S. had administered in four of the
previous five Solheim Cups, including the last three. "It's good
to be told you're not good enough, because it makes you bitter,"
said Davies.

The team was also galvanized by criticism of Reid's captain's
selections. Reid had gone for a couple of Solheim standbys--Helen
Alfredsson and Catrin Nilsmark--at the expense of two rising stars
enjoying superior years, Charlotta Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew
of Scotland, both Solheim rookies in '98. In explaining the snub
of Annika's kid sis, Reid had cited mysterious personal problems.
"That was a lame excuse--personal problems," Charlotta said,
disputing rumors of unrest in her marriage to Robert Klasson.
"Helen has played like crap since breaking up with Leo [her
longtime fiance], and Catrin has played so poorly she's broke and
has had to sell her house." Nilsmark didn't dispute the
assertion.

The controversy over hometown hero Matthew raged for weeks. The
drama intensified two days before the start of the Solheim when
Alfredsson slipped while exiting a bus, injuring her right thumb
and possibly knocking herself out of the competition. With less
than 24 hours to name a potential replacement, Reid rang up
Matthew and begged her to drive the 50 miles from her home in
North Berwick to play a practice round with the team last
Thursday morning. Reid paired Matthew with Alfredsson, who
despite a heavily taped hand shot a 69, allaying any doubts about
her fitness. At round's end Alfredsson and Matthew shared a teary
hug and the latter bolted the grounds, having lost out on a spot
on the team for a second time. "It's a nuthouse around here,"
Alfredsson said.

Things got even zanier on Friday morning when the U.S. became the
first team in Solheim history to be swept in the opening four
foursomes matches, a mystifying display of ineptitude that all
but doomed the American defense. That afternoon's team play
featured far more inspired performances from both squads--thank
god for that--and a series of blown opportunities for the
Americans to cut into Europe's lead. The U.S. got a pair of easy
victories and could have swept the other two matches but twice
lost that chance on the 18th hole to hand the Europeans a win and
a halve, staking them to a first-day lead of 5 1/2-2 1/2.

Saturday's four-balls were played in torrential rain, but Sophie
Gustafson, the 26-year-old Swede who blew away the field at this
year's British Open, continued a starmaking performance by
birdieing four holes in a row on the front side to propel the
Europeans to a 3-up lead, and she and Trish Johnson stayed
unbeaten with a 3-and-2 victory. Alfredsson was brilliant in
teaming with Alison Nicholas to down Inkster and Sherri
Steinhauer, extending the European lead to 7 1/2-2 1/2 before
unplayable conditions pushed the conclusion of the other four
matches into Sunday.

By the time those matches were complete--and the Sorenstam
imbroglio had taken place--the Europeans led 9 1/2-4 1/2, meaning
they needed only four of 12 points in singles to claim the Cup.
It wouldn't be easy, because the U.S. has traditionally dominated
the singles (10 of 12 points in '96 and eight of 10 in '94). With
Davies and Sorenstam already serving as cheerleaders, Europe
sustained another setback when Johnson and Gustafson suffered
their first losses, to Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton,
respectively. Alfredsson attained an uplifting early knockout of
Beth Daniel in a battle of captain's selections, but what helped
the Europeans the most was an hour-and-40-minute rain delay. "In
every other sport there are timeouts for a reason," said Hurst.
"They change the momentum, and that's what happened to us."

Fueled by lunch and a pep talk from Nilsmark, the Europeans
mounted a rally, beginning with a couple of halves, both achieved
with gutsy victories on the 18th hole. Proving the inevitability
of karma, Hurst gagged a four-footer to hand a half-point to
Liselotte Neumann. Moments later Nicholas holed a chip from
behind the green to steal another halve from Steinhauer, and
suddenly the Cup was tied at 11 1/2, with three matches still
raging in the gloaming.

One up while playing the 18th, Nilsmark stood over a birdie putt
as her fellow Swede, Carin Koch, was lining up a birdie of her
own on the 17th hole (3 down after 10 to Michele Redman, Koch had
roared into a one-up lead). Nilsmark, who sank the winning putt
in Europe's epic upset at Dalmahoy in '92, lagged to within
inches, compelling Rosie Jones to concede the match, and before
Nilsmark even had a chance to loose a fist pump, Koch buried her
10-footer at 17 to win 2 and 1. Bang! Bang! The Solheim Cup was
over.

Long after the last shot was struck the Europeans were still
firing away. "So, do we still need all those international
players?" Davies gloated. "This ought to shut up you guys for a
while." Of decidedly less good humor was Bradley, who endured the
closing ceremonies with the same dour game face she has worn
throughout 27 Hall of Fame seasons. At a postmatch press
conference Robbins was in the midst of some conciliatory remarks
when Captain Pat cut her off. "We were within the rules of the
game, and that's the best answer that needs to be given," Bradley
said. "When the rules are upheld, the spirit of the game is
upheld."

"Whatever," said Sorenstam. "The more blue that went up on the
scoreboard, the more I forgot about the incident. We won the Cup
in a first-class manner, and that's all that matters."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN Packing a punchGustafson, the British Open winner from Sweden, played a starring role at Loch Lomond by winning 2 1/2 points.COLOR PHOTO: WARREN LITTLE/ALLSPORT The histrionics at the '99 Ryder Cup were spontaneous. Making Sorenstam (above) replay her shot was an act of gamesmanship.