Here's what General Custer didn't understand: You have to practice
for a last stand. Ask Wendy Ward. Last Friday, Ward and LPGA Hall
of Famer Beth Daniel were walking off the 18th tee at Interlachen
Country Club in Edina, Minn., when Daniel turned to her and said,
"You know, we're the only two Americans left standing."
It was Daniel's overly dramatic way of pointing out that she and
Ward had to hold on to their one-up lead over Denmark's Iben
Tinning and Spain's Raquel Carriedo. Otherwise their opponents
would sweep the morning foursomes matches and take a 4-0 lead in
the Solheim Cup, the biennial gut-wrencher between teams of women
pros representing the U.S. and Europe.
Two days later Ward, a 29-year-old LPGA veteran, must have felt
as if she were the only American standing. With her U.S. team
down two points after four sessions of pairs competition, Ward
drew the toughest assignment of her career--a Sunday singles match
against Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, the world's best woman golfer.
But this time Ward had her victory with Daniel to draw on, as
well as a subsequent foursomes win with her former Arizona State
teammate and fellow Solheim Cup rookie, Emilee Klein.
"I knew it was going to be a tough match, but I wasn't that
nervous," Ward said, looking eerily calm for a woman whose
18-hole standoff with Sorenstam had keyed an 8 1/2-3 1/2 singles
route of the Europeans and a 15 1/2-12 1/2 U.S. victory. "I knew
Annika could be beaten. I mean, it's not like I haven't gone
head-to-head with her before."
Call it back-to-the-wall desperation, call it a
chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, call it what you like, but that
last-stand mentality is what carried Ward and her teammates to
victory at Interlachen. Flag-waving Juli Inkster, who suffered
defeat with two partners before winning in foursomes on Saturday,
beat Carriedo 4 and 3 in Sunday's first match and spent the rest
of the day leading cheers. Meg Mallon beat England's Laura Davies
3 and 2 in match 9. Asked why the Americans always seem to
prevail in singles, Mallon replied without hesitation: "Because
we have to."
Then there was 42-year-old Rosie Jones-- or "my little Rosebud,"
as U.S. captain Patty Sheehan unapologetically called her. Jones,
playing in her fifth Solheim Cup, was asked earlier in the week
what would happen if she drew Sorenstam on Sunday. "If she faces
me, I am going to beat her," Jones replied. "There is no
pressure; just take her out and bring her down." The feisty Jones
never got that opportunity, but she did take out and bring down
23-year-old Karine Icher of France 3 and 2 for the point that put
the Americans over the top.
It should be noted that this was a civil Solheim Cup, awash with
mutual respect and good sportsmanship from players and spectators
alike--nothing like the sour, teary matches of 2000 at Loch
Lomond, Scotland, which the Euros dominated. "I've had so many
Americans wishing me luck," said Davies, "and it's genuine."
The good feeling held up despite a widely circulated critique of
the U.S. side by 2003 European captain Catrin Nilsmark, who bent
noses out of joint with her characterizations of Cristie Kerr ("a
little brat"), Kelli Kuehne ("a real Texas girl, the loudest of
them all") and Michele Redman ("absolutely no talent"). Nilsmark,
in an unintended act of statesmanship, injured her back and
Her loss. The American comeback reminded many of the 1996 matches
at Chepstow, Wales, which the U.S. stole with a 10-2 singles
blitz. Only this time the outcome was in doubt until the very
end, hinging, as it did, on the Sorenstam-Ward match.
How did a Solheim rookie with only three career LPGA victories
end up with so much weight on her shoulders? Credit the format.
Match play transforms golf from a game of dry statistical
probabilities into something more volatile. In stroke play, for
example, Sweden's Carin Koch is a tentative putter who often
leaves the ball short of the hole in pressure situations; that's
why she has only one victory in eight LPGA seasons. But at
Interlachen, with no cumulative score to protect, a bolder Koch
holed long putts from every point of the compass. "I wish I could
do it every week," said a wistful Koch, who scored a record 41/2
of five possible points and remained unbeaten after eight Solheim
An even better example of a made-for-match-play player is the
free-swinging Davies, who at 38 hits more truly awful shots in a
week than most pros hit in a year. But Davies can still play
shots that inspire awe, such as the 275-yard bomb she launched on
Friday afternoon with her driver from the right rough on the
par-5 10th hole. (She made eagle.) Davies scored two points in
five matches at Interlachen, making her the alltime Solheim Cup
points leader with 16.
The go-for-broke nature of the format made for huge swings in
momentum--or "Mother Mo," as Sheehan called it. After losing three
of the four Friday morning matches to the Europeans, the U.S.
recovered in the afternoon four-balls with three victories of its
own, including a surprising 3-and-1 win by Mallon and Redman over
Sorenstam and fellow Swede Maria Hjorth. The Americans continued
their surge on Saturday morning with three foursomes victories.
("The rookies don't know we stink in this format," said Inkster,
who got her first point in a strong partnership with Mallon.) The
Europeans launched a furious counterattack in the afternoon,
sweeping the four-balls to take a 9-7 lead.
That set up Sunday's drama, staged in glorious sunshine with
autumnal zephyrs sharp enough to make the players bundle up in
knit caps and quilted vests. The Europeans needed only five
points to retain the Cup, and one seemed to be a given: match 6,
in which their superstar, Sorenstam, was going against someone
with a low Q-rating, a player dismissed by Nilsmark as "the
nicest girl on the American team ... maybe a little too nice for
Was it a lost cause for Ward? It seemed so. NBC's Johnny Miller,
watching Sorenstam erase an early Ward lead with birdies on the
12th and 13th holes, used the word inevitable. It was inevitable
that Sorenstam, winner of 10 tournaments in 2002 alone, would
brush aside Ward, who had finished no better than 12th in her
last 20 starts. It was inevitable that Ward, who had never
finished in the top 10 on the LPGA money list, would buckle. But
Ward could have told them: It's match play, anything can happen.
"Annika and I go way back," Ward said later. "We've played
together at least two dozen times since college, when she was at
Arizona and I was at Arizona State. I'm very comfortable playing
with her." Ward wondered if anybody remembered who had finished
second to her last year when she established an LPGA record for
lowest 54-hole winning score at the Wendy's Championship for
Children at New Albany. (Answer: Annika Sorenstam.)
Sorenstam, who obviously knew Ward well enough to be worried,
showed her vulnerability when she missed a three-foot putt for
par on 14. Ward promptly returned the favor on 15 by failing to
get up and down from a greenside bunker. But Ward kept plugging.
As she had explained on Friday, "There's something about team
sports that sort of flips my switch."
So they came to the final hole, the par-5 where Bobby Jones
skipped his ball across the water on his way to victory in the
1930 U.S. Open. Sorenstam tried for birdie from 20 feet above the
hole and watched in dismay as her ball stopped two inches short.
Ward then tried to win the match outright with her own birdie try
from seven feet below the hole. She showed her nerves for the
first time all day with a dreadful stroke.
It didn't matter. "What an amazing performance," Sheehan said,
fighting off tears. "That was really a huge half point for our
side." Dale Reid, the European captain, agreed, saying, "We
needed Annika's match to turn. If we could have gotten a win, we
felt we could have done something."
Instead Ward's halve inspired the three Americans left standing.
Pat Hurst chipped in for birdie on 16 to finish off Scotland's
Mhairi McKay. Rosie Jones then snuffed out the Europeans' last
hope with her come-from-behind victory over Icher, touching off a
greenside celebration that started with hugs, tears and sighs of
relief before escalating to the rote chant of U-S-A! U-S-A!
The actual last American standing? It was none other than Daniel,
who played out the final two holes of her match in blissful
irrelevance, splitting a meaningless point with Koch. Daniel's
bigger contribution, of course, was her fight-to-the-end advice
to Ward on Friday.
That, in the final analysis, was the point-- or rather, the half
Read John Garrity's Mats Only column on golfonline.com.