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Wonder Woman Capping a metamorphic season, Annika Sorenstam did it all while leading Europe to a decisive victory over the U.S. in the Solheim Cup

Sept. 22, 2003
Sept. 22, 2003

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Sept. 22, 2003

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Wonder Woman Capping a metamorphic season, Annika Sorenstam did it all while leading Europe to a decisive victory over the U.S. in the Solheim Cup

Annika Sorenstam dived into the water this time. Her form was
nothing special--"sort of a rump-in-the-air effort," according to
one witness--but she went into the swimming pool at Barseback
Golf and Country Club headfirst and fully clothed. It's what you
do when you've just led Europe to a 17 1/2-10 1/2 victory over
the U.S. in the Solheim Cup. ¶ A year ago Sorenstam might have
needed a push. When she won the 2002 Kraft Nabisco Championship,
for instance, she was teased for wading feebly into the moat at
the 18th green. (Sorenstam celebrating didn't seem much
different from Sorenstam checking her e-mail.) But 2003 has
changed her. On Sunday afternoon, while hundreds of happy
Scandinavians swarmed around her on the 18th green at Barseback,
in southern Sweden, Sorenstam donned a commemorative T-shirt of
her own design over her team shirt. Then, at the urging of
photographers, she took off the T-shirt and put it on backward,
so you could see both her smiling face and the words SOLHEIM CUP
2003 CHAMPIONS.

This is an article from the Sept. 22, 2003 issue

For another example of how Sorenstam has changed, consider an
episode that took place last Saturday on the 16th green. With the
final better-ball match all square, Laura Diaz, playing in her
second Solheim Cup for the U.S., was preparing to putt for par
from a few feet to show the line to partner Kelly Robbins, who
had a longer putt for birdie. Because her own partner, Suzann
Pettersen, had already made birdie, Sorenstam quickly conceded
the putt. When Diaz didn't back off, Sorenstam insisted: "It's
good. It's for par." Diaz, a little testily, said, "I know what
it's for." But she picked up and moved out of the way.

"I was told afterward I did have the right to putt," Diaz said
later. "In the future I will probably go talk to an official."

Robbins made her putt and the match moved on to a spectacular
conclusion, but the exchange was memorable for Sorenstam's
willingness to influence--dare we say intimidate?--a
less-experienced opponent. It was Sorenstam, remember, who shed
angry tears at the 2000 Cup after U.S. captain Pat Bradley made
her replay a holed shot because she had hit out of turn.

The emergence of the formerly shy Sorenstam as a risk-taker and
pressure-seeker has been the golf story of the year, starting
with her decision to become the first woman in 58 years to play
in a PGA Tour event. At Barseback, Sorenstam asserted her will in
many ways. She scored four out of a possible five points over
three days. She played to the chanting, singing crowds that lined
the fairways of the picturesque course on the straits of Oresund.
She acted as a goodwill ambassador for Sweden, which was hosting
a major golf competition for the first time. She even helped
European captain Catrin Nilsmark fill out her lineup cards.

But Sorenstam's biggest contribution came in that Saturday
four-ball match, a 15-birdie free-for-all that may have been the
best-played partners match in Solheim history. The Europeans were
ahead, 8 1/2-6 1/2, thanks to their usual dominance in the
alternate-shot matches, but the Americans were rallying in the
four-balls. Diaz played a brilliant iron from the 17th fairway
that stopped four feet from the hole. Minutes later, electing to
putt ahead of her partner, who was off the green, Diaz coolly
holed the putt for birdie. Sorenstam, whose ball was 20 feet from
the hole on the back fringe, had to make her putt to keep the
match square, and she did--touching off a roar that was heard
across the strait in Denmark.

Sorenstam and Norway's Pettersen went on to win that match,
giving their team a three-point lead. That shouldn't have fazed
the Americans, who are used to coming from behind with strong
singles play. (They blistered the Euros with 10 Sunday points to
win in Wales in 1996, and last year they made up a two-point
deficit on Sunday to take the Cup in Minnesota.) But this time
the Euros weren't about to let go of their advantage. Nilsmark,
who was on crutches all week because of a ruptured disk in her
back, front-loaded her Sunday lineup with Janice Moodie of
Scotland and Carin Koch and Sophie Gustafson of Sweden, hoping to
get two points out of the three. U.S. captain Patty Sheehan
countered with Hall of Famer Juli Inkster and two wild-card
picks, Kelli Kuehne and Heather Bowie. Inkster easily beat Koch,
but Kuehne and Bowie went down hard, and the U.S. would never get
rolling.

As at any Cup, there was the usual second-guessing. Some faulted
Nilsmark for sticking with veteran Laura Davies, who was in the
woods so often and sulked so much that she looked like a
character in an Ingmar Bergman film. Sheehan took heat for
playing Wendy Ward in the Saturday four-balls after Ward had
struggled in the morning foursomes. "I turned in the pairings
before I learned that Wendy was having a hard time," Sheehan
said. "Had there been better communication, I probably wouldn't
have gone that way." Ward, who had battled Sorenstam to a draw in
the singles in Minnesota, finished 0-4 at Barseback.

The only people who had a worse time than Davies and Ward were
the stat keepers, whose hands froze over their keyboards when
Sunday's last four matches ended in a confusion of concessions
and counterconcessions. Pettersen, who was one down to Cristie
Kerr on the 16th hole when word came that the Europeans had
secured the 14 1/2 points they needed for victory, promptly
conceded. Meg Mallon, who was one down on the 15th, conceded to
Davies, who scratched her head and conceded back. It turned out
that nobody, including the captains and officials, had agreed on
the protocol for ending meaningless matches. "It was very odd,"
said Beth Daniel, who had conceded a tight match to Mhairi McKay
at the urging of U.S. vice captain Jane Geddes. "Now the score is
skewed. It looks as if it were a rout." (The European team wound
up with a 3-1 edge in pseudo points.) "All of a sudden it's as if
everybody quit," Sheehan said. "I didn't know what was happening."

No matter. It was easy to judge the winning performances.
Pettersen, an LPGA rookie, matched Sorenstam's four points while
playing with three different partners. Scotland's Catriona
Matthew and Moodie scored 3 1/2 points each, with Matthew
defeating Rosie Jones 3 and 1 to touch off the Sunday
celebration. Gustafson had three points and might have had four
if she hadn't been chained to Davies on Friday afternoon.
Sheehan, at the closing ceremony, hailed the Euros' performance
as "the most beautiful golf I have seen played by a winning team.
We got outplayed."

The American side had its heroes. Inkster and Kerr scored three
points each, and a couple of young players gave the U.S. reason
to be optimistic about the future. One was the hyperkinetic
Kuehne, 26, picked for the team by Sheehan even though she was
winless in 2003 and had gone 0-4 at Interlachen last year. Kuehne
teamed with Kerr to win two four-ball matches, including a Friday
gem that gave the U.S. team some momentum. The other bright spot
was Diaz, 28, who nearly upstaged Sorenstam in that Saturday
four-ball and then dispatched Elisabeth Esterl 5 and 4 in
singles. Diaz played just three times and only won a point, but
you don't make memories with point totals. You make them with
great shots.

Sorenstam knows. The sun was an orange ball over Denmark when her
Saturday four-ball match reached the par-4 18th all square. Diaz,
from a hanging lie in the left rough, hit a miracle eight-iron
approach that cleared the front-left bunker by less than a yard
and rolled four feet past the hole. Pettersen, from a good lie in
the rough, answered by hitting her ball to 12 feet. (Robbins was
already on the right fringe but a furlong from the hole.)
Sorenstam, in the fairway, took a deep breath, went through her
preshot routine and stuck her approach to five feet, setting off
another roar from the partisan crowd.

You know the rest. Diaz, finally succumbing to nerves, missed her
putt and walked away in tears. You'd think, the way Sorenstam's
year has gone, that she then drained her five-footer to steal the
point, but actually Pettersen putted first. With a ball that had
BIRDIE BALL written on it, she drained her 12-footer, relegating
Sorenstam to the role of jubilant jumper and joyful hugger. But
Sorenstam would have made her putt if she'd had to. That's what
you do when you're the go-to gal.

Supporting herself with her crutches in a copse of fir trees, a
happy Nilsmark later said, "Yes and no," when asked if Sorenstam
was a different player this year. Yes, she saw a change in
Annika--a new boldness, an outspokenness, a
throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude. Then again, she was still the
old Sorenstam--calculating, methodical, "a control freak"
(Sorenstam's words). "She's always been a true champion,"
Nilsmark said. "Playing here in her home country brought out the
best in her."

That's one way of looking at it. Another is to see Sorenstam's
season as a tidying-up campaign. She wasn't supposed to like
pressure, so she hopped into the pressure cooker by playing with
the guys at Colonial. She hadn't won as many majors as expected,
so she completed her career Grand Slam with victories in the LPGA
Championship and the Women's British Open. She had never been a
commanding presence at a Solheim Cup, so she bopped into
Barseback and commanded.

Then she dived. That was prim, proper Annika at the pool party,
walking around in boxer shorts and a wet T-shirt, a towel draped
over her matted hair. A few feet away, shrieking teammates
cannonballed into the water with their team clothes on. Nilsmark,
still in pain but riding an adrenaline rush, threw her crutches
into the pool.

You sort of expected Sorenstam to walk out on the water to
retrieve them.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN MCCONNICO/AP HALF-MAST Sheehan (with, from far left, Kuehne, Bowie and Geddes)offered no excuses after Europe's 17 1/2-10 1/2 win.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES BACK BREAKER Pettersen's birdie at 18 on Saturday set the tablefor Sunday's rout and prompted an exultant leap from Sorenstam.COLOR PHOTO: WARREN LITTLE/GETTY IMAGES ROUGH GOING The only golfer to play in all eight Solheim Cups,Davies was a drag (2-2-1 record) all week.COLOR PHOTO: JEFF J. MITCHELL/REUTERS SURPRISING STAR An LPGA rookie, Pettersen matched Sorenstam'sEuro-best record by winning four of five matches.