ON SUNDAY, when itwas over at Halmstad Golf Club in southwest Sweden, after the Americans hadbraved some of the worst weather any of them had ever played in, to win theirseventh Solheim Cup (and their second on foreign soil) by a score of 16 pointsto Europe's 12, one of the U.S. players did a celebratory cartwheel on thepractice green. The player wasn't 21-year-old Paula Creamer, who had turned onejust like it in front of the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews at last month'sWomen's British Open. Nor was it 24-year-old Natalie Gulbis, a former gymnast.Going heels over head was Juli Inkster, the 47-year-old mother of two who hadjust completed her seventh Solheim Cup. "In golf," said U.S. assistantcaptain Beth Daniel, "we're all the same age."
This is an article from the Sept. 24, 2007 issue
Inkster's flippunctuated that point, which the predominantly twentysome-thing American teamhad made clear all week: Even though the U.S. sported a generation gap, theteam was ageless inside the ropes. Youngsters like Creamer and 19-year-oldMorgan Pressel, a Solheim Cup rookie, played with the steely purpose of wizenedveterans, while seasoned pros such as Inkster, 44-year-old Sherri Steinhauerand Pat Hurst, 38, exhibited the same enthusiasm they had in their first Cups,which in Inkster's case was in 1992, when Pressel was four. Most important, theAmericans all embraced the team spirit that seems to elude their Ryder Cupbrethren. "This team gets along so well, it's unbelievable," said the50-year-old Daniel. "I love being around Natalie and Paula and Morgan. Iget along with everyone even though I'm older than some of theirmothers."
Some players didplay age-related roles during the week. For instance, if anyone on the U.S.team had technology issues or needed something downloaded, she went to Pressel,"our computer geek," said Inkster. And yes, it was Pressel, only a yearremoved from high school, who had provided the team with patriotic facestickers, personalized red-and-blue hair ribbons and a mixed rap CD with a songlist that was probably foreign to most people born before the Watergatehearings. But Inkster, who has two teenage daughters, recognized the tunes, asdid Daniel, who may be the biggest rap fan on the team. "I listen almostexclusively to hip-hop, which people find hard to believe," she says.
Daniel also madethe players a mix. The song list on her CD had a few pointed references to theteam's mission and personality, including Glamorous by Fergie, and This Is HowWe Do It by Montell Jordan. "I also put Big Girls Don't Cry," saidDaniel. "That one was for Morgan."
PRESSEL, THEyoungest American and one known for showing her emotions, didn't cry, flinch oreven blink all week. In her first match, while paired with Gulbis inFriday-morning foursomes, Pressel was spared the nerve-racking assignment ofgoing first in front of the singing, chanting, flag-waving crowd on the 1st teeand worked out whatever nerves she had during a 3-and-2 loss to Maria Hjorthand Gwladys Nocera. During Friday afternoon four-balls, Pressel and Creamershowed composure beyond their years when Laura Davies, playing with TrishJohnson, squared their match by making the "par of the century," asPressel put it, on the 179-yard par-3 16th, one of the most infamous holes inSweden.
Facing her thirdstraight loss to Creamer in Solheim Cup matches (including a 7-and-5 drubbingin singles in 2005 and a foursomes loss to Creamer and Inkster on Fridaymorning), Davies, the only golfer to play in all 10 Solheim Cups, stepped ontothe elevated tee at 16 and pushed her shot deep into a cluster of trees below.Finding her ball in a root-entangled downhill lie, Davies made a hack that shecalled "a 36 handicapper's shot," nearly falling on her face with theeffort. As she recovered and readjusted her visor, she saw her ball sailthrough the trees, over a stream and onto the fringe between two bunkers on theopposite side of the narrow green, 50 feet from the hole. From there shestunned the Americans, and no doubt herself, by chipping in. Davies admittedthat she had been feeling sorry for herself and Johnson, who had also gone foreright off the tee, as they crunched through the woods. "But all of a suddenit worked out for us," she said. "I hacked it out of that bush andchipped in, and [the Americans] both missed. Things like that happen in golf.It's lovely when they do."
Davies's par wonthe hole, and after Creamer and Pressel conceded a putt on 18 in the midst ofone of the day's frequent squalls, gave the Europeans a halve that kept themwithin a point of the Americans going into Saturday's matches.
IF FRIDAY'S bitingwind and drenching rain were vicious—when asked to compare the ferocity of theelements with the weather in her home state of Florida, Cristie Kerr came upwith Hurricane Andrew—Saturday's forecast was worse. There were no clouds orraindrops on the Halmstad weather graphic for the day, only horizontal linesthat looked like a cartoon rocket blast.
The gale-forcewinds kicked up overnight and scattered debris about the course, forcing adelay of more than two hours at the start of the morning's foursomes matches.The two sides eventually split the session, but the lost time resulted in theafternoon's first four-ball match making it through only 11 holes before playwas called on account of darkness. When the matches were resumed in a soggyrain on Sunday morning, Europe had its best session, winning two of the fourmatches and halving the others to take an 8½—7 1/2; lead. Standing on the 18thgreen after her match, Inkster, who along with Stacy Prammanasudh salvaged ahalve against Johnson and Iben Tinning, couldn't remember playing through threestraight days of such punishing conditions. "It's hard to showcase women'sgolf in this weather," she said. "It's simply survival. You bunt itdown the middle; you try to bunt it on the green. It would be nice for peopleto see some birdies."
The people finallydid in the afternoon, once the rain stopped. The birdies came courtesy ofAmerica's four rookies, who combined for 14 in the singles matches.Prammanasudh, 27, made six against Suzann Pettersen. After squaring the matchwith a birdie on 13, Prammanasudh pulled ahead with a par on the troublesome16th, then sealed her point with another birdie on 18, becoming the firstAmerican to win a point on the hole.
Four groups behindher was Pressel, who had a feeling that she'd be matched with Annika Sorenstam,the career Solheim Cup points leader. Said Pressel, "I looked at the[pairings] list. It said, ANNIKA. I was like, 'Wow.'"
Yet Pressel wasnot, like, intimidated. The era's most dominant player went 1 up after threeholes, but Pressel squared the match at the 5th and pulled ahead on threeoccasions before doing the one thing that no other player could do allday—birdie the 16th. Pressel won the match 2 and 1 by equaling Sorenstam's paron 17. "Coming off 15, I saw the leader board and said, 'This is a reallyimportant point, my point,'" said Pressel. "I thought it was going tobe a little more important than it ended up."
From there on thecompetition turned into a near rout by the Americans, who would go 8-3-1 insingles. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicole Castrale, who had already justified herselection by Betsy King as a rare rookie captain's pick by earning a pointduring Friday's four-balls, clinched a tie with Europe, and retention of theCup, by beating Bettina Hauert 3 and 2. Fittingly, it was Creamer, theAmericans' workhorse (2-0-3), who secured the winning point. "Paula is fouror five [actually seventh] in the world, and you can see why," said Hjorthafter conceding her match against Creamer on the 17th green. "She doesn'tmake mistakes."
Creamer'steammates, who had rushed to 17 from every corner of the course, swarmed herfor a round of hugs. With all the face paintings—some with sparkles— ponytailsand hair ribbons, one could be forgiven for mistaking the moment for thetriumphant conclusion of a collegiate gymnastics meet.
Before Inksterprolonged that illusion with her perfectly executed cartwheel, the song thatthey knew they'd eventually hear wafted from distant speakers set up for theclosing ceremonies. No, not David Bowie's Young Americans, which would havebeen a nice touch. It was ABBA's Dancing Queen. This was Sweden, after all.
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