Soaking Solheim

With gloomy skies, high winds and impending rain, Paula Creamer stood on the first tee at Killean Castle, Ireland. Undefeated in singles play in the Solheim Cup, Captain Rosie Jones had selected her to lead the team to victory. Great choice. America’s sweetheart with the heart of a lioness and a killer instinct to match.

It was so cold, most of the players had their caps anchored to their heads with woolen ear muffs. They were bundled in sweaters and rain suits. Some had oversized mittens on to keep their hands warm.

Finally, the moment arrived, the players’ anticipation and nervousness unleashed by the starter’s announcement of their names. The wind was unrelenting, blowing into and left to right up the first fairway. Creamer acknowledge the boisterous support of the crowd and teed her ball. She stood behind her ball and lowered her head in the briefest of prayers. It didn’t help.

She flared her tee shot high into the right hand rough. It was harbinger of things to come and the drenching rain hadn’t even begun.

Under the radar European player, Catriona Matthew managed to hit the fairway, but the conditions were so rough, neither could get a 3-wood to the green. They both managed to make bogey. And that was the highlight for Creamer; she was down three by the fourth hole, never won a hole on the day and lost 6 & 5.

In conditions that poor, it’s pointless to fault Creamer, but she will be thinking about how Matthew managed it for quite a while. She said later that she was just “off” that day…which is the quickest world view to keep her in that higher sense of herself. To have any thoughts that she wasn’t as good as Matthew would suggest a much longer slog back to herself.

Stacy Lewis is so hard on herself that she descends into a funk when she experiences the inevitable shortcomings that golf reveals. And Rosie Jones took her to the woodshed prior to Saturday’s round:

When you’re in a pressure situation like this where you want to – your expectations are really high, you want it to be there right now when you need it. When it’s not there, she gets harder on herself. When you’re in a team situation, that’s not always – it’s more evident that you could be affecting more than just your little bubble right there.

That’s kind of what I was letting her know. Your little funk is bigger than just your little funk. You need to try to get out of it and have a little bit of an attitude adjustment. You can’t play with a partner and think you’re not affecting that person. I don’t care who it is.

Your partner will say, yeah, well, that’s Stacy. That’s the way she is, but you still have to deal with that.

I wanted her to know, hey, this is a team event, you need to come outside that, and that’s what I asked her to do. If she would do that in that afternoon match, and she did. You know, she was a totally different person.

Unfortunately, she fell back into her old patterns in her match with Sophie Gustafson. She start out great winning the first hole. And she fended off the dominant Gustafson for five holes. But she lost the 6th and 7th; surely a shock to her early optimism. She fought back to All Square with a win on the 8th, but that was her last hurrah. She bogeyed 10 to go 1 Down all the way to the 18th where Gustafson birdied to finish her off, 2 Up. Her dour mood matched the sheets of rain that caused two delays to clear the greens of casual water.

Morgan Pressel took on Anna Nordqvist and was 2 Down by the 3rd hole. Once upon a time, Pressel was the young girl who lost her mother to breast cancer. Now, Pressel is a young woman who moves through the world in a self-assured way. You could see it in her eyes in a recent photo she did for a photo shoot. I can’t find it now, but it was a stunning, formal portrait about which one of her LPGA Tour peer’s only comment was, “Morgan Pressel. Wow!”

And so that self-assured young woman bided her time until the 9th hole. And then she started making birdies. Five of them in a row. Nordqvist never knew what hit her; from 2 Up to 3 Down in five quick holes. She got lucky when Pressel made bogey on 15, but it wasn’t anything she did.

In 2013 Morgan Pressel will be competing in her fourth Solheim Cup and she will be doing it with a singles record of 3-0-0, undefeated. And she will be one of the leaders of the team.

In the end, the match between Laura Davies and Juli Inkster was a throwback to their heydays on the LPGA Tour. Inkster said she wasn’t ever going to play another Solheim after 2009, but then she qualified on points…and the rest of the team dragged her reluctantly back into the circle of fire again.

And it was quite a show. Inkster went par-birdie to go 2 Up after two. But then she conceded 7 after a rambling, romp in the woods and bogeyed 8 to get back to All Square. And that’s where it stayed through the rain delays until Davies made double bogey on 13. But then won the next two holes to go 1 Up…until she bogeyed 18 for a halve.

But through all of it, I didn’t get a sense that Inkster was enjoying any part of it. True or not, I kept picking up, “This is too hard and I’m too old,” signals; the grimaces, the waves of relief after a good result, the soldiering on for the team. I understood why she didn’t want to do it again.

The Melissa Reid and Vicky Hurst match was excellent. Hurst was the other outside-the-box pick by Rosie Jones (Ryann O’Toole being the first). She got to play in the Friday afternoon fourball with her partner, Brittany Lincicome. And they got waxed by Gustafson and Caroline Hedwall, 5 & 4. And didn’t play again until the Sunday singles.

Meanwhile, Reid looked very impressive even though she went 1-2-0 the first two days. She has been quite successful on the Ladies European Tour and left little doubt why, in spite of the two losses.

Alas, Hurst had control of the match all day long and won 2 Up going away with a birdie on 18. Against such an impressive opponent, she validated Jones’ selection of her and should be much more impressive two years from now.

Before this week, nobody from the United States ever heard of Christel Boeljon from the Netherlands. I take that back; she attended Purdue for three years. But most people never had. They have now. She played the giant killer when she took down Brittany “Bam Bam” Lincicome, 2 Up. And it was thorough: once Beoljon birdied the 3rd, Lincicome never even got back to All Square.

There was something quite contradictory about her appearance on Sunday. On the one hand, she is so petite and so young, with her head wrapped in the all-white hat and woolen ear muffs, she looked like a cute little mouse. But on the other, there was nothing cute about her facial expression; it was absolutely deadpanned. Not a smile or a wrinkle all day long, or so it seemed. She was deep inside it.

For her part, Lincicome looked helpless and embarrassed. She does a lot of work with the Vision 54 folks, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, Annika Sorenstam’s former coaches. They’ll straighten her out. But with such an improbable loss, it may take a while for her to rebuild her self-construct.

That’s the first six singles matches from Sunday. I had more to say about them than I thought I would, so the last six will be along in Wednesday’s post. There’s a lot we can learn about mastery by reviewing them in more than just a cursory way.

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