Soaking Solheim II

Continuing Monday’s first post on the Solheim Cup, the seventh match in this year’s Cup pitted two relatively inexperienced Solheim players, Sandra Gal and Brittany Lang.

Gal finally broke through on the LPGA Tour with her first win in the Kia Classic in L.A. against Jiyai Shin. It was so masterful, I quoted her post-victory comments extensively in “Surprise! Uh, Maybe Not.” There was a peaceful elegance to her play that day, which was all the more remarkable given who she was playing and that she hadn’t won yet. And with equally remarkable clarity, she was able to tell us how she did it.

However, it did give me some comfort to know that she has difficulty remembering her learned wisdom too. She got absolutely waxed by Lang 6 & 5. Lang had a good year this year with a 2nd in the Women’s British Open, but in six years on Tour, she hadn’t won yet. She played Solheim in 2009 going 1-0-2 overall, but there was nothing to suggest this thrashing. With everything else going on, Lang was up so much so fast (4 Up after 5), we got to see very little of her match.

Which was all the more remarkable when she reflected back on the early part of the match, “It was extremely difficult early on. We were hitting 3-woods into the par-4s and 4-irons…It was really difficult to even make pars…” Apparently not too hard; she didn’t make a bogey until 11 after the match was well in hand. Masterful.

The same sort of weather hampered the Maria Hjorth and Christina Kim match. And given the veteran Hjorth’s experience, it was a surprise.

Kim beat her 4 & 2 and that was a bit of a surprise too. She barely qualified in the 10th position playing none too well on the year. Her best finish was T13 and she missed seven cuts, two of them in the last two tournaments leading up to Solheim.

But the Solheim matches frequently call up something extraordinary in people. There’s just something about playing for your country and your team on foreign soil that brings out the best in people. Your awareness and focus is elevated and mistakes never occur to you. That’s what happened to Christina Kim: she made four birdies on the day and didn’t make a bogey until 13.

The Suzann Pettersen and Michelle Wie match was very tight and quite interesting.

Largely acknowledged to be the best player on the European team, Pettersen was the uniform answer when the American players were polled on who they would like to be matched with. Good, confident players always want to beat the best. And Wie was the one who got the shot at her.

As a measure of how good the match was, except for a one-hole blip on the 6th, Pettersen never had more than a 1 Up lead. Wie got it to All Square on 2, 9, 10, 13, and 14 and 1 Up on 15. But ultimately Pettersen threw a birdie at her on 16 and another on 18 to take the match. How much better could it have been?

As Wie said later, “She’s a great match play player. I saw her at Sybase [Match Play Championship], and I think no one wanted it more than her. So half of me is happy for her, And half of me, losing sucks.” And she will probably look back at some of the makeable putts she missed as she continues to evaluate her move to the belly putter.

The Caroline Hedwall and Ryann O’Toole match was another opportunity for O’Toole to shine. And even though she lost the last two holes with bogeys to halve the match, she was 2 Up most of the day and that was a solid, incremental accomplishment in itself (although she might not think so).

As I discussed in, “The Solheim Cup,” she was an out-of-the-box and quite controversial Captain’s pick by Rosie Jones. You’d have to argue that this Solheim Cup was an excellent priming of the pump of all she’s going to be in this series. She came out of this with 3 points, going 2-0-2 in four matches. In other words, an arguably under-qualified player is leaving her first Solheim undefeated. And kudos to Rosie Jones for seeing that possibility in her.

In the Azahara Munoz and Angela Stanford match, Stanford was 1 Up for the first three holes. But after that, even though Munoz never got more than 1 Up for the rest of the match, the ebb and flow of the match was always in her favor. It’s just the way of match play.

But maybe looking back at her 0-3-0 record for this Solheim, Stanford might rethink a decision by Rosie Jones that Stanford begged for. She and good friend, Stacy Lewis, asked to be paired together in Friday’s alternate shot. They were beaten 3 & 2. So Saturday, they wanted a little team redemption and lobbied hard to be put out again. They were beaten 6 & 5 fostering Lewis’ funk-laden performance that drew Jones’ frank coaching I wrote about Monday.

Sometimes revenge matches work and sometimes they don’t. Revenge is just another concoction of the ego that steals awareness of the only two things that matter: the target and the shot. Be careful what you ask for.

And finally, Christie Kerr’s forfeit of her match to Karen Stupples. It was heartbreaking watching her sobbing uncontrollably when she realized that she wasn’t going to be able to play her way through a flare-up of debilitating tendinitis in her right wrist. The tears streamed down her pretty face. A six-inch strand of mucous dangled from her nose. She ignored it. She was disconsolate.

It was heartwarming watching her husband softly holding her injured hand, softly squeezing her arm at the elbow and bicep to ensure that it was there was a problem…and then wrapping his arm around her and leading her away to the team room for help.

What followed was anything but heartwarming.

In an interview with European Captain, Alison Nicholas in the immediate aftermath of Kerr’s withdrawal, the interviewer sought assurances that the point for the match would be split and thus end in a harmless tie. Wouldn’t that be the fair thing to do? No, Nicholas informed him, there were elaborate agreements in the Solheim rules for just such an eventuality that everybody had agreed to: the point would go to Europe. But even with this information as a guiding light, the reporting became like a sports bar in Boston arguing about what should have been for at least another hour. It didn’t add to the event in the least. You asked your question, you received an authoritative answer, go gently into the night.

An immediate inquisition began that lasted all day and into the night’s reporting. The first rumor was that she had injured her wrist wrestling with her luggage at the airport. After she was placed in a splint and came out to face the media, she shot that down. She had no clue how she’d done it.

Then an accusation, broached lightly in light of her fragile emotional recovery, that she should have known how bad this was and, rather than being some sort of heroine, she should have told Jones to rest her Saturday afternoon for the Sunday singles. She said that there was no reason to do that because it was fine on Saturday.

Then an accusation that Rosie Jones should have known how bad this was and forced a famously headstrong player to the bench for the good of the player and the team. Rosie went into patient detail about her collaboration with Kerr and Kerr’s straight-faced assurances that she was fine. It wouldn’t die.

In the end, Europe probably won the Cup 15 – 13 because of the predictably dreary British Isles weather Americans rarely play in and the home field advantage their highly knowledgeable fans gave them, even on an “American” parklands course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Because it was so close, it would be unfair to lay the loss on any one person although that’s what most of us are driven to do.

The happy ending we all seek is the reality that, as engrossing as the matches always are, nobody died and everyone got home safely.

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