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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another lost weekend for a team of American golfers

     The images of stunned American faces after a bitter defeat at the hands of a talented band of Europeans is becoming familiar to golf fans.
   A year ago it was the America men at Medinah coughing up a big lead on the final day and watching the Euros spray champagne all over the manicured suburban Chicago landscape.
   Sunday, it was American women with that anybody-catch-the-number-of-that-bus-that-just-ran-over-me look at Colorado Country Club in the mile-high air near Denver after the Europeans polished off a very convincing 18-10 victory and won the Solheim Cup for the second straight playing.
   First of all, give the European women credit. They had never won this thing on American soil. They had a young team and Liselotte Neumann, the original Euro invader in the women’s game, the one who made Annika Sorenstam think she might be able to do this, did a great job getting a very young team ready to play.
   When Paula Creamer, a stalwart of the American team, got dusted by 17-year-old Brit Charley Hull in one of the early singles matches Sunday, you knew it was over.
   It was probably over Saturday afternoon when Neumann sat two of her most experienced players, Suzann Pettersen and Catriona Matthew, for the fourball matches and the Europeans swept all four points.
   I would argue that it might have been over a little earlier in the day when Anna Nordqvist dropped that hole-in-one on Morgan Pressel and Jessica Korda on the 17th hole of their foursome match. Pretty stunning way to end a match. Korda could have jarred her tee shot on top of Nordqvist, I guess, but that’s asking a lot. And that still would heft her and Pressel 1-down going to the 18th tee.
  Bottom line, though, as with the Ryder Cup, the Europeans, when put in a team event, seem to putt better than the Americans do.
  The greens were pretty severe at Colorado Country Club, not a shock when you consider one of the greatest putters in the last, oh 50 years  or so, Ben Crenshaw had a hand in designing the course. It seemed like a pretty neat course unless you were an American woman watching some European dance around after dropping another long birdie putt.
   Probably the two most talented young players on the American squad, Lexi Thompson and the enigmatic Michelle Wie, are below-average putters. I’m not sure exactly what you do about that. At least Wie played well enough to silence the critics of Meg Mallon for making her a captain’s pick.
  Suzann Pettersen, probably the most talented player at the Solheim Cup and clearly a leader on the European team, isn’t a great putter either.
   There will be a lot of talk about grit, but it will be just that, talk. But if grit is just competing, than maybe our American men and women need to compete better. It’s almost hard to imagine Creamer or Pressel or Stacy Lewis or Cristie Kerr being more competitive, but I guess that’s the only thing you’re left with. That and putting better, don’t forget the putting better part.
   The remarkable thing about the women’s game is that there still isn’t a vehicle that pits the U.S. against a team with all those Asian women who have winning more than their share of major championships lately. At least the U.S. would be a clear underdog going into that competition.
   Part of it, too, is pretty simple: We’re the big, bad U.S. of A. We think we’re better than everybody else, so when somebody gets a chance to knock us down a peg, you better believe they’re going to give it their best shot.
   The good news is if you’re a fan of the game, there is absolutely no downside to a 24-year old Swede like Caroline Hedwall coming here to go to college, winning an NCAA championship while at Oklahoma St. and then coming back a few years later and throwing a little 5-0 Solheim Cup weekend at her once genial hosts. The game is better for being the worldwide game that it is, even if the U.S. gets savaged in some team matches every other year.
   The Solheim Cup proved something else this weekend and that’s what great theater these team things are. You can’t have them all the time or the golfers would all have nervous breakdowns.
   The advice to the beaten American men of the 2012 Ryder Cup and the beaten American women of the 2013 Solheim Cup remains the same as it always is to teams that get beat in any sport, no matter the margin: Get better, get smarter, putt better, just get better.

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