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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just in case you missed it, there was a little drama at the Solheim Cup

   The most compelling sporting event on TV Sunday was the Solheim Cup, a full slate of NFL games – including that stinker involving a team disguised as the Eagles and the Cowboys – notwithstanding.
   By now you’re probably vaguely aware that an early four-ball match -- the completion of a match that started Saturday – turned into a you-know-what storm after the USA’s Alison Lee thought she heard one of her European opponents, either Suzann Pettersen or Charley Hull, utter a “that’s good” on her 18-incher for par and a half.
   That was followed by a “I didn’t say it was good, did you say it was good?” So, instead of going to the 18th hole with the match all square, the U.S. was 1-down and proceeded to lose the 18th hole.
   The U.S. would go into the singles matches trailing, 10-6, and would have been trailing by a pretty significant margin anyway.
   They try to create all kinds of bad feelings for these events among people who are friends, in some cases pretty close friends, the other 51 weeks of the year. But all of a sudden, there were some real bad feelings. No rule was broken. It was just oddly unsportsmanlike conduct. But hey, rules are rules, right?
   When Radnor’s Brynn Walker and Council Rock North’s Madelein Herr made it to the quarterfinals of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship last spring, their match was broadcast by FS1, the Fox Sports Network’s first foray into its new contract with the USGA.
   Juli Inkster was doing the commentary and, you know what, she was pretty good. I said as much in an email to a woman from the USGA as an add-on to a question I had about whether Brynn and Madelein might be earning anything in the way of exemptions for maybe the U.S. Girls’ Junior or U.S. Women’s Amateur for the deep run in the Four-Ball.
   “As if Juli Inkster would be bad at anything she did,” were my exact words. And I meant every word of it.
   So, if you’re the captain of the U.S. team and your only rookie just got embarrassed in a match-play situation that arises in money matches about 10 times a week around the world – OK, I’m guessing on that number – what exactly do you do?
   Well, Inkster told The Golf Channel the whole thing was B.S. – which it was – and lit some kind of fuse.
   And her team went off, eventually.
   I wasn’t awake for the beginning and by the time I joined the narrative, the U.S. comeback was well under way. But it didn’t really start that way. There were some tight matches early. Lexi Thompson only got a half-point against Carolota Ciganda. Morgan Pressel pulled out a 1-up win over Catriona Matthew. Brittany Lincicome fell to Karine Icher and Brittany Lang would lose to Melissa Reid.
   That was enough to get the Europeans to 12½ points and only a point-and-a-half from the 14 the holders of the Cup needed to retain.
   But the tide was starting to turn in the back.
   We don’t get to see the immense talent of Michelle Wie unleashed to its fullest effect very often, but it’s always fun when it happens. She would birdie eight of the 14 holes it would take for her to finish off Carolyn Hedwall.
   Cristie Kerr was down to Hull early and just birdied eight holes in a nine-hole stretch. The primal roar Kerr unleased after winning her match will always be the signature moment of this Solheim Cup in my book, not that odd exchange in the early morning on the 17th hole of Lee and Lincicome’s ill-fated four-ball match.
   Lee, meanwhile, was gutting out a 3 and 1 win over Gwladys Nocera. Didn’t see much of her match, but I’m guessing there was a lot of Lee saying, “You said it’s good, right? Just checking. I’ll mark it. It’s good? OK.”
   Still, Anna Nordqvist – Solheim Cup watchers may remember her winning a match with a hole-in-one two years ago – was on her way to a hard-fought 2 and 1 win over a game Stacy Lewis and the Euros were a tantalizing half-point away from retaining.
   Lizette Salas was coming on strong and would eventually wear down Azahara Munoz, 3 and 1, and Angela Stanford – oh for her last nine Solheim Cup matches – was in the process of gutting out a 2 and 1 win over Pettersen and yeah the hard-nosed veteran Stanford might never have the talent that Pettersen possesses, but she was going to stand up for her teammate and win the damn match. At least that’s what it looked like to me.
   Hello, Gerina Piller. She hits it long, but the putter is hot and cold. So, we’re playing this in Germany and Piller has German Caroline Masson 2-down  with two to go. But Masson wins the 17th hole to cut it to 1-down.
   The U.S. is rampaging behind her, but Piller cannot let Masson win the 18th hole and get the half-point the Euros so desperately need. Masson knocks it on, like 15 feet. Piller dumps her approach in the bunker. Piller has a bad lie, but hits it to 10 feet.
   Still, if Masson can make her putt, it’s over. Her putt never scares the hole. Still, Piller has to make her 10-footer to win the match and really, the Solheim Cup. Remember all those putts that Jack and Tiger seemed to will into the hole. Gerina Piller willed her putt into the hole for a 1-up victory.
   Inkster couldn’t watch, but she didn’t really have to. Somehow she knew. I always remember watching Inkster finish eagle, birdie, birdie to win the LPGA Championship one of the years it was at DuPont Country Club.  She just might be the most underrated star in the history of the game.
   Inkster added Paula Creamer to the team, a captain’s pick. She was probably thinking along the lines  Freddie Couples was when he picked Tiger for the Presidents Cup that one year. “Because he’s Tiger Woods.” OK then.
   And then Inkster made Creamer go off last in singles, just in case it all came down to her. And it did. Creamer’s game hasn’t been at its highest level this year. But she knew what to do. Playing the other German in the Euro lineup, Sandra Gal, Creamer methodically finished off a 4 and 3 victory. U.S. 14 1/2, Europe 13 1/2.
   It’s very fashionable to dump on the good old US of A when we get skunked in one of these things. More often than not it’s talent, maybe a little want-to, and putting that makes the difference.
   I count seven major champions in Juli Inkster’s lineup, so talent wasn’t a problem.  Pettersen couldn’t have been more apologetic about the whole thing when she had 24 hours to process everything. Apology accepted. But let’s face it, she added a very healthy dose of want-to to the U.S. effort.
   Judy Rankin, the wonderful golf analyst for The Golf Channel, counted 70 birdies for the U.S. in the singles matches. That is some putts diving into holes.
   And oh yeah, the U.S. had Juli Inkster as its captain, as if she’d be bad at anything she did.

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