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European Steel wins Solheim Cup

Even the absense of Laura Davies cannot take away from a glorious victory

Posted Aug 20, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

laura davies

It was inevitable, I suppose.  Only the margin of Europe’s Solheim Cup victory in Colorado on Sunday caused any real surprise on this side of the pond, especially in the light of the visitors’ supremacy over the opening two days.

The genesis of this triumph can be traced back to 1986 at Prairie Dunes, Kansas, where the British and Irish Curtis Cup team won on American soil for the first time.  The immediate aftermath of that victory proved to be quite remarkable in terms of the development of European golf for both sexes.

For instance, a year later at Muirfield Village, Europe’s Ryder Cup team won on American soil for the first time.  And in 1989 at Peachtree, Atlanta, Britain and Ireland’s Walker Cup side also made history by winning for the first time on American soil by the slimmest possible margin of 12 ½ to 11 ½.  That American side, incidentally, was spearheaded by a richly promising left-hander by the name of Phil Mickelson.   The only different with this latest win is that it took somewhat longer to achieve.

Thinking back on those victories in the 1980s, certain points spring to mind. Like the reaction of skipper, Jack Nicklaus, to events on his home track in Columbus, Ohio.  While Americans were numbed by what had just happened to the cream of their male professionals, Nicklaus talked about competitive steel. In this context, he made special reference to the fact that while most of the Europeans were languishing considerably further down the world rankings than their American counterparts, they were used to winning.  “I don’t care if it’s the Hong Kong Mixed Foursomes,” said the Bear, “winning breeds winning.”

That was a key ingredient in Europe’s success at Ryder Cup level, along with the fact that they were bred to matchplay from their amateur days, especially the discipline of matchplay foursomes, or as the Americans call it, alternate-shot.   And where more talented American men have suffered over the years in Ryder Cup combat, the same fate has befallen their women in the Solheim Cup.

As I suggested at the outset, there should be no dramatic raising of eyebrows at events in Parker, Colorado.  Especially when we consider that only one American player, Stacy Lewis, is currently in the world’s top-10, albeit at number two.  In recalling Nicklaus’s words from Muirfield Village, we should also consider the fact that only two members of the American team have won a tournament this year, even if Lewis happened to capture the Women’s British Open recently at St Andrews.

Dominance by Swedes such as Annika Sorenstam followed by a seemingly endless stream of gifted Orientals, has had a profound impact on the American women’s game.   Indeed there was a certain poignancy in the sight of one of their great heroines of the past, Nancy Lopez, filling the role of cheerleader for her successors of today.  But the current crop needed more than Nancy’s enthusiasm:  they needed the competitive determination which characterised a sparkling career on the LPGA Tour.

How do American poster-girls like Paula Creamer or Cristie Kerr measure up to the competitive toughness of Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, who has been 323 weeks in the world’s top 10?  Not very well, is the answer.   As a splendid role-model for the younger Europeans, Pettersen has proved to be an inspirational figure on a par with the great Seve Ballesteros.  She continually shows an unquenchable desire to beat the opposition, whatever the circumstances.  And in events like the Solheim Cup, that sort of attitude can be invaluable.

The one, sad aspect of the weekend from a European standpoint, was that the great Laura Davies was reduced to a pundit’s role on Sky television.  Not that Laura wasn’t worth listening to:  her observations were invariably informative and succinct.  The sadness lay in the fact that she hadn’t played an active role in this remarkable, European achievement, having been there from the outset at Lake Nona, in 1990.

Ballesteros played his part in the first European Ryder Cup side to go into unavailing action at The Greenbrier in 1979.  And he was a member of the side which lost again on US soil in 1983 at Palm Beach Gardens.  Then, arguably his greatest contribution came in 1987 with the formation of the Spanish Armada with Jose Maria Olazabal, along with a glorious, singles victory over Curtis Strange, the reigning US Open Champion.  

Lee Trevino once observed that God never gives you everything in golf; He always holds something back.  The absence of Laura Davies was that missing something in an otherwise glorious weekend in Colorado.

- Dermot Gilleece

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