Last day drama in a transatlantic team golf competition has persuaded Times sportswriter PATRICK KIDD that Europe’s Solheim Cup players deserve the 2011 SJA Team of the Year award
My editor has a saying: if you were to get a group of television executives in a room and ask them to design the perfect way to keep the country’s sports fans rooted to their sofas for an entire day, it would be hard to beat a performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
Actually, maybe I’ve got that wrong. His ultimate attention-grabber is, of course, the final day’s singles matches in the Ryder Cup or, in odd-numbered years, the Solheim Cup in which 12 individuals are pitched in private one-on-one battles for the honour of their continent. Think I was misled into Gotterdammerung territory by the last Ryder Cup in the US being played at Valhalla.
This year’s Solheim Cup was certainly Wagnerian in scope and not just because of the torrential rain and thunderstorms that delayed play on the final day three times, or the foreboding battlements of Killeen Castle that overlooked the action.
We had high drama, the rise of new heroes, raucous chanting from the choruses around every green and, a story within a story, the battle between two giants of women’s golf as Laura Davies and Juli Inkster, with 98 years, 21 Solheim Cup appearances and 11 major titles between them, fought each other to a standstill on the final day.
Europe won 15-13, the closest result in the competition’s history, and the first time they had won since 2003. But the way in which victory was achieved was particularly impressive and makes the European women – including a fair selection of British players – my choice for the SJA’s Team of the Year.
Europe held a one-point lead after the first day, which they had stretched to three points after Davies and Melissa Reid dominated the first four-balls match on the second afternoon. But back came the United States, as they always do, winning the remaining three matches, all close, to finish the day at 8-8.
Having looked in control, Europe would now have to win the singles, something they had done only once in the previous six tournaments. When it comes to the final day, America’s women are ruthless.
Those of us looking down the card to pick our winners thought that Europe could do it — just — but much would depend on their five debutants. I had the seventh game — Sandra Gal, of Germany, against Brittany Lang, who had lost all three of her pairs matches — as a crucial must-win for Europe. Lucky I didn’t put money on it: Lang won by 6 and 5.
SJA members can cast their votes for the Team of the Year, as well as for the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year, by clicking here.
The press pack had also all agreed that Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr, the best players on the US team, were certain to win. Instead, both matches went to Europe.
Kerr jarred her wrist on the range and scratched against Karen Stupples, while Creamer, with three wins and a halve in her four pairs matches and an unbeaten Solheim Cup singles record, was brushed aside 6 and 5 by Scotland’s Catriona Matthew. “I didn’t want to get my hair messed up by the rain,” the Scot said.
Sophie Gustafson won the second singles match but the US began to fight back. Four of the next six matches went their way — the only win for Europe coming on the last green by Christel Boeljon, a Dutch debutante, while the Inkster-Davies match ended in a stalemate.
That left the US needing one and a half points from the final three matches, two of which featured Europeans making their debuts. With three holes to play, they led in two and were level in the third.
As the quiz says: what happened next? Suzann Pettersen birdied the last three holes to beat Michelle Wie, Azahara Muñoz all but holed out with a nine-iron at the 17th and Caroline Hedwall won her last two holes for a halve, administering the final blow with the sweetest of short-iron strokes in which the ball flew to the back of the green, kissed the apron and rolled back to beside the hole.
Some comeback, some sport, some way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And the beauty is that half this Europe team are young enough to have another five or six Solheim Cups ahead of them. Mind you, so does Laura Davies.
- Who will you vote for as Britain’s Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year? See Ian Cole’s overview of the leading candidates by clicking here.
- Mo Farah’s historic claim on your votes.
- Mark Cavendish keeps his promise in his race of his life.
- England’s Ashes-winning cricket team are top of the world.
- The awards will be presented at our gala annual lunch in London on December 7. Don’t miss out on being there – click here for a ticket booking form, with SJA members entitled to buy two tickets at half the usual price.