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Going For the Flag

Dottie Mochrie's aggressive play inspired a U.S. victory over Europe in the Solheim Cup

Before her career is over, Dottie Mochrie will be to the game face what Mickey Wright was to the golf swing. And on the 1st tee of her singles match in Sunday's climactic final round of the Solheim Cup at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Mochrie wore a visage even more intense than the one she habitually clamps into place at major championships and in sudden-death playoffs. As she locked her high-beam stare on the leaf-covered fairway, Mochrie was steeling herself to resist a living hell—the very real possibility that America's top women would be humiliated again by a team of underdogs from Europe.

A reprise of the 1992 Solheim nightmare that took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, would have forced the U.S. players to lug around for yet another two years the knowledge that they had failed in the biggest moments of the most important event in women's golf. Mochrie knew that the 11½-6½ upset in the dank air of Dalmahoy had left scars. Veteran U.S. stars Beth Daniel, Betsy King and Patty Sheehan were all jumpy at The Greenbrier, and Mochrie was painfully aware that as perhaps the best woman player in the world going into the 1992 event, she had succumbed to pressure and fatigue and failed to win a point. What's more, this time around, though she had won matches with Brandie Burton on Friday and Saturday. Mochrie had displayed a course demeanor that bordered on the obnoxious and fired up the Europeans.

However, behind her quivering iron mask, Mochrie, a 29-year-old winner of eight LPGA events, had found peace in the wisdom of the U.S. captain, JoAnne Carner. The premier female match player of golf's modern era, Carner had excelled by following a simple dictum that she stressed to her 10-member team: Treat each hole as an individual tournament. On Sunday, Mochrie turned her laser focus on that concept and began to play one perfect shot after another. By the time she had birdied the 4th hole to go 2 up, her opponent, 27-year-old Catrin Nilsmark of Sweden, was toast. After Mochrie had made her seventh birdie, to end the match by the score of 6 and 5 on the 13th hole, Nilsmark told the victor it was the greatest golf she had ever seen.

"I have no recollection of what was going on." said Mochrie, describing a zone in which she had two near aces and no birdie putts longer than 15 feet. "I never looked back. I just kept firing forward."

Mochrie's victory put the U.S. ahead by a point in the overall score, but the magnitude of the win—the roars it drew from thousands of spectators and the brash, ultracompetitive personal style with which it was carried out—was worth far more to her teammates. For the first two days the Solheim had been a tight, nervous affair that left the two teams tied at 5-all. The Americans, though, drew strength from Mochrie's pyrotechnics on Sunday, winning eight of the next nine matches. Within two hours the third Solheim Cup had turned into a blowout. Final score: U.S. 13, Europe 7.

Mochrie's run couldn't have come at a better time. Although women's pro golf in America over the last five decades has constantly struggled for recognition and credibility, the LPGA's native pros have never had to dig as deep to restore their reputations as the world's best players as they did last week in West Virginia. Partly off the momentum of Europe's 1992 Solheim Cup victory, Laura Davies of England and Liselotte Neumann of Sweden had since surpassed all the American players except Daniel. And like the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup has come to represent which side of the Atlantic has the best players, even though six members of the European side play the LPGA tour full-time.

The advantages of team depth, experience and overall driving length seemed to lie with the Americans, who had used those attributes to overwhelm the Europeans in the first Solheim, in 1990. Even this year the only European team member other than Davies, Neumann or Helen Alfredsson to have earned an official victory was Nilsmark. Still, Europe held the psychological edge. Although they were the Cup holders, the Europeans were perceived as underdogs and thus had less to lose than the Americans. "I feel sorry for the Americans," Davies, the inspirational leader of the European team, said on Thursday. "If they win, it will be, 'Who in the devil did you beat?' If they lose, it will be, 'To those bums'?' "

But Carner had prepared her troops not to panic or think negatively. At dinner on Thursday night, she asked each player to stand up and talk about her Solheim Cup experience to that point. "That released a lot of tension," said Meg Mallon. "Some of us talked about the pressure; some of us said things about players that we wouldn't normally say." Once play started, Carner didn't want any talk about nerves. "I squelched all of that negative stuff," she said. "I told them I'd put some Vaseline on their teeth so their lips wouldn't stick, but I didn't want to hear any more about it."

Still, Sheehan admitted she was "a nervous wreck" on the first day and played poorly while being beaten in singles by Alison Nicholas. Like Sheehan, King remained winless in Solheim singles play when she suffered the only other U.S. loss on Sunday, to Alfredsson.

King's nerves have been frayed by her yearlong chase for the 30th career victory that will put her into the LPGA Hall of Fame, and they seemed raw against Alfredsson. Having missed several short putts that left her 3 down after 14 holes, the deeply religious and normally stoic King slammed her putter through a cardboard garbage container, leaving it there for her caddie and a marshal to retrieve. King lost 2 and 1.

Mochrie was growing just as frustrated with her own futility on the greens, but she had the good fortune to be paired on Friday and Saturday with Burton, whose putting was the key in victories against the two top European pairs—Alfredsson and Neumann by 3 and 2 in the alternate shot, and Davies and Nicholas 2 and 1 in the better ball. Burton's 2-up win over Davies on Sunday made her and Mochrie the only undefeated players.

Mochrie seemed to rid herself of nervousness through her aggressive, competitive style and her frequent venting of emotion. Her exuberance, however, became a source of friction between the teams. Besides displaying a tiresome fondness for the high five, Mochrie yelled "Yes!" when Davies missed a putt on Saturday. Although no official complaint was made, several European players expressed displeasure. "That's Dottie," Alfredsson said. "It's self-explanatory."

Mochrie had no apologies. "I know what it takes for me to play well," she said. "I don't get in anybody's way. I have to be happy with myself before anyone else."

At The Greenbrier the American team was very happy with Dottie Mochrie, and very relieved.



The skills of Burton (above) and the exuberance of Mochrie (right) paid off after Kelly Robbins and Tammie Green (opposite) lost on Saturday.



[See caption above.]