On late Sunday afternoon U.S. Solheim Cup captain Judy Rankin
stood by the cemetery gate next to the 18th green at the St.
Pierre Golf Club in Chepstow, Wales. Her sweater reeking from a
champagne dousing, she tried to explain how her team had risen,
overnight, to become a singular sensation. The Americans had won
nine of 12 singles matches and halved two others for a 17-11
victory over an upset-minded but weary European side, thereby
retaining the only transatlantic golf trophy still in American
hands. "I thought having everyone's nervous system in good shape
was very important," Rankin said. "I wanted to do everything I
could to preserve our advantage in the singles."
The advantage she referred to was the Americans' perceived
superiority at individual match play. In the previous Solheim
Cup, at The Greenbrier in West Virginia in 1994, the U.S. team
won eight of 10 singles matches on the final day to regain the
Cup, lost two years before at Dalmahoy, Scotland. This time,
with two more players added to each team and two sessions of
pairs matches tacked on (to duplicate the format of the men's
Ryder Cup), the Europeans had to contend with their opponents'
greater depth. European captain Mickey Walker responded by using
Laura Davies, Annika Sorenstam, Liselotte Neumann and Catrin
Nilsmark (ranked 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 26th, respectively, on the
LPGA money list) in the maximum five matches. That left her
"lesser" players--Dale Reid, Joanne Morley and an underrated
Lisa Hackney--to lead cheers and nurse their stage fright before
getting into the fray on Saturday afternoon. The result, if not
predictable, was telling: The European stars looked drained on
Sunday, with only Sorenstam providing a singles win.
"I think Mickey could have used Lisa Hackney a little more,"
Rankin said at the cemetery gate, her own fatigue showing.
"Since singles were their Achilles' heel the last time, my
strategy might have been to make sure my guns could go on Sunday."
In fact, that was Rankin's strategy. She rested her ace, Dottie
Pepper, on Saturday afternoon, and Pepper responded on Sunday
with a 3-and-2 win over the formidable Englishwoman Trish
Johnson. In other key matches well-rested Hall of Famer Betsy
King, who had sat out two sessions, beat Marie-Laure de Lorenzi
of France 5 and 4; Rosie Jones smoked the uncertain Morley 5 and
4; and Beth Daniel, despite an uncooperative putter, played a
sleepwalking Neumann to a tie. In the biggest match of the day,
the match that silenced the loud but respectful galleries,
rising American star Michelle McGann dispatched the awesome
Davies 3 and 2. McGann's clinching blow--a three-wood shot that
never left the flag on the postcard-pretty par-3 16th--deflated
the host team and left many of the fans with nothing to comment
on except the fine, blustery weather and the magnificent horse
chestnuts lining St. Pierre's fairways.
"Playing 36 a day took its toll on their tough players," Daniel
said after her Sunday match. "Lotta was just dragging around the
Human frailty, of course, is the theme at these team events. The
pretournament buzz, orchestrated by the always obliging British
media, centered on Davies's penchant for fast cars and blackjack
tables, and Pepper's alleged resemblance to the national symbol
of Wales, a red dragon. The Davies story--that she had lost some
three quarters of a million dollars gambling in recent
years--was greeted with a shrug and a collective "Ah, well,"
since it was in her just-published autobiography and because
Davies is so lovable. The two-year-old Pepper flap, however,
throbbed like a toe injury. "Reprehensible behaviour!"
fulminated The Guardian, still livid over Pepper's breach of
etiquette at the 1994 Solheim Cup, when she celebrated a missed
putt by Davies by punching the air and shouting, "Yeah!" The
Daily Star called Pepper "wild-eyed Dottie." No, retorted The
Daily Express, she was "Vesuvius."
No doubt awed by their own hype, the journalists turned meek
when Pepper showed up for a practice-round press conference. Or
maybe they were confused by her affable manner. In any event the
would-be Saint Georges stammered a few trite questions and saved
their stuff for headlines like the one in Friday's Guardian:
SOLHEIM NO PLACE FOR DOTTIE BEHAVIOUR.
The British, ironically, celebrate dotty behavior, and there was
some of that in evidence at St. Pierre. A handful of partisans
on both sides literally wrapped themselves in their countries'
flags, so that they resembled candidates for burial at sea.
Several spectators wore giant Cat in the Hat toppers, and the
crowd in the bleachers behind the 1st tee carried on like a
schoolgirl chorus on holiday, sending off the players with
impromptu renditions of The Marseillaise, Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot and She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain.
The featured players showed more restraint but still justified
their leading roles. Pepper steadied the Americans on the first
day, pairing with Brandie Burton for a foursomes
(alternate-shot) victory in the morning and birdieing five of
six holes in one stretch of an afternoon four-ball (better-ball)
win while offending no one. Davies struggled out of the gate,
playing erratically in a Friday-morning foursomes loss to Patty
Sheehan and Jones. ("Who would have thought that two little
peewees would beat the big Laura?" asked Sheehan, coyly
minimizing her own Hall of Fame credentials.) Thereafter Davies
was Goliath, partnering Johnson in a 6-and-5 four-ball rout of
Kelly Robbins and Pat Bradley and a 4-and-3 dismantling of
Sheehan-Jones in Saturday's foursomes, and joining Hackney in a
6-and-5 walloping of Daniel and Val Skinner on Saturday
afternoon. Davies's most astonishing stretch came in the Friday
four ball when she birdied seven of 13 holes and narrowly missed
a double eagle on the 309-yard 8th, where her tee shot brushed
the pin. "It was unbelievable, a clinic," said Bradley. "I was
sorry to bear the brunt of it, but I had to admire what was
Davies's heroics led a European surge that had Rankin and her
team questioning their strategy. The teams were not playing to
type, for one thing. Friday morning's foursomes, played under a
gray sky suitable for a pistol duel, was a great surprise, with
the Americans taking a 3 1/2-1/2 lead. (The alternate-shot
format, in which partners share one ball, seems vaguely
socialistic to American golfers, and the U.S. women had played
it ineffectively at Dalmahoy and The Greenbrier.) At lunch the
Europeans paced morosely in their team room until Solheim rookie
Kathryn Marshall, a vivacious Scot, cranked up a CD called We've
Got the Power. "They all looked so sad and quiet," Marshall
explained later. "I just wanted to gee them up." The sweeter
music was the unheralded Marshall's play in the afternoon. She
contributed four birdies as she and Sorenstam beat Skinner and
Jane Geddes, one up. By nightfall the Europeans had narrowed the
gap to 5-3.
On Saturday morning the only score the U.S. could muster in the
foursomes was a half point from Geddes and Meg Mallon. Captain
Walker, meanwhile, was stung on the left eyelid by a wasp and
for the rest of the day roamed St. Pierre with a white bandage
wrapped around her head. The hurt, however, was being put on the
Americans, who finished the day two points down at 9-7. The
reversal had Rankin wondering if she should have put a damper on
her team's high spirits following their early success. "I didn't
think after Friday morning that we'd be behind on Saturday
night," she confessed later.
With the momentum swinging Europe's way and the huge galleries
roaring with every Davies drive and Sorenstam save, the
Americans needed more than a team song to keep their heads. (As
the home fans chanted behind the ropes on Saturday afternoon,
Mallon turned to her four-ball partner, McGann, and said, "Just
pretend that they're saying, 'You're up! You're up!'") But
Saturday night's team meeting was unremarkable, with no props,
sound tracks or surprise visitors. "We all knew what we had to
do to win," McGann said. "Just go out and play our own game."
That game, of course, is singles. In Match 1,
Sorenstam--presumably fresher than her teammates because she
usually walks a straight line from tee to green--won her fourth
point, best of the event, with a 2-and-1 victory over Bradley.
Otherwise, the big scoreboards scattered over the former deer
park gradually turned red, the color for U.S. leads and
victories. McGann's inspiring win over Davies, in Match 3,
started the rout, and when Mallon went 4 up on Sweden's Helen
Alfredsson with four to play, the U.S. team was guaranteed
Notable among the wins was Pepper's. She clearly had benefited
from her afternoon off. "I just thought that Dottie was a key
player in the singles," Rankin said. "I wanted to do everything
I could to see that her point counted."
Two hours later the U.S. women were whooping it up and scaring
the swans down by the 17th tee. Posing for team pictures, they
welcomed their late-arriving captain with a spontaneous chorus
of "One Judy Rankin," sung to the tune of Guantanamera: "One
Judy Rankin," they warbled. "There's only one Judy Rankin...."
It was music to raise the dead, but it made a singular point: In
golf, the loneliest of games, teamwork can mean just doing your
own thing and sharing the credit.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT The Americans got a jump on celebrating:Pepper, Daniel, Rankin, King, Skinner and Burton (from left). [Dottie Pepper, Beth Daniel, Judy Rankin, Betsy King, Val Skinner and Brandie Burton]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Davies was the force behind a blistering European rally but fell to McGann in Sunday's massacre. [Laura Davies golfing]
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN MUNDAY/ALLSPORT Pepper (right), who provided hot copy early in the week, was rested and ready for Johnson in singles. [Trish Johnson walking of green as Dottie Pepper is embraced by caddie]