WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The Miley Cyrus hit got the fun going early.
Standing on the first tee at day’s start, U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster put her hands on her head and swayed her hips to the sweet rhythms of the Cyrus song wafting from the speakers across Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
Party in the USA . . .
The lyrics seemed to echo through Saturday’s morning foursomes and afternoon fourballs as the United States continued to build on its commanding lead in this biennial international team event.
While Inkster refuses to take anything for granted, or acknowledge victory is some foregone conclusion, her team looks poised to roll to its most lopsided victory in the history of the Solheim Cup.
The United States leads Europe 10 ½ to 5 ½ going into Sunday singles.
The Americans overcame a 10-6 deficit going to Sunday singles to win in Germany two years ago, but Europe will have to top that historic comeback. No Solheim Cup team has ever come from five points behind to win these matches.
“We played amazing,” Inkster said. “But, as you know, closing it out is the toughest thing to do. We need one more great day of golf.”
The Americans need only claim 3 ½ of the 12 available points in singles to retain the cup and four to win it outright.
“I know Annika's team will not quit,” Inkster said. “So we'll be ready for the task.”
Inkster’s dance at the first tee Saturday wasn’t her first this week. She seems to have taken possession of that opening tee box, playfully exhorting the crowd and joking with her players. She appears to be sending an unspoken message to every player she is sending out.
“We keep it loose,” Inkster said. “We keep it light. That's just what I'm trying to project.”
She’s doing a fabulous job of it.
“I think this year's different,” said Brittany Lang, who teamed with Brittany Lincicome to shoot 12 under in a 2-up fourball victory. “I think we're focusing on a lot of fun.
“Juli has just wanted us to be a little bit more relaxed, and she said something really cool. She said, `I don't need you to play any better than you do all year in tournaments.’ The Solheim Cup is not usually about fun. It’s about keeping the cup and winning. But since we've started to have fun, we've played some really good golf.”
The Americans crammed a lot of fun into this Saturday as they claimed five of the eight points available on the day, three of the four available in fourballs.
Kerr holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker at the 15th and flung her club in the air. Kerr teamed with Lexi Thompson to shoot 13 under over 16 holes in a 4-and-2 fourballs victory against Georgia Hall and Catriona Matthew.
“We faced a difficult team,” Kerr said. “I told Lexi, we might have to shoot 59 to beat these guys, and we almost made that.”
Kerr and Thompson also won their morning foursomes match. The victories moved Kerr past Inkster for most wins (16) and most points (20) by an American in Solheim Cup history.
Lincicome started her fourballs match with six consecutive birdies, and then Lang holed out from 86 yards in some nasty rough for eagle at the seventh. They combined for a best-ball 61 on the par-73 layout in a tough 2-up victory against Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda.
“Seemed like the hole was the size of Texas,” Lincicome said.
Lincicome said the six straight birdies is probably her personal record.
Lincicome said she and her husband have a running joke "that if I make three birdies in a row, he has to send me a picture with his shirt off. ... I’m not sure what six gets us."
“Is my face red?” she said.
Austin Ernst chipped in for birdie at the 15th in fourballs, helping to propel her and Paula Creamer to a 2-and-1 victory against Karine Icher and Madelene Sagstrom. They also won their foursomes match in the morning, improving Creamer to 16-9-5 in her Solheim Cup career, and pushing her past Inkster as the winningest foursomes player in American Solheim history. Creamer is now 7-4-3 in foursomes, with the 8½ points, a point better than Inkster.
“All those Twitter people out there who said I shouldn’t have picked Paula, shame on you,” Inkster said.
Inkster may be holding off on any celebrations, but she will be looking to keep the fun going Sunday.
“I think everybody puts a lot of emphasis on wins and losses,” Inkster said. “These girls have worked really hard two years to make the Solheim Cup team. And, yeah, it's great to win, and, yeah, it would be great to win. But it's not about that.”
Inkster said some of her best memories were from losses, too, from the camaraderie and friendships and the team building.
“They want to be a team,” Inkster said. “But sometimes you have to learn how to be a team. I think they’re learning how to be a team.”
That may be Inkster’s greatest gift to her players as they seek to link her with Judy Rankin as the only Americans to be the winning captains in back-to-back Solheim Cups.