ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – They lost their mojo in Europe.
The last time the American Solheim Cup team flew across the Atlantic Ocean to play, everything changed.
Heading to Ireland in 2011, the United States was a juggernaut in the event, winners of three consecutive Solheim Cups and heavy favorites to make it four in a row. The Americans seemed to be on a mission to make the competition irrelevant, because that’s what routing the Euros again threatened to do.
And that’s what most everyone expected.
Oddsmakers listed the Americans as the heavy favorite at a 4/9 betting price.
A wolf would get better odds against a lamb, but not much better.
There were seven Americans among the top 20 in the world rankings that week and just one European.
The Americans couldn’t lose ... but they did.
“Ireland kind of made the Solheim Cup what it is now,” said Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked American woman today.
The Europeans didn’t just win the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle. They transformed it.
With the most thrilling comeback in the cup’s history, the Euros reinvigorated the competition. In a head-spinning final 30 minutes of play, they made the Solheim Cup matter more than it ever has.
Trailing very late in the final three matches in Sunday singles that year, the Europeans improbably turned around all three of them to win the cup.
Suzann Pettersen, Azahara Munoz and Caroline Hedwall led the bold charge, coming from behind in bing-bang-boom fashion to give the Euros a 15-13 victory.
“That was huge,” said Carin Koch, the European Solheim Cup captain today. “That was one of the most amazing Sundays in any match-play event, counting the Ryder Cup, just the turnaround there. I think the Americans really felt they had it, and just at the end everything went Europe’s way.
“It was really important because there was talk about the Americans being too dominant. To come back, and win the last two now, it’s big.”
Even Rosie Jones, disappointed as she was as the American captain at the time, appreciated the exhilarating nature of the finish and the bigger picture playing out.
“It was probably the best Solheim Cup ever,” Jones said. “It was unbelievable.”
The compelling theater elevated everything about the cup.
“This is probably our biggest stage, besides, maybe, the U.S. Open,” said Juli Inkster, captain of this year’s American team. “It’s gotten some momentum now as far as history. It’s got some fight into it, which is fun.”
The United States might have lost the cup in Ireland, but two years later they would lose something more in Colorado. The Americans weren’t just beaten on their own soil for the first time. The Euros beat them in a record rout (18-10).
The Americans lost some pride in the thorough thrashing at Colorado Golf Club.
“I think a lot of girls who were a part of that kind of have a chip,” said Brittany Lang, one of Inkster’s two captain’s picks this year.
As in a chip on their shoulder.
The United States arrives at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Germany this week looking to win back lost pride. Eleven Americans on the team that lost in Colorado are here. Alison Lee is the only new face, replacing Jessica Korda, who didn’t qualify.
“I don’t think it’s revenge,” Inkster said. “We’re motivated. The Europeans have earned the right to carry the last two Solheims, and we have to earn the right to win it back.”
No American team had lost two Solheim Cups in a row before Colorado, and Inkster doesn’t want to be the first to lose three in a row. As a player, Inkster won more points (18½) in Solheim Cup play than any other American. She was 15-12-7 in nine Solheim Cups appearances. She’s looking to lead a team more focused on playing golf than on all the over-the-top patriotic hoopla that has preoccupied past teams.
“They've got to want it,” Inkster said of her American squad. “They've got to maybe dig a little deeper and maybe get rid some of the outside agencies. I'm trying to get them just to play golf like they play [in LPGA events] as they tee it up every week, and not worry about all the other little outside things that sometimes, with the Solheim team themes, they get involved with. Just kind of get it back to basics and see how that works.”
Inkster is showing just how much she wants the cup back. The 55-year-old won a Legends Tour event in Indiana two weeks ago, and then she whipped more than half the European team at the Evian Championship last weekend. Only three of the 12 Euros on this year’s squad posted better scores than Inkster, who tied for 38th.
“I feel as though Juli Inkster is the right captain at the right time,” said Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, who captained Inkster on the 1998 Solheim Cup team. “I think they are going to get down to business. I think she's very aware of things like rest, things like just really doing everything so that you can do the job at hand. She is such a respected person that this team will in every sort of way respond to, I'm sure.”
The Americans are favored by bookmakers again despite the fact that Europe has won the last two Solheim Cups and enjoys the advantage of being the home team this year.
- The Americans’ average world ranking is 25.6, the Euros’ 52.9.
- The Americans have combined to win 10 major championships, the Euros four.
- The Americans have won 16 LPGA titles over the last two years, the Europeans four. If you think that comparison is bogus because the LPGA is an American-based tour, know that all but two players on the European roster are playing the LPGA full time.
The match-play mojo belongs to the Europeans, but the Americans are in Germany equipped to take it back.
“I think we're all aware that they don't want to lose three in a row, and they're going to come out really strong,” Koch said. “I think they have a great captain in Juli. I like Juli, and they all look up to her. I think she's a great person, and she'll do a lot of good for the team. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a tough match.”