It was the Solheim Cup, and it has been even more fractious recently than the notoriously combative Ryder Cup. The Europeans have been in a snit over a myriad of stunts pulled by Dottie Pepper. Laura Davies has shot straight from the lip several times, infuriating the Americans. There was much to-do the last time over Annika Sorenstams holed chip and the resulting order to play it again. This year, Catrin Nilsmark thought she was saying some things to only a small Swedish website, then was horrified to learn the anti-American diatribe had been translated into English. The Americans were not terribly amused.
But when the matches began, there was no rancor. Of course, there was no Pepper. But there were no rules incidents, no loud-mouthed louts swilling booze and yelling at Colin Montgomerie. There were no incidents on the 17th green when someone made a long putt ' and, incidentally, in the Ryder Cup none of the marauding mob touched Jose Maria Olazabals line, even though the celebration was in decidedly poor taste. For the first time in years, these were just two teams of determined women, slugging it out on fairways and greens. The other stuff would have to wait until the men tee it up this week in the Ryder Cup.
This was a little surprising. The women have, in years of late, turned the Solheim into a real old-fashioned catfight. Any statement or gesture that the other team ' or other teams media ' considered untoward was set upon immediately and turned into a cause celebre. Oh, European captain Dale Reid refused to say her team was beaten this year ' she preferred to think Europe beat itself instead of being beaten by the Americans. But maybe that is how she honestly felt. We beg athletes and coaches to be honest, and that doesnt mean we have to agree with them every time.
The Americans really didnt go out of their way to congratulate Europe ' but then, the Europeans didnt have a lot to say about Americas hot play in the singles. But it was refreshing to have an entire three days go by without one discouraging word written about what someone on the other team said. The women played the matches - Europe won the team events, America won the singles. And when it was over, womens golf was the winner.
Sorenstam exemplified the spirit of the matches as she acknowledged the crowd all day long, nodding appreciative at the scattered applause, smiling broadly even though she was losing much of the day. Wendy Ward, her American opponent, let out a sigh of relief upon seeing Sorenstam on the first tee.
You know, Annika and I go way back, we go back to college golf when we were rivals at Arizona State and Arizona, said Ward. I have always been very comfortable playing with Annika. In fact, today was the day out of all the days this week that I felt the most calm.
Sorenstam is the most accomplished womens player in the world. She has lived in America for years, so maybe it should be expected that she wouldnt be quite so defensive about every little word. But she truly embodied the spirit of the Solheim Cup this year.
Someday, maybe the Ryder Cup will be like this. Maybe even this year. But with the European tabloids, and some of the American players, the kerosene and matches are already in place. Lets just hope that sportsmanship prevails. Two such matches, coming one week after the other, would almost make golf seem like a civilized sport again.