Mallon in charge with U.S. squad united behind her


PARKER, Colo. – Few people love a good party more than U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon.

Yet it was Mallon, of all people, who kept a Solheim Cup victory celebration from breaking out back in 2005 at Crooked Stick.

“I sure was a buzz kill for that party,” Mallon said Wednesday at Colorado Golf Club. “That was a bummer.”

An hour after Mallon drained a 6-foot putt to beat Karen Stupples and assure the Americans possession of the Solheim Cup, she was on a gurney in the back of an ambulance being transported to an Indianapolis hospital with a heart rate of nearly 300 beats per minute.

Mallon vividly recalls Europe’s Sophie Gustafson peering through the back of the ambulance with tears in her eyes. She remembers seeing U.S. teammate Natalie Gulbis standing there too, while medics discussed using electric paddles to jolt her heart back into rhythm.

The Americans then went to visit with the media to discuss their victory, but found it understandably difficult to speak while not knowing the status of their fallen friend. Captain Nancy Lopez, an emotional person anyway, struggled to find words. Mallon’s longtime friend Juli Inkster served as the team spokesperson.

It was as surreal of a scene as you’ll see in golf.

Ultimately Mallon was released from the hospital three days later diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, a rhythm disturbance that causes a rapid heartbeat. Mallon says the event was a blessing because a misdiagnosed heart condition for the previous 20 years was finally remedied.

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Still, that was the last Solheim Cup Mallon ever played. And it was bittersweet.

The Massachusetts native was an assistant captain on a victorious 2009 team outside Chicago, but now, with 18 LPGA victories, four major championships and an impressive 13-9-7 career Solheim Cup record, Mallon is fully in charge of her own team.

Granted a meaningful shot has not been struck so far at Colorado Golf Club, but, by most indications, Mallon has made all the right moves.

The first came immediately after Mallon was named captain 18 months ago when she welcomed Dottie Pepper back into the American Solheim Cup fold. Pepper had been blacklisted ever since 2007 when she made critical comments on what she believed was a closed television microphone. The mic, however, was open for the whole world to hear her criticize an American duo that had failed to close out a crucial match.

“People just needed to talk,” Mallon said. “That’s all I did was just facilitate that. It was, for me, seven years later, I thought it was silly that it was still going on. It was just a matter of getting them to come together and say ‘you know, listen, that was silly, let’s move on.’ ”

“I’m happy that’s happened. I wasn’t surprised that it has, and it’s good to have her around.”

Said Stacy Lewis: “(Meg) was the only person I think that could bring everybody together and Dottie’s been great. She’s got so much knowledge of the game and so much experience you can just kind of, you can rub off of her and you can learn a lot from her.”

The next tough choice came in making captain’s picks, although Mallon contends the decision really wasn’t as difficult as some believe.

Michelle Wie’s name immediately jumped off the page because of her Solheim Cup experience and 4-3-1 career record. Mallon knew some would criticize the selection but she never wavered. She wanted Wie on this team.

Gerina Piller’s selection was a gut feeling. Sure this is Piller’s first Solheim Cup but she’s 28 years old, a late bloomer and has several good friends already on the squad to help show her the ropes. Mallon loved the fit to round out her team.

“I got a great suggestion from (former U.S. Ryder Cup captain) Curtis Strange last week that said ‘you always trusted your gut and your instincts when you played golf. You should do the same thing as a captain’ ” Mallon said. “That was excellent advice because it was exactly what happened to me on Sunday when I made the picks.”

Mallon and her squad do face extreme pressure. No European team has ever won on American soil, and Mallon doesn’t want that streak to end on her watch.

Only three Americans have won on the LPGA this year (Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis and Jennifer Johnson) and Johnson is not on this team.

There are four rookies on Team USA, which seems like a lot, until you look at the European roster and see six rookies. Lexi Thompson (18) and Jessica Korda (20) are two of those rookies. How will their youth handle the pressure of the team format?

Lewis and Paula Creamer both lost in Sunday singles two years ago in Ireland, which set the tone for a European victory. How will they respond this time?

Can Wie deal with the pressure of being a captain’s pick? Will she be able to make a crucial 5-footer in crunch time?

All are questions that will be answered here, outside the Mile High City, over the next few days. If the heavily-favored Americans win, Mallon will be credited. If they lose, well, she’ll take her share of the blame. Such is life as a captain in a team event.

One thing is certain, this team loves Mallon and is united behind her every move. Admittedly, that’s the battle cry at most cups, but you get the sense that this week it’s the truth.

“Meg was always one of those players I idolized growing up,” Kerr said. “She just had such a beautiful golf swing and a beautiful way about her around the golf course and off the golf course.

“I think everybody on this team really admires her and respects her. When she speaks you listen.”

Said Lewis: “Meg’s the best. She’s taken care of us this week. She’s made it relaxed and easy and she’s been very clear about what she wants to do.

“Overall it’s just been really good.”

Hopefully for Mallon, it’ll be good enough to end the week with a celebration. If so, you can count on her to be the life of the party.