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Poor putting keeps cups out of U.S. hands

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Like most of the Lower 48 who was tuned in, Dave Stockton Sr. spent the better part of Sunday afternoon barking at a flat screen, watching as putt after American putt trundled short and low at the Solheim Cup.

“I wasn’t happy,” said Stockton, who – in full disclosure – was more than an interested bystander last week.

Stockton, who has become the game’s go-to putting guru, has worked with players from both the U.S. and European Solheim Cup teams. Objectively, the two-time major champion was perched squarely on the transatlantic fence.

But that didn’t make the proceedings any easier to watch.

“I felt for the U.S. team,” he sighed.

Nor does it make Monday morning quarterbacking any easier. Having worked with the likes of Lexi Thompson, Morgan Pressel and Suzann Pettersen, he knows better than most what each player is capable of. Yet throughout the week at the Low Side Cup, he struggled to understand the American side’s inability to hole crucial putts when it mattered.

Late Saturday afternoon at Colorado Golf Club, the U.S. team’s shortcomings could be perfectly summed up by a late exchange between Thompson and European star-in-the-making Charley Hull.

From 5 feet, Thompson missed her birdie attempt on the 17th hole and Hull answered with a 4-footer for birdie to complete the European’s stunning 4-0 sweep of the afternoon fourball session.

Similar scenes played out all week, almost always in Europe’s favor, and even Stockton – who captained the U.S. team to victory at the 1991 Ryder Cup – struggled for answers.

“Why did the Europeans putt better? I’m not sure,” Stockton admitted. “They certainly handled the slopes (of Colorado GC’s dramatically pitched putting surfaces) better. I’ve been there. I know how frustrating it is to get beat.”

Anecdotally, the Europeans seemed to grasp the severity of the hard and fast greens better than the home team, which may have been the byproduct of extra time spent earlier in the week learning the nuances of the putting surfaces.

“As soon as we got here we obviously realized that they were superfast and probably some of the fastest greens we have ever played on,” European captain Liselotte Neumann said. “Really you have to read the speed into the putts. So a lot of times after our practice rounds a lot of the girls actually went out on the golf course instead of just standing on putting green, they went out on the course, so they get to really get a feel of the undulations.”

As a result, Stockton watched an American side that putted defensively for much of the week and failed to adjust even after falling behind on Day 1.

In retrospect, it’s why Pettersen seemed uniquely equipped to handle the slopes, to say nothing of the situation.

“She is so good at visualizing what the ball is going to do,” Stockton said of Pettersen. “She has great touch and the perfect demeanor for those types of greens.”

For the Americans, it was a familiar refrain.

“It was just making the key putts at the key moments. And they seemed to do that better than we did. It all comes down to that,” Paula Creamer said.

“We just didn't make the putts. I saw more putts go over the hole on our side,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon added.

Flash back 11 months, to Medinah and a similarly flummoxed U.S. side.

“A few putts they made, a few putts we missed, and it would have been a huge difference,” said U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III following America’s Sunday meltdown at last year’s matches.

Europe and GB&I now own every major match with the United States – Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup – and you don’t need to have Stockton’s short-game sensibilities to see why the red, white and blew is on the wrong side of the pendulum swing at the moment.

“If we would have made any putts it would  have been a different story,” Stockton said.

Perhaps, but that still doesn’t explain why the game’s best putters go cold when playing for cup and country. It was easy, for example, to pick apart Thompson’s putting performance last week. Yet she has never been considered the women’s version of Ben Crenshaw.

But it’s not as though Pressel (No. 9 on the LPGA in putting average) or Stacy Lewis (20th) were charging in winners. Combined, America’s high-power duo went 2-5-1.

And this is hardly an LPGA problem. Brandt Snedeker went 1-2-1 in his first Ryder Cup last September, this from a player who ranked first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting heading into the matches and was fresh off his FedEx Cup clinching victory at East Lake.

American captains have taken to a unique game of cat-and-mouse in recent years in an attempt to keep their side loose – pair them with players they are comfortable with, fill team rooms with Ping-Pong tables, keep the extracurricular dinners and galas to a minimum.

Maybe American captains (excluding Fred Couples who has been immune to the putting problems and pressure in his two turns as Presidents Cup captain) need a new approach – practice putting greens in the team room and Stockton’s number on speed dial would be a good start.