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U.S. 'best golfing nation' at International Crown

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GURNEE, Ill. – The words washing over Stacy Lewis were sweeter than any douse of celebratory champagne.

“To be called the best golfing nation is pretty satisfying, just to hear that being announced when we're getting those trophies,” Lewis said Sunday evening after the United States won the UL International Crown. “That was so cool for me, because we're under constant scrutiny of, `Why aren't the Americans playing well? Why aren't they winning?’ I don't know how else to say it, other than it's just really satisfying.”

This looked like it might be an epically bad year for the United States in women’s golf, when June rolled around and Lexi Thompson was the only American winner of an LPGA event. Now, there looms the possibility it might be an epically grand summer, with Brittany Lang winning the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago, with the Ricoh Women’s British Open next week and the Olympics a couple weeks after that.

All of a sudden, the Americans have momentum working for them.

“I think we're all pumped for the major next week,” Lewis said. “Everybody is playing well.

“I had a feeling that this could happen, because we were all playing well at the U.S. Open. Cristie Kerr and I kind of talked about that. Hopefully, the four of us can ride some momentum and bring another trophy back to the U.S.”

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The Americans beamed when they were “crowned as the best golfing nation” in the women’s game at the trophy presentation. They were literally crowned champions. UL CEO and president Keith Williams placed sterling silver Tiffany crowns upon the heads of Lewis, Kerr, Thompson and Gerina Piller in the festive aftermath.

Best golfing nation?

The Americans haven’t heard words like that to describe them in a long time.

“This week has been unbelievable for us,” Lewis said.

Just as they did at the Solheim Cup in Germany last fall, the Americans dug themselves out of a hole to win.

After getting swept Thursday in the opening round of fourballs at the Merit Club, the Americans rallied hard, losing just one of their next eight matches.

This comeback wasn’t as epic or historic as what the Americans mounted against the Europeans at St. Leon-Rot last September, but it was impressive nonetheless, given how a first-round sweep led to their elimination in the inaugural International Crown two years ago.

Lewis, Thompson, Piller and Kerr were all members of that winning Solheim Cup team last fall.

In fact, they were the best American pairings in Germany, going undefeated as partners. Kerr paired with Thompson at the Merit Club, just as she did for three matches at the Solheim Cup. And Lewis paired with Piller, just as she did for two matches at St. Leon-Rot.

Cumulatively, they were 4-0-1 in Germany.

So there was comfort and confidence carrying over from that Solheim Cup.

“We didn't really talk about that,” Piller said. “But I know for me, and I'm sure everyone else, that deep down inside, it was kind of like `We can do this. We've done this before. We've done the unthinkable, and now we're kind of in a similar situation.’ There wasn't a whole lot of panic going on within our team, which was great.”

Kerr, the veteran, clinched the victory with a two-putt birdie at the 16th hole in Sunday singles, defeating England’s gritty Mel Reid, 3 and 2. The Americans took three of their four singles matches.

“It's so complicated trying to figure out all the points, I was like, `Just handle my match, and we'll worry about it later,’” Kerr said.

The United States won the second rendition of the UL with 13 points, one point ahead of the Republic of Korea, the top seed. That’s the equivalent of winning by a halved match. England finished third with 11 points.

“We had zero points the first day, and we still ended up with the most,” Lewis said. “It's just a testament to [my teammates] and their will to want to win this thing.”

Lewis, the former Rolex world No. 1, led off for the Americans, defeating Japan’s Mika Miyazato. It was Lewis’ first singles victory as a professional golfer. She is 0-2-1 in Solheim Cup singles.

It was also Lewis’ first victory on American soil playing for a United States team.

It all made the victory that much more special to her.

“I never won an amateur event on U.S. soil, so it’s really nice,” Lewis said.

Piller came out after Lewis and defeated Chinese Taipei’s Yani Tseng, 4 and 3.

Thompson lost her match to So Yeon Ryu (2 and 1), but she was a force in fourballs, going 2-1 with Kerr.

“Being out here representing my country, it's always the highest honor,” Thompson said. “To be alongside these girls, it's the best. Words can't describe it.”

But the words “best golfing nation” were sweet anyway.