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How Swede It Isn't
Alan Shipnuck
September 28, 1998
Teamwork helped the U.S. overcome a bevy of Swedish stars at the Solheim Cup
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September 28, 1998

How Swede It Isn't

Teamwork helped the U.S. overcome a bevy of Swedish stars at the Solheim Cup

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It was a pretty raucous scene on Sunday evening at the closing ceremonies for the Solheim Cup. The band was blasting, the crowd was roaring, and the Europeans were gloating about their victory. "It's nice to have won the singles," Helen Alfredsson said above the cacophony. "That was our goal."

The Europeans did indeed take the Sunday singles matches, 6½ points to 5½, giving credence to the widespread pre-Cup belief that their top players were better than the best Americans. Alas, the Solheim is a team competition, and it was the U.S. players' superior depth and their ability to meld their games that in the end allowed them to prevail. The Americans assured their victory—the final score was 16-12—during the first two days of team play, when they ham-'n'-egged it around Muirfield Village Golf Club, in Dublin, Ohio, with uncanny efficiency.

"I've never been on a team like this," said Dottie Pepper, who is one of only two Americans, along with Betsy King, to have played in every Solheim Cup since the event was inaugurated in 1990. "We all bonded together so fast. I mean, at the opening ceremonies some of the players' shoes didn't fit, so we just switched pairs. When have you ever heard of a group of women doing something like that? Because the chemistry was so good each of us felt we could lean on anyone else and they'd come through. That trust showed up on the golf course."

And how. The Americans dominated the alternate shot foursomes, "the truest test of teamwork" according to Pepper, winning six of the eight matches.

Meanwhile, the European team had a fractured identity, reflecting the fact that its players were drawn from two tours (the American and the European LPGAs) and four countries. On Friday evening Laura Davies, the stalwart Englishwoman, was asked if she was a believer in "European unity." "No," she said flatly, and then with a self-conscious laugh she tried to recover. "As a golf European, I am," Davies said. "All that other stuff—I'm just a golfer; I don't know anything about it." European unity was a hot topic because European captain Pia Nilsson had raised more than a few eyebrows when she used four of her five captain's selections on Swedes, meaning she had the same passport as half the players on her team.

Making the European chemistry even more combustible were a couple of spats involving Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam, the first sisters to play together in the Solheim Cup. It's old news that there's no love lost between Annika and her kid sis, who was a Cup rookie, and according to one team insider, "They acted the same as always—they ignored each other all week."

The bad blood between Charlotta and another prominent Swede, Carin Koch, was also felt at the Solheim because the feud has forced players to choose sides and may have played a part in Koch's being left off the European team. Once upon a time Koch and Charlotta were best friends, but all that changed after May's LPGA Corning Classic, when Sorenstam's fiancé, Robert Klasson, witnessed Koch's husband and caddie, Stefan, shake an errant drive by Koch out of a tree. (Sorenstam wasn't present, while Carin Koch was unable to see the tree in question.) After the round it was ruled that Koch should have been penalized for her caddie's actions, and she was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Sorenstam and Koch have been estranged ever since, and when Koch was passed over in favor of 24-year-old Sophie Gustafson, a less experienced Swede, charges and countercharges were leveled in the golf press on both sides of the Atlantic. Nilsson copped a plea, saying Koch was unable to play because she's pregnant, which is funny considering Tammie Green teed it up for the U.S. squad even though her pregnancy is six weeks further along than Koch's.

With all this intrigue as the backdrop, the Solheim kicked off at 8 a.m. on Friday morning with a tabloid-ready foursome match, Davies versus Pepper (with their partners, Trish Johnson and Juli Inkster, respectively, in tow). Davies and Pepper have been the emotional leaders of their teams since at least 1994, when they got into a very public scrap about Pepper's on-course comportment, which might be described as enthusiastic. Pepper and Inkster ambushed the Europeans from the first swing, and they forged a 4-up lead after only five holes. Davies and Johnson fought gamely to get back into the match, but they were forced to concede, embarrassingly, in the middle of the 17th fairway after failing to recover from Davies's monstrously crooked drive. This was not an encouraging start for the Europeans.

After the teams split the next two matches, things got worse for the Europeans when the U.S. team of Solheim rookie Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins beat the world's third-ranked player, Liselotte Neumann, and her tenacious partner, Lisa Hackney, with a cold-blooded birdie on the 18th. Thus began the parade of unlikely stars for the Americans. "From Friday morning on it seemed like we had a new hero every hour," said Inkster.

Hurst and Rosie Jones opened the afternoon better-ball four ball with a record 7-and-5 whupping of Gustafson and Hackney, putting the U.S. up 4-1, an advantage it held by going 1-1-1 the rest of the day.

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