There was a moment on Sunday afternoon at the Solheim Cup—as the scoreboard was bleeding the red of the U.S.A. and the British press was calling for the heads of more Ugly Americans—when another international golf event seemed on the verge of disintegrating into pure melodrama. It had already been a week in which tears outnumbered raindrops, a contentious Cup during which no one was immune to press-conference shrapnel. Now the two teams were at each other's throats over an incident that had a stench far worse than anything that emanated from last year's Ryder Cup. So be thankful that Europe won, because a U.S. victory would have been poisonous not only to the health of the Solheim Cup, but also to the spirit of the game. When it was finally over, when a furious Sunday rally by the Americans had been snuffed out, there was a sense that Europe had won far more than an oversized crystal trophy.
"A great wrong has been righted," Laura Davies said, a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft in each hand. "Quite a few of them, in fact. This was the most satisfying day of my golfing life, bar none."
The final tally was 14�-11� but the numbers hardly do justice to the dramatic sweep of this European victory. Played on the boggy, boggy banks of Loch Lomond Golf Club outside Glasgow, Europe outplayed a team of Americans who for most of the week seemed afraid to get their red, white and blue fingernails dirty. The U.S. trailed 7�-2� when this Solheim Cup nearly imploded.
Due to heavy rains, a quartet of vital Saturday four-ball matches was suspended until Sunday morning, with the Americans Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins clinging to a one-up lead against Janice Moodie and Annika Sorenstam. Playing their first hole after the restart, the par-5 13th, Moodie and Sorenstam were both in the rough left of the green lying three, while the Americans had knocked their third shots onto the green, Robbins to 25 feet, Hurst to three. Both watched as Sorenstam went through her methodical preshot routine. She followed with a delicate chip and run that dived into the cup, the kind of dramatic shot that can turn a match. Or not.
With the Europeans still giddy over the shot, Robbins informed Sorenstam that, come to think of it, she might have played out of turn. A lengthy discussion ensued among the four players; U.S. captain Pat Bradley and her European counterpart, Dale Reid; and a pair of rules officials. Eventually one of the officials paced off Sorenstam's and Robbins's respective distances from the hole (a task complicated by the fact that Sorenstam had not left a divot and had to guess where her ball had been). It was determined that Sorenstam had been two feet closer to the hole than Robbins and, per Rule 10-1c, the Americans were entitled to make her replay the shot taken out of turn, which they did.
Tears and makeup streaking her face—"I told her she looked like Alice Cooper," said Sorenstam's caddie, Terry McNamara—Sorenstam failed to jar the reload, and Hurst bloodlessly rapped in her birdie putt, extending the U.S.'s lead to 2 up. Hurst and Robbins would go on to win the match 2 and 1 in stony silence.
The Americans didn't violate the letter of the rules, but they certainly sullied the spirit of what is supposed to be a goodwill match. The histrionics of the U.S. men at the '99 Ryder Cup were spontaneous eruptions. This was an act of gamesmanship. Bradley tried to cast herself as the heavy, saying, "I took the decision out of Kelly's hands," but the fact is, if Robbins or anyone else had doubts as to who was away, those doubts should have been expressed before any ball was played, not after a rousing chip-in. "That's the hard part about it-it's all after the fact," said Moodie. Indeed, does anybody believe the U.S. would have made a fuss had Sorenstam not holed her chip?
The usually mild-mannered Sorenstam went off as never before in the subsequent press conference, calling the incident "an embarrassment" and pronouncing herself "disgusted, disappointed and outraged." According to her husband, David Esch, "Annika was so upset she almost walked off the course in the middle of the match."
"Our goal," Sorenstam said, "was to make this a first-class event, in that we would show the men how to do it. I don't think it turned out that way. Is this how badly they want the Cup? It's really sad."
The effects of the brouhaha still lingered when the singles began upon the completion of the four-balls. Sorenstam was sent out as the leadoff hitter, but, still rattled, she got creamed 5 and 4 by a bogeyless Juli Inkster. Robbins, who had played abysmally all week, was suddenly fired up enough to take down Davies, Europe's other team leader, in a 3-and-2 rout. At one point the U.S. led or had already won 11 of 12 matches. Clearly, the Europeans were going to be pushed to the brink, but they were well versed in adversity. They had been fighting off various attacks since well before the competition began.