With bookmakers installing the U.S. as an 8-to-15 favorite, the European press produced a spate of vitriolic articles calling for the dismantling of its own team and clamoring for help from the Aussies, the Koreans and whoever else might be needed to prevent the kind of butt-kicking the U.S. had administered in four of the previous five Solheim Cups, including the last three. "It's good to be told you're not good enough, because it makes you bitter," said Davies.
The team was also galvanized by criticism of Reid's captain's selections. Reid had gone for a couple of Solheim standbys—Helen Alfredsson and Catrin Nilsmark—at the expense of two rising stars enjoying superior years, Charlotta Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew of Scotland, both Solheim rookies in '98. In explaining the snub of Annika's kid sis, Reid had cited mysterious personal problems. "That was a lame excuse—personal problems," Charlotta said, disputing rumors of unrest in her marriage to Robert Klasson. "Helen has played like crap since breaking up with Leo [her longtime fianc�], and Catrin has played so poorly she's broke and has had to sell her house." Nilsmark didn't dispute the assertion.
The controversy over hometown hero Matthew raged for weeks. The drama intensified two days before the start of the Solheim when Alfredsson slipped while exiting a bus, injuring her right thumb and possibly knocking herself out of the competition. With less than 24 hours to name a potential replacement, Reid rang up Matthew and begged her to drive the 50 miles from her home in North Berwick to play a practice round with the team last Thursday morning. Reid paired Matthew with Alfredsson, who despite a heavily taped hand shot a 69, allaying any doubts about her fitness. At round's end Alfredsson and Matthew shared a teary hug and the latter bolted the grounds, having lost out on a spot on the team for a second time. "It's a nuthouse around here," Alfredsson said.
Things got even zanier on Friday morning when the U.S. became the first team in Solheim history to be swept in the opening four foursomes matches, a mystifying display of ineptitude that all but doomed the American defense. That afternoon's team play featured far more inspired performances from both squads—thank god for that—and a series of blown opportunities for the Americans to cut into Europe's lead. The U.S. got a pair of easy victories and could have swept the other two matches but twice lost that chance on the 18th hole to hand the Europeans a win and a halve, staking them to a first-day lead of 5�-2�.
Saturday's four-balls were played in torrential rain, but Sophie Gustafson, the 26-year-old Swede who blew away the field at this year's British Open, continued a starmaking performance by birdieing four holes in a row on the front side to propel the Europeans to a 3-up lead, and she and Trish Johnson stayed unbeaten with a 3-and-2 victory. Alfredsson was brilliant in teaming with Alison Nicholas to down Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer, extending the European lead to 7�-2� before unplayable conditions pushed the conclusion of the other four matches into Sunday.
By the time those matches were complete—and the Sorenstam imbroglio had taken place—the Europeans led 9�-4�, meaning they needed only four of 12 points in singles to claim the Cup. It wouldn't be easy, because the U.S. has traditionally dominated the singles (10 of 12 points in '96 and eight of 10 in '94). With Davies and Sorenstam already serving as cheerleaders, Europe sustained another setback when Johnson and Gustafson suffered their first losses, to Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton, respectively. Alfredsson attained an uplifting early knockout of Beth Daniel in a battle of captain's selections, but what helped the Europeans the most was an hour-and-40-minute rain delay. "In every other sport there are timeouts for a reason," said Hurst. "They change the momentum, and that's what happened to us."
Fueled by lunch and a pep talk from Nilsmark, the Europeans mounted a rally, beginning with a couple of halves, both achieved with gutsy victories on the 18th hole. Proving the inevitability of karma, Hurst gagged a four-footer to hand a half-point to Liselotte Neumann. Moments later Nicholas holed a chip from behind the green to steal another halve from Steinhauer, and suddenly the Cup was tied at 11�, with three matches still raging in the gloaming.
One up while playing the 18th, Nilsmark stood over a birdie putt as her fellow Swede. Carin Koch, was lining up a birdie of her own on the 17th hole (3 down after 10 to Michele Redman, Koch had roared into a one-up lead). Nilsmark, who sank the winning putt in Europe's epic upset at Dalmahoy in '92, lagged to within inches, compelling Rosie Jones to concede the match, and before Nilsmark even had a chance to loose a fist pump, Koch buried her 10-footer at 17 to win 2 and 1. Bang! Bang! The Solheim Cup was over.
Long after the last shot was struck the Europeans were still firing away. "So, do we still need all those international players?" Davies gloated. "This ought to shut up you guys for a while." Of decidedly less good humor was Bradley, who endured the closing ceremonies with the same dour game face she has worn throughout 27 Hall of Fame seasons. At a postmatch press conference Robbins was in the midst of some conciliatory remarks when Captain Pat cut her off. "We were within the rules of the game, and that's the best answer that needs to be given," Bradley said. "When the rules are upheld, the spirit of the game is upheld."
"Whatever," said Sorenstam. "The more blue that went up on the scoreboard, the more I forgot about the incident. We won the Cup in a first-class manner, and that's all that matters."