Here's what General Custer didn't understand: You have to practice for a last stand. Ask Wendy Ward. Last Friday, Ward and LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel were walking off the 18th tee at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., when Daniel turned to her and said, "You know, we're the only two Americans left standing."
It was Daniel's overly dramatic way of pointing out that she and Ward had to hold on to their one-up lead over Denmark's Iben Tinning and Spain's Raquel Carriedo. Otherwise their opponents would sweep the morning foursomes matches and take a 4-0 lead in the Solheim Cup, the biennial gut-wrencher between teams of women pros representing the U.S. and Europe.
Two days later Ward, a 29-year-old LPGA veteran, must have felt as if she were the only American standing. With her U.S. team down two points after four sessions of pairs competition, Ward drew the toughest assignment of her career—a Sunday singles match against Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, the world's best woman golfer. But this time Ward had her victory with Daniel to draw on, as well as a subsequent foursomes win with her former Arizona State teammate and fellow Solheim Cup rookie, Emilee Klein.
"I knew it was going to be a tough match, but I wasn't that nervous," Ward said, looking eerily calm for a woman whose 18-hole standoff with Sorenstam had keyed an 8�-3� singles route of the Europeans and a 15�-12� U.S. victory. "I knew Annika could be beaten. I mean, it's not like I haven't gone head-to-head with her before."
Call it back-to-the-wall desperation, call it a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, call it what you like, but that last-stand mentality is what carried Ward and her teammates to victory at Interlachen. Flag-waving Juli Inkster, who suffered defeat with two partners before winning in foursomes on Saturday, beat Carriedo 4 and 3 in Sunday's first match and spent the rest of the day leading cheers. Meg Mallon beat England's Laura Davies 3 and 2 in match 9. Asked why the Americans always seem to prevail in singles, Mallon replied without hesitation: "Because we have to."
Then there was 42-year-old Rosie Jones—or "my little Rosebud," as U.S. captain Patty Sheehan unapologetically called her. Jones, playing in her fifth Solheim Cup, was asked earlier in the week what would happen if she drew Sorenstam on Sunday. "If she faces me, I am going to beat her," Jones replied. "There is no pressure; just take her out and bring her down." The feisty Jones never got that opportunity, but she did take out and bring down 23-year-old Karine Icher of France 3 and 2 for the point that put the Americans over the top.
It should be noted that this was a civil Solheim Cup, awash with mutual respect and good sportsmanship from players and spectators alike—nothing like the sour, teary matches of 2000 at Loch Lomond, Scotland, which the Euros dominated. "I've had so many Americans wishing me luck," said Davies, "and it's genuine."
The good feeling held up despite a widely circulated critique of the U.S. side by 2003 European captain Catrin Nilsmark, who bent noses out of joint with her characterizations of Cristie Kerr ("a little brat"), Kelli Kuehne ("a real Texas girl, the loudest of them all") and Michele Redman ("absolutely no talent"). Nilsmark, in an unintended act of statesmanship, injured her back and stayed away.
Her loss. The American comeback reminded many of the 1996 matches at Chepstow, Wales, which the U.S. stole with a 10-2 singles blitz. Only this time the outcome was in doubt until the very end, hinging, as it did, on the Sorenstam-Ward match.
How did a Solheim rookie with only three career LPGA victories end up with so much weight on her shoulders? Credit the format. Match play transforms golf from a game of dry statistical probabilities into something more volatile. In stroke play, for example, Sweden's Carin Koch is a tentative putter who often leaves the ball short of the hole in pressure situations; that's why she has only one victory in eight LPGA seasons. But at Interlachen, with no cumulative score to protect, a bolder Koch holed long putts from every point of the compass. "I wish I could do it every week," said a wistful Koch, who scored a record 4� of five possible points and remained unbeaten after eight Solheim Cup matches.