THOSE familiar with the delightful meanderings and musings of Bill Bryson will be aware that the American author came from Des Moines, Iowa. “Somebody had to,” wrote Bryson as an opening gambit to his book, The Lost Continent. Next week, amid the Iowa cornfields of Bryson’s own gate end, two continents will collide as the USA and Europe parry and joust in the Solheim Cup. The powers that be should get Bryson to hand out the decorative clump of Waterford crystal to the winners. Somebody has to, after all.
While the women’s game as a whole is dominated by Asian golfers, the Solheim Cup continues to ascend to new heights of prominence. Lexi Thompson, the world No 2, may be the only player from either side in the top 10 of the global rankings but this biennial bout has never been more relevant.
Nor has it been more heated. The last meeting of the two sides in Germany in 2015 sparked the kind of shuddering international incident that would make the posturings of President Trump and Kim Jon-un look like a couple of over-zealous frat boys showing off behind the bleachers.
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen ignited the blue touch paper when, in a crucial fourballs encounter, she claimed she hadn’t conceded a 16-inch putt to Alison Lee after the US rookie had scooped her ball up believing it had been given. A frightful palaver ensued, with both Lee and Pettersen’s partner, Charley Hull, left in tears and finger-wagging and hissy fits taking place all over the place.
The US team had been 10-6 down but harnessed their fury at that episode and mounted a rousing fightback to win 14½ – 13½ and thwart Europe’s bid for an unprecedented third successive win.
The flag-waving, face-painted, whooping, hollering locals will no doubt make Pettersen aware of that chapter when things get under way on Friday.
“You do get reminded by some random fan here and there, but I think the media kind of dragged that incident on and on and on, much more than we players and whoever was involved did,” said Pettersen, who ended up issuing a public apology. “I feel like everyone that was involved kind of cleared that up fairly quickly and all moved on. But, going back to the US, we are on foreign ground and the crowds are going to be bigger than they have ever been. The more we can keep the crowds quiet, I think that’s our biggest goal. I would still say we are a massive underdog, though.”
The embers, then, are still smouldering away and are preparing to be stoked. Six years ago, those fires of competition seemed to be petering out as a dominant US side arrived in Ireland aiming for a fourth successive victory. On a thrilling final day, though, Europe rallied and won 15-13 to inject the contest with renewed vigour. A record-busting 18-10 win in Colorado two years later – Europe’s first on American soil – galvanised the transatlantic tussle even further.
With the struggling Ladies European Tour in turmoil – Ivan Khodabaksh, the embattled chief executive, stood down last week amid mounting pressure – the Solheim Cup qualifying process has hardly been plain-sailing. Georgia Hall, who topped the European points list, has played in only five events on her home tour this season. Along with her English compatriot, Florentyna Parker, the duo have been encouraged to seek competitive action elsewhere to keep their instincts sharp ahead of the biggest event of their careers.
“We have tried to get some of these LET players to get playing opportunities, whether it’s Symetra Tour or whether it’s getting invitations to LPGA events,” said the European captain Annika Sorenstam, whose 12-strong side features four rookies. “It’s not a secret that Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker were leading in the LET points, but if they hadn’t played on the LPGA, they wouldn’t have had any tournament experience coming into August. And that’s just the reality of it, but luckily they have. That’s why Florentyna has been flying around the world – Korea, Thailand – just trying to get playing opportunities, and Georgia has played in the US a few times.”
Juli Inkster, the US captain, has had her own problems to deal with too. Jessica Korda, the four-time LPGA Tour winner, was forced to withdraw from the team the other day. Her replacement is not a bad name to call on, though. Paula Creamer, the former US Women’s Open champion, missed out on a wild card but the 31-year-old has been drafted in at the last minute to earn a seventh successive appearance in the contest.
Bryson may have been happy to leave Des Moines but all roads lead back there this week.
Source : HeraldScotland