Vousden on the Solheim

Thought of the Day
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough

The Solheim Cup comes of age
Be honest, right up to the moment that Suzann Pettersen holed the winning putt, in the last match still to be decided, on the 18th green at Gleneagles, you didn’t think Europe were going to win the Solheim Cup, did you?

And neither did most of the several thousand people in the grandstand and lining the hole or, I suspect, the millions watching around the world. All day long it looked as if the Americans were, if not cruising, at least doing enough to keep their noses in front – helped considerably, it has to be said, by some mediocre play by a few of the European players, especially on the greens.

The nerve-shredding, bowel-constricting tension that built up gradually over three days, in which the teams were never separated by more than a point, reached the sort of climax on Sunday evening that appears to be the copyright of team sport. First the cricket World Cup and now this. And if we are brutally frank the Solheim Cup needed exactly this kind of rollercoaster drama because previous results have so often been one-sided.

Four years ago in Germany, America won by the same 14.5 – 13.5 margin as we have seen this year but that was the only previous occasion when things were as dramatically tight. Most Solheim Cups have been pretty one-sided affairs – in the 16 contests to date, nine have been won by four points or more, which is a huge gulf when there are only 28 points up for grabs.

The Ryder Cup has had excitement, tension and pure theatre virtually written into its scripts since the European resurgence started in 1983, with each new instalment threatening to produce even more spectacle than the one before. However, the relative paucity of spine-tingling Solheim Cups – largely due to America steamrollering its way to a succession of comfortable victories – has left the most significant competition in women’s golf worldwide, poorer by comparison.

Not any more. Irrespective of which side won (but thank you, oh Lord for letting it be Europe), the Solheim Cup desperately needed a heart-stopping finale both to showcase the best players and to let the watching world know that women’s golf at the highest level is as engaging, skilful and electrifying as anything served up by the men.

And whisper this quietly, lest I be drummed out of the golf writer’s union, but as a journalist the Solheim Cup is more enjoyable to attend and report on than its male equivalent. The galleries are every bit as partisan and vocal in supporting their respective teams but show none of the hostility and aggression that can mar the Ryder Cup, where the fans (especially in America, it has to be said), can lose sight of the fact that supporting your team and willing them to win doesn’t necessarily mean hating the opposition or baiting them from outside the gallery ropes. Yes, there was banter and chants but it was good-natured and never disrespectful.

The one real negative of the week was the abysmal pace of play over the first two days. I followed the otherwise admirable Carlota Ciganda for a few holes during the Friday foursomes but had to find another match for the sake of my sanity. Her habit of stepping into the ball, looking about ready to hit and then stepping away and going through her whole pre-shot routine again would give a calmer person than me a fit of the vapours. But she was by no means the only one and, as tortoise-like as the men can be, the women are considerably worse and Tours around the world need to start taking drastic action.

A few other Solheim observations. The disco atmosphere on the first tee (even Catriona Matthew danced but trust me, she ain’t got rhythm) may not be golf but it was a heck of a lot of fun, even if the music could be clearly heard on the second green, over 900 yards away. So much for the idea that professional golfers can only hit a shot in complete silence.

There was a welcome absence of face paint among the golfers, which should not come as a surprise seeing as they are all over the age of eight. The overall standard of play was superb but then, too often for people for whom this is their profession, there would be a rank bad shot that should embarrass a mid-teen handicap amateur. Some of the competitors stand astride the line of their putt but I have no idea what this teaches them that cannot be learned by looking down the line from behind the ball, or behind the hole.

Much was made of the inexperience of the American team and its six rookies but Meghan Khang, Marina Alex, Brittany Altomere, Annie Park, Ally McDonald and Nelly Korda were not weak links.

Finally, how do they manage those non-contact hugs where they lean into each other without apparently touching, apart from the compulsory two pats on the back?

It was a heck of a week and one heck of a finish. Let us hope it’s the start of a trend.

Quote of the Week
It [the Solheim Cup] is not unlike going to war, minus the bloodshed and violence.
Christina Kim

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