WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – It’s over. The only thing in doubt is the final score of the 15th Solheim Cup.
Twelve American women have taken the Europeans to the brink with a 10½-5½ lead through two days at Des Moines Country Club. A 37-under performance in Saturday’s four-ball session produced a 3-1 session victory, netting seven of eight points over two days in better-ball play (scores: http://bit.ly/1zkYSEX).
For only the second time in Solheim Cup history, a U.S. team has amassed 10½ points before singles play. Not since 1998 has the U.S. led going into the singles, coincidentally by the same 10½-5½ score, and the Americans won handily, 16-12, at Muirfield Village.
Of course, European captain Annika Sorenstam could point to the 1999 Ryder Cup, when the U.S. men rallied from 10-6 deficit to win, 14½-13½. Or at Medinah in 2012, when the European men returned the favor, rallying from a 10-6 hole to win, 14½-13½.
The U.S. women’s comeback at the Solheim Cup in Germany two years ago, when they faced a 10-6 deficit entering Sunday singles, likely would be a rallying cry for Sorenstam. However, erasing a five-shot deficit will prove to be too much.
“We've been giving out MantraBands every night,” Sorenstam said. “She believed she could and so she did. That's what they're getting tonight. And we're going to talk about that, and I'm going to tell them that every “she” is every player. Just have to go out there and believe in themselves, focus on their own matches and don't look at any leaderboards. Like you’re getting in a boxing ring with an opponent. Just punch ’em.”
The boxing analogy might miss its mark against a U.S. team that through two days has shown no weak links. To expand on that pugilist talk, the Americans, pound for pound, have proved to be stronger and better than the Europeans.
The week started with Europe showing resolve in winning the Friday morning foursomes session, 2½-1½. Since then, it’s been all U.S.
Starting with Friday afternoon’s four-ball play and continuing through both sessions Saturday, the Americans outpointed the Europeans, 9-3.
On Saturday afternoon, the U.S. eight led in 49 of their 67 holes. Both captains noted that the Americans played remarkably good golf.
“We played probably better than well; we played amazing,” U.S. captain Juli Inkster said. “But as you know, closing it out is the toughest thing to do. And we need one more great day of golf.”
Something short of “great golf” would be enough. As defending champions, the Americans need only 3½ points to retain the cup and four points to win it outright.
Today’s pairings (all times Central):
- 9:31 a.m. – Anna Nordqvist (E) vs. Lexi Thompson (U.S.)
- 9:42 a.m. – Georgia Hall (E) vs. Paula Creamer (U.S.)
- 9:53 a.m. – Mel Reid (E) vs. Cristie Kerr (U.S.)
- 10:04 a.m. – Catriona Matthew (E) vs. Stacy Lewis (U.S.)
- 10:15 a.m. – Karine Icher (E) vs. Angel Yin (U.S.)
- 10:26 a.m. – Caroline Masson (E) vs. Michelle Wie (U.S.)
- 10:37 a.m. – Jodi Ewart Shadoff (E) vs. Lizette Salas (U.S.)
- 10:48 a.m. – Charley Hull (E) vs. Brittany Lang (U.S.)
- 10:59 a.m. – Carlota Ciganda (E) vs. Brittany Lincicome (U.S.)
- 11:10 a.m. – Florentyna Parker (E) vs. Gerina Piller (U.S.)
- 11:21 a.m. – Madelene Sagstrom (E) vs. Austin Ernst (U.S.)
- 11:32 a.m. – Emily Pedersen (E) vs. Danielle Kang (U.S.)
The singles session historically has belonged to the Americans. Since the current 28-point format was adopted in 1996 that expanded singles matches from 10 to 12, the fewest number of points that the U.S. has amassed in singles was 4½, in 2013. Since 2005, the Americans have racked up a 42-30 score in singles.
“It's like having a 10-shot lead going into the last round,” said Inkster, who added: “It's kind of nerve-racking.
“But I just love where my players' heads are at right now. They haven't said one thing in the locker room. They just were all putting the team, the lineup together and asking everybody where they would like to fall, where they felt comfortable.”
Sorenstam will have a difficult time getting her team to forget Saturday’s onslaught.
“There's been a lot of comebacks in sports in general,” said Sorenstam, a World Golf Hall of Fame member whose 72 victories include 10 major championships. “Let's not just focus on just golf. Sports, life in general. March 16, 2001, before I teed off, nobody had shot 59. I'm still the only one [in women’s golf] that's done that. I know it's possible. … History can be made. Hope is the last thing that's going to leave us. And we're determined. We didn't fly these miles to not put up a fight. The fight is not over yet.”
The fight might not be over, but the visitors have taken a beating. It would be easier to shoot 59 than for the Europeans to win the nine points needed to win the cup.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli