News & Opinion

U.S. rookies mature quickly in Solheim debut

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – By definition, a rookie on any cup team usually is a player who requires a lot of attention from the captain.

Although hardly incapable or powerless, a rookie often is uncomfortable and rarely emerges as the star of the matches.

During the opening day of the Solheim Cup on Friday at Des Moines Country Club, Americans Danielle Kang and Angel Yin showed no rookie jitters. Captain Juli Inkster can take the training wheels off as her rookies combined to win three points with breakout performances as the Americans opened a 5½-2½ lead (scores: http://bit.ly/1NBfkfF).

Two of those points came in the afternoon four-ball matches, setting up an unprecedented 4-0 American session sweep.

Lizette Salas, playing in her third Solheim Cup, paired with Kang to win in morning foursomes and with Yin to add another point in the afternoon four-ball.

“I think having Lizette with Angel was great for Angel, calming influence,” Inkster said of her pairing. “Angel could get up there with the driver and just bomb it. And she knew Lizette would be in the fairway. And for a bomber, that's big to know that your partner is going to be in the fairway and you don't have to worry about it.”

Inkster lauded Kang for her match-play savvy.  

“Danielle, you know, she's won two U.S. amateurs [2010 and 2011],” Inkster said. “She knows how to play match play. She loves the whole mano y mano thing. She rises to the occasion.”

For Kang, 24, her Solheim rookie debut seemed like more of a get-together with friends and family. She smiled and pumped up the crowd, and her attitude proved to be infectious for playing partners Salas and, in the afternoon, Michelle Wie.

Even in the interview room after her two-point performance, Kang displayed energy.

“I don't think I planned it, but I like the roar,” Kang said of pumping up the crowd on the first hole of the afternoon session, ala a Bubba Watson at recent Ryder Cups. “I like the noise. I wasn't kidding when I said, be so loud that I can't hear people. I like it like that, because I just feed off of the high energy. I'm a very upbeat person. The mellow golf doesn't really fit me very well. If you want to scream, go right ahead. I like it.”

Yin, 18, wasn’t as outwardly playful as Kang, but she possesses her own unique quality of setting a mood.  

For most of her match with Salas, Yin had the 28-year-old in stitches, making the afternoon more a “Seinfeld” episode rather than an afternoon of pressure-packed international match play. They soundly defeated Carlota Ciganda and Emily Pedersen, 6 and 5.

“She made me laugh all day,” Salas said as Yin was speaking a bit nonsensically in their post-match interview.  

Salas and Wie played big parts in the success of Kang and Yin. 

When Kang was losing energy in the afternoon, Wie plied her with energy bars and encouragement.

Yin credited Salas when things weren’t going right for her early in calming her down and imparted an age-old philosophy of simply hitting fairways and greens.

It paid off. When Salas needed Yin on the 13th hole, which would be their last of the day, Yin met the challenge with a 3-wood into the par 4.

“I drove it all the way down to the bottom of the hill,” Yin said with a smile, recalling where her drive on the last hole she played came to rest. “I just want to brag about myself for a second. Drove it all the way down the hill. And she looked at me. She said, Yeah, I need your help. I was, like, I got you. I got you.”

Kang will play with Wie again this morning, in the anchor foursomes match, with Salas and Yin getting to stay in bed a little longer for some much-needed rest. Today’s morning foursomes (Central Time):

* 7:10 a.m. – Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson (Europe) vs. Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson

* 7:22 a.m. – Mel Reid and Emily Pedersen (Europe) vs. Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst

* 7:34 a.m. – Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall (Europe) vs. Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller

* 7:46 a.m. – Catriona Matthew and Karine Icher (Europe) vs. Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang

Although the 12 Americans and their captains know this Solheim Cup isn’t over, they also know that the rookies who came to Iowa hardly are rookies anymore.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli