WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The team sessions that set the stage for Solheim Cup singles – foursomes and four-ball twice each – are an endurance test mentally and physically. Sometimes, players get to Sunday with little left in the gas tank. Europe has to hope the United States has a serious fuel shortage this year.
With a record record-tying five-point lead at 10½ to 5½, the Americans will be nearly impossible to catch. But remember all those cheers and the players egging them on? Remember all that dancing and celebrating? While that kind of atmosphere puts you on an adrenaline high, it also takes a lot of you. The crash can be dramatic – and sudden.
That likely will be part of what captain Juli Inkster tells her players Sunday morning, reminding them that it ain’t over until it’s over. And, as a player, few ran to the finish line as hard as Inkster.
Certainly, having the home crowd will help the Americans not have a let down, but Europe also had that advantage when it lost a four-point lead on Sunday in Germany in 2015. In 1998, the United States rode a five-point lead to a 16-12 victory.
This has certainly been a display of domination by the U.S. team. After splitting the morning foursomes matches on Saturday, the U.S. side won three of the four afternoon four-ball competitions, giving it a two-day record of 7-1 in that format. In fact, Europe never had the lead in seven of the eight better-ball matches.
When Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall defeated Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller 2 and 1 in the third foursome match Saturday morning, it was the first point for Europe in more than 24 hours. And it seemed longer than that.
Part of what’s shown over the first two days is the simple fact that the Americans are the more experienced side by half, combing for 36 previous Solheim Cups to 24 for Europe. That experience advantage has been huge. After the morning foursomes, all 12 Americans had scored while six Europeans were still shutout.
The Americans are knee-deep in heroes here. Cristie Kerr has quick-walked her way to being the all-time scoring leader for her team. Lizette Salas has successfully taken 18-year-old Angel Yin under her wing. Danielle Kang made just about every putt she looked at. And Brittany Lincicome birdied the first six holes of her Saturday better-ball match. Wow, just wow.
Meanwhile, Annika Sorenstam, the captain for Europe is juggling a depleted line-up that’s missing the injured Suzann Pettersen as well as having Charley Hull sitting both Saturday sessions with a sore wrist. Sorenstam popped up everywhere, trying to inspire her over-matched team.
In the afternoon, she had her players not competing putting on the first green. She had them pumping fists and celebrating after they made putts. She told them to imagine winning. After the results of the first two days that requires a vivid imagination.
A cool thing about the Solheim Cup is how the cheers and chants of “USA” resound from other holes, sometimes so loud players wait until they subside before hitting. It’s an audio reminder that, on this week, golf is a team game. One of those triggering massive roars has been Yin, an LPGA rookie who dazzled with her power.
On No. 5 of her four-ball match with Salas, the ferocity with which the ball left her driver elicited gasps from the gallery – and some unprintable words of admiration. She hit the par-5 in two and rolled in the eagle putt.
On No. 6, she hit it 332 – 85 yards past Salas, then feathered a wedge to four feet to follow her eagle with a birdie. Yin is a player with a seemingly endless upside, a raw talent who only needs a little bit of polish.
As for the fatigue factor, Hall, a 21-year-old from England who seems to be another star waiting in the wings for her turn on stage, is the only player who will play all five matches. But 14 players – six for Europe and eight for the U.S. – will be competing for a fourth time to cap off an exhausting week.
Is the hill for Europe too steep to climb? Perhaps. But that’s why we love sports. That’s why we play the game. You never know what’s going to happen. Momentum is a fickle friend that can turn with shocking suddenness.
Another thing Inkster likely will be reminding her team Sunday: Remember what we did in Germany and don’t let Europe do that to us.