Why Team USA Lost the
Solheim Cup (Colorado Solheim 2013)*
By: Nancy Berkley
was my view from the beginning of the matches that Team USA had an uphill
battle to recapture the Solheim Cup, which they had lost to Team Europe in
2011. I didn't want to write that story at the beginning of the matches and
appear un-patriotic or pessimistic. Instead, I wrote articles (see Cybergolf's
Women's Golf section) that explained the match-play format and some history
about the Solheim Cup.
now is the time to recap the matches and offer my opinion as to why Team USA
was outplayed - or as some say "crushed" - on its home soil.
The "home soil" issue cuts both ways. The theory is that when on your
home turf you're encouraged by your country's fans and motivated to deliver the
prize for them. The crowds cheering "USA! USA!" and dressed in red,
white and blue were expected to motivate our team. For some players, it was.
Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, for instance, asked their cheerleaders in the
stands to warm up the shouting for their entry to the first tee.
But the flip side is that all the talk about home-field advantage probably
created negative pressure on Team USA that compromised their shot-making. And,
when the squad lost more matches than expected on Day 1, pressure grew.
"Why aren't we winning more?" "Why aren't we making those
putts?" Self-doubt is an enemy on the golf course!
You could see that in Stacy Lewis. When she missed a putt, the No. 2-ranked
player in the world would look at her putter, her caddie, green and reappraise
her line. And, if I could read her mind, I think I would have heard, "How
did that happen?" That scenario played out too frequently to build confidence,
an important element in match play. Along with confidence comes the motivation
to take some risks, which Team Europe took. If a bold tee shot went off the
fairway, the Euros' confidently struck comeback shot was usually amazing.
though far from home, Team Europe did have good gallery support. In fact, the
fan support for Team Europe appeared to have been strategically arranged. For
example, there were hospitality tents on Hole 16, and Team Europe had the
best-situated tent right by the 16th green. Team Europe knew where they were
going to need to hear "Ole, Ole" for their players approaching the
green. With three Spanish players on their squad, this traditional Spanish
bull-fight chant worked magic.
And another factor that diminished the home-field advantage for USA is the
increasing visibility of LPGA tournaments on American television. Fans of
women's golf in the United States now see great international players such as
the universally well-liked Azahara Munoz of Spain and the powerful Norwegian,
Suzann Pettersen. Sometimes, a gallery cheers great golf by any player without
regard for the country they were born in.
Momentum also really matters and Team USA couldn't find it.
Match play in a team format like the Solheim Cup depends heavily on momentum
which, when with you, is very empowering. But when it isn't, every defeat or
loss is magnified.
always remember my father's message to me growing up: "A good start is
half the race." How true it is in golf! Team USA got off to a shaky start
and, in spite of plenty of practice rounds at Colorado Golf Club their approach
shots constantly seemed to roll off the fast, heavily undulating (and perhaps
After a press interview with Lewis on Friday following the first-day's matches,
I had the opportunity to ask her privately whether the momentum in team match
play was greater than than what she encounters in her individual stroke-play
tournaments. Her answer was a resounding "Yes."
She explained why she was so concerned with the 30-minute delay caused by an
official ruling for Team Europe's Pettersen and Carlotta Ciganda in Friday
afternoon's match. Lewis said the delay affected the momentum of her teammates
playing the three matches behind her. So the delay in her match with partner
Thompson compounded the personal pressure she felt along with the
responsibility to her team.
Lewis further explained that when players hear chants of "USA! USA!"
and applause in the group ahead of them, they know there's been a Team USA
victory and that builds momentum. Bit the reverse is true. When the applause is
for the opponents - or in this case when a ruling takes too long, every shot
looks harder for your teammates and they feel an extra burden to do well.
That's negative pressure.
Team Europe had the hot putters and the matches were won and lost on the
greens. Yet, Colorado Golf Club, a brilliant design by the team of Bill Coore
and Ben Crenshaw, was perhaps not the fairest course for this international
match. The sprawling course has abundant rough and extremely undulating greens
that were extremely fast the first two days in the 90-degree heat. The putting
surfaces were slightly slower on Sunday after being watered Saturday evening,
causing some players to misjudge the greens early in the day.
Golf Club opened in 2007 as the feature of an upscale real estate development.
When the PGA Senior Championship was played there several years ago, they
requested changes to the course that included adding areas of standard rough
bordering the fairways.
For the Solheim Cup, the layout was brought back to its original design, where
fairways merge into natural scrub grasses. If a player missed the fairway, she
was often either in a bunker or long grass was there was no intermediate rough.
The Solheim teams played the course at just over 7,000 yards. Basically, they
played from the men's black tees and, to give some perspective, the Slope and
rating for male golfers from that distance is 143 and 74.5, respectively. (The
distances was mitigated by the thin air at the venue's location at over a mile
above sea level.)
That means that even the best expert male golfer would not be expected to par
the course. With the way the course was set up for the Solheim Cup, the best
professional female players were faced with difficult approaches on all holes,
including the tee shots at the par-3s.
Team Europe plays on more links courses, and perhaps practiced approach shots
more diligently. Regardless, the bottom line was that Team USA had a hard time
holding the greens with their approaches and faced difficult comeback putts
that they missed more than made. And Team Europe had better approaches and made
more birdies when they had their chances.
Let's hear it for the rookies on Team Europe.
into the tournament, Team Europe captain Liselotte Neumann was questioned about
having a team with six young players. The European rules for the Solheim Cup
allow the captain four picks - players who have not qualified for the team
based on points. American captain Meg Mallon only had two picks.
Neumann obviously wanted a young team and she could get it with her captain's
picks. With age may come wisdom, but match play is about focus and guts. And
that may come easier for rookies. Those are attributes that are required to win
the Solheim Cup, especially on this course, and that's what Team Europe had.
The message here is that every young girl learning to play golf should be
encouraged that the future of women's golf belongs to her.
More match play is coming for more women Tour players.
The LPGA Tour is hoping that fans want more match-play events. Last month they
announced a new tournament, the International Crown, to be played July 22-27,
2014, at the private Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., a Tom Fazio
International Crown is the first-of-its-kind biennial, global and team
match-play competition, featuring eight countries from across the globe and the
top-four ranked players from each of those nations. This is important in light
of the criticism leveled against the Solheim Cup, which does not include any
players from Asia, such as South Korea's Inbee Park and Taiwan's Yani Tseng.
Televising match play has its challenges both for the cameras and announcers.
In following the Solheim Cup both on the course and on-air portions, I think
there's room for improvement on TV. More split-screens are needed and more
footage of previous plays and outcomes would help the viewer understand what's
going on and how other competitors played the holes. The LPGA has a year to
figure out better coverage on the course and I'm betting on them to do that.
So why did Team USA lose the Solheim Cup? You have read my theories, but
perhaps the best quote I heard during the tournament was from Judy Rankin, who
did her usual stellar job in the announcer's booth. As she said, "In match
play, you can play really well, and still lose." That may be the best
explanation for how Team USA lost the Solheim Cup.
Said another way: Team USA just didn't play well enough to win.
Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's
golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book,
"Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by
the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to
women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and
advice about the golf industry onwww.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications.
She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a
founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women
in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens,
Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and
Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write
about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a
good bogey golfer with permanent potential.
*this article first appeared on cybergolf.com/womensgolf.