Captain Meg Mallon makes no excuses
PARKER, Colo. -- Earlier this month, Stacy Lewis was able to end the streak of LPGA major championships without an American winner at 10. She did that with a victory at the Women's British Open, which seemed a great omen for the Solheim Cup that followed two weeks later.
It didn't work out that way, though. Lewis and the U.S. team, despite being big favorites, ended up being walloped by the Europeans in the Solheim Cup 18-10.
It was the largest margin of victory in the 13 renditions of the USA-Europe women's team competition. The big, boisterous crowds at Colorado Golf Club likely thought they'd have the crystal trophy back in U.S. possession on Sunday night. Instead, the Americans were left trying to explain how they lost it for the second time in a row and the first on U.S. soil.
"We ran into a buzz saw," said Cristie Kerr, who is the most experienced U.S. player but had a record of 1-2-1 this week.
The U.S. team didn't seem as downcast as you might have expected Sunday, perhaps because they were facing such long odds going into singles play that they were prepared for the worst.
While the Americans got an inspirational pep talk Saturday night from former U.S. soccer stars Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy -- friends of captain Meg Mallon -- that wasn't enough to turn around the 10½ - 5½ deficit they faced going into Sunday.
The Cup was essentially lost with a disastrous Saturday afternoon in four-balls, when the Americans put out what Mallon thought were four very strong pairings -- and all four lost.
"That's the nature of match play," Mallon said.
Lewis, the top-ranked player at this competition at No. 2 in the world behind South Korea's Inbee Park, had a 1-2-1 record in her second Solheim Cup. That puts her career record at 2-5-1. Her Solheim debut was in 2011, when the Americans lost in Ireland.
Lewis said earlier this week that '11 Solheim defeat had spurred her individually over the past two years, during which time she was LPGA player of the year (2012) and briefly ranked No. 1. She was asked Sunday night how this Solheim defeat might impact her.
"This one's completely different," Lewis said. "Ireland -- we thought we had that, and it was kind of stolen from us at the end [when Europe won singles play]. So it was kind of a shock. This one's just a different feeling because we got outplayed."
Indeed they did. The Americans never seemed to get the hang of the fast greens at this course, while the Europeans did.
"We have had enough practice rounds out here; it was just making the key putts at the key moments," said Paula Creamer, who saw her career Solheim record go to 12-6-5 after a 1-3-0 performance this week. "And they seemed to do that better than we did.
"Meg said it, that [holes] 16, 17 and 18 weren't quite our friends. And I'm not sure how else we would play those holes differently. We all had a great strategy, we just didn't get the job done. It's nothing to do with egos or any of that -- we were one. We really were. Our golf games need to get a little bit sharper at the right moments."
Mallon didn't make any excuses for the American team, either.
"I thought this golf course was in fabulous condition," Mallon said. "It's nothing to do with that. We just didn't make the putts.
"I said to you guys in the beginning of the week, that was my concern. [Europe] was such a young team, with nothing to lose, it just seemed like they were a little bit looser, they were making more putts, and we were not."
Mallon's two captain's picks, Michelle Wie and Gerina Piller, didn't play poorly. Wie went 2-2-0, and Piller 0-2-1. Both of Piller's losses were with partner Angela Stanford, who struggled in the Solheim Cup for the second time in a row. Stanford went 0-4-0, after going 0-3-0 in Ireland two years ago. Stanford's career Solheim record is now 3-11-3.
The best American performer this week turned out to be Brittany Lang, who was playing in her third Solheim Cup and went 3-1-0. Her 2-and-1 victory over Spain's Azahara Munoz in the third match out Sunday was the only USA point on the board before Sweden's Caroline Hedwall won Europe's Cup-clinching point two matches later.
The Americans have gotten used to a lot of questions about their performances on the LPGA Tour in general. It's not the tour of yesteryear, when Americans dominated for decades. It hasn't been that tour for a long time; the women's game is too global now.
Will there be second-guessing and criticism of the Americans for this Solheim loss? Of course. But Mallon said before this Solheim Cup started that the ultimate winner of this event was always women's golf.
"We don't have the luxury, as a women's sport, to be divisive," Mallon said. "It's about showcasing women's golf. For us, this week is probably one of the most important weeks in a two-year span because we get the most attention, and people actually get to see how great these guys play under a tremendous amount of pressure."
For this event, though, what people saw was the European team handling that pressure better.
"This is going to be four years now without the Cup," Creamer said of the wait until 2015 to try to get it back in Germany, site of the next Solheim competition. "And that's a long time. We all want it."