Paula Creamer went 2-0-3 at the Solheim Cup, and secured the winning point.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Sunday, when it was over at Halmstad Golf Club in southwest Sweden, after the Americans had braved some of the worst weather any of them had ever played in, to win their seventh Solheim Cup (and their second on foreign soil) by a score of 16 points to Europe's 12, one of the U.S. players did a celebratory cartwheel on the practice green. The player wasn't 21-year-old Paula Creamer, who had turned one just like it in front of the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews at last month's Women's British Open. Nor was it 24-year-old Natalie Gulbis, a former gymnast. Going heels over head was Juli Inkster, the 47-year-old mother of two who had just completed her seventh Solheim Cup. "In golf," said U.S. assistant captain Beth Daniel, "we're all the same age."

Inkster's flip punctuated that point, which the predominantly twentysomething American team had made clear all week: Even though the U.S. sported a generation gap, the team was ageless inside the ropes. Youngsters like Creamer and 19-year-old Morgan Pressel, a Solheim Cup rookie, played with the steely purpose of wizened veterans, while seasoned pros such as Inkster, 44-year-old Sherri Steinhauer and Pat Hurst, 38, exhibited the same enthusiasm they had in their first Cups, which in Inkster's case was in 1992, when Pressel was four. Most important, the Americans all embraced the team spirit that seems to elude their Ryder Cup brethren. "This team gets along so well, it's unbelievable," said the 50-year-old Daniel. "I love being around Natalie and Paula and Morgan. I get along with everyone even though I'm older than some of their mothers."

Some players did play age-related roles during the week. For instance, if anyone on the U.S. team had technology issues or needed something downloaded, she went to Pressel, "our computer geek," said Inkster. And yes, it was Pressel, only a year removed from high school, who had provided the team with patriotic face stickers, personalized red-and-blue hair ribbons and a mixed rap CD with a song list that was probably foreign to most people born before the Watergate hearings. But Inkster, who has two teenage daughters, recognized the tunes, as did Daniel, who may be the biggest rap fan on the team. "I listen almost exclusively to hip-hop, which people find hard to believe," she says.

Daniel also made the players a mix. The song list on her CD had a few pointed references to the team's mission and personality, including Glamorous by Fergie, and This Is How We Do It by Montell Jordan. "I also put in Big Girls Don't Cry ," said Daniel. "That one was for Morgan."

Pressel, the youngest American and one known for showing her emotions, didn't cry, flinch or even blink all week. In her first match, while paired with Gulbis in Friday-morning foursomes, Pressel was spared the nerve-racking assignment of going first in front of the singing, chanting, flag-waving crowd on the 1st tee and worked out whatever nerves she had during a 3-and-2 loss to Maria Hjorth and Gwladys Nocera. During Friday afternoon four-balls, Pressel and Creamer showed composure beyond their years when Laura Davies, playing with Trish Johnson, squared their match by making the "par of the century," as Pressel put it, on the 179-yard par-3 16th, one of the most infamous holes in Sweden.

Facing her third straight loss to Creamer in Solheim Cup matches (including a 7-and-5 drubbing in singles in 2005 and a foursomes loss to Creamer and Inkster on Friday morning), Davies, the only golfer to play in all 10 Solheim Cups, stepped onto the elevated tee at 16 and pushed her shot deep into a cluster of trees below. Finding her ball in a root-entangled downhill lie, Davies made a hack that she called "a 36 handicapper's shot," nearly falling on her face with the effort. As she recovered and readjusted her visor, she saw her ball sail through the trees, over a stream and onto the fringe between two bunkers on the opposite side of the narrow green, 50 feet from the hole. From there she stunned the Americans, and no doubt herself, by chipping in. Davies admitted that she had been feeling sorry for herself and Johnson, who had also gone foreright off the tee, as they crunched through the woods. "But all of a sudden it worked out for us," she said. "I hacked it out of that bush and chipped in, and (the Americans) both missed. Things like that happen in golf. It's lovely when they do."

Davies's par won the hole, and after Creamer and Pressel conceded a putt on 18 in the midst of one of the day's frequent squalls, gave the Europeans a halve that kept them within a point of the Americans going into Saturday's matches.

If Friday's biting wind and drenching rain were vicious — when asked to compare the ferocity of the elements with the weather in her home state of Florida, Cristie Kerr came up with Hurricane Andrew — Saturday's forecast was worse. There were no clouds or raindrops on the Halmstad weather graphic for the day, only horizontal lines that looked like a cartoon rocket blast.

The gale-force winds kicked up overnight and scattered debris about the course, forcing a delay of more than two hours at the start of the morning's foursomes matches. The two sides eventually split the session, but the lost time resulted in the afternoon's first four-ball match making it through only 11 holes before play was called on account of darkness. When the matches were resumed in a soggy rain on Sunday morning, Europe had its best session, winning two of the four matches and halving the others to take an 8 1/2 - 7 1/2 lead. Standing on the 18th green after her match, Inkster, who along with Stacy Prammanasudh salvaged a halve against Johnson and Iben Tinning, couldn't remember playing through three straight days of such punishing conditions. "It's hard to showcase women's golf in this weather," she said. "It's simply survival. You bunt it down the middle; you try to bunt it on the green. It would be nice for people to see some birdies."

The people finally did in the afternoon, once the rain stopped. The birdies came courtesy of America's four rookies, who combined for 14 in the singles matches. Prammanasudh, 27, made six against Suzann Pettersen. After squaring the match with a birdie on 13, Prammanasudh pulled ahead with a par on the troublesome 16th, then sealed her point with another birdie on 18, becoming the first American to win a point on the hole.

Four groups behind her was Pressel, who had a feeling that she'd be matched with Annika Sorenstam, the career Solheim Cup points leader. Said Pressel, "I looked at the (pairings) list. It said, Annika. I was like, 'Wow.'"

Yet Pressel was not, like, intimidated. The era's most dominant player went 1 up after three holes, but Pressel squared the match at the 5th and pulled ahead on three occasions before doing the one thing that no other player could do all day — birdie the 16th. Pressel won the match 2 and 1 by equaling Sorenstam's par on 17. "Coming off 15, I saw the leader board and said, 'This is a really important point, my point,'" said Pressel. "I thought it was going to be a little more important than it ended up."

From there on the competition turned into a near rout by the Americans, who would go 8-3-1 in singles. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicole Castrale, who had already justified her selection by Betsy King as a rare rookie captain's pick by earning a point during Friday's four-balls, clinched a tie with Europe, and retention of the Cup, by beating Bettina Hauert 3 and 2. Fittingly, it was Creamer, the Americans' workhorse (2-0-3), who secured the winning point. "Paula is four or five (actually seventh) in the world, and you can see why," said Hjorth after conceding her match against Creamer on the 17th green. "She doesn't make mistakes."

Creamer's teammates, who had rushed to 17 from every corner of the course, swarmed her for a round of hugs. With all the face paintings — some with sparkles — ponytails and hair ribbons, one could be forgiven for mistaking the moment for the triumphant conclusion of a collegiate gymnastics meet.

Before Inkster prolonged that illusion with her perfectly executed cartwheel, the song that they knew they'd eventually hear wafted from distant speakers set up for the closing ceremonies. No, not David Bowie's Young Americans , which would have been a nice touch. It was ABBA's Dancing Queen . This was Sweden, after all.

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