SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (AP) — Instead of dancing, Juli Inkster dropped to her knees.
Paula Creamer made a 20-footer late Friday afternoon to give the United States a 4 1/2-3 1/2 lead at the Solheim Cup, and make Inkster the highest-scoring U.S. player in the event’s history. The 49-year-old has scored 17 1/2 points, one more than Meg Mallon, now an assistant captain for the U.S. team.
“That just means I’m the oldest,” Inkster cracked after her and Creamer’s 2-and-1 foursome victory over Catriona Matthew and Janice Moodie.
Well, that is true.
But the seven-time major champion can still play, as she showed time and again Friday with sharp iron shots and clutch putts.
“I love playing with Juli,” said Creamer, who also won her fourball match with Cristie Kerr. “We have a great chemistry together on the golf course. We know when we need to talk to each other and when we need to pump each other up, we just have that good connection. We went out, we played good, we got up early and we just stayed there.”
Inkster hasn’t won since 2006, and her best finish this year is a tie for 11th. But U.S. captain Beth Daniel didn’t hesitate to make her a captain’s pick, and Inkster showed why with a critical point against Matthew and Moodie.
The Solheim Cup, much like the Ryder Cup, is part pep rally, part sporting event – cheers of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” echoed all afternoon, and one fan came dressed as the Statue of Liberty – and momentum can be just as big a factor as booming drives and birdie putts.
The Americans led by 1 1/2 points after the fourball matches, and looked to end the day ahead with Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim easily handling Sophie Gustafson and Suzann Pettersen and Inskter and Creamer 3-up after 12 holes.
But Inkster missed par putts on the next two holes, putting a big dent in their lead. With Becky Brewerton and Gwladys Nocera and Maria Hjorth and Anna Nordqvist winning their matches right about the same time, the Europeans seemed poised for a big shift in momentum.
Inkster, however, is quite possibly the most competitive person on the team, and she responded with a spectacular chip on the par-5 15th, running it a foot past the hole from 120 yards. After halving the 16th hole, the worst the Americans could do was a half-point for the match.
“We got them back to 1, and then they made a good birdie at 15 to go back to 2,” Matthew said. “I thought we had a chance there, but can’t do much about that.”
They wanted that full point, though. The Americans need 14 points to win their third straight Solheim Cup while Europe needs 14 1/2 points to win its first on U.S. soil. There are another eight doubles matches Saturday.
Matthew missed a long putt that would have won the hole, leaving Creamer with that 20-footer. Make it, and the Americans finish the day ahead.
Miss, and at least there was still a hole to play. But Creamer struck the ball perfectly, and was pumping her fist before it even dropped in the hole.
“About time my partner made a putt,” Inkster joked. “No, it was good. We had some sloppy play in the middle – I did. The thing with alternate shot, is you’ve just got to ham-and-egg it, do the best you can and ride it out. We were fortunate enough to throw a few birdies in there, and Paula had a phenomenal putt on 17.”
As good a golfer as Inkster is she’s that bad of a dancer, and her celebratory moves are infamous. On Friday night, though, she simply threw back her head and dropped to her knees when the putt went in. The rest of the U.S. team quickly surrounded the two, with Michelle Wie – only a few months older than Inkster’s oldest daughter – giving Inkster a big hug.
Only Europe’s Annika Sorenstam (24 points) and Laura Davies (23) have scored more points than Inkster in Solheim Cup play.
“When I first started playing, I thought I’d play five years and quit, and here I am,” she said. “The Solheim Cup to me is the ultimate golfing venue, and I’m honored to be where I’m at.”
Europe might be in a different spot if it could have gotten something – anything – out of Pettersen and Gustafson, its top pair.
Pettersen, the top European player in the world, and Gustafson came in with a combined 14-7-8 record in doubles, including a 1-0-3 record together. But the two couldn’t get anything going all day Friday, losing in both the morning and the afternoon.
Creamer and Kerr beat them 1-up in fourball, and Gulbis and Kim cruised to a 4-and-2 win.
“Just because they lost, it doesn’t mean they really played bad,” Inkster said. “They just might have run into a buzz saw.”