Controversy soils Solheim Cup
The American women set out to accomplish in the Solheim Cup what the men failed to do in the Ryder Cup -- not just win, but win with class. Sadly, they accomplished neither.
That they failed to win was hardly a crime.
Europe was determined to prove it didn't need any outside help, such as Karrie Webb or Se Ri Pak, and it soundly outplayed the Americans to win for only the second time since the Solheim Cup began in 1990.
Typical of international team play, there were heroic shots and shockingly short misses, tears and cheers, huge swings in momentum and a pressure-packed finish.
That's just the shot in the arm the Solheim Cup needed.
But it could have done without the controversy, for which U.S. captain Pat Bradley ultimately should be held accountable.
"It was very unsporting," said Laura Davies of England.
It should have been avoided.
Toward the end of best-ball matches Sunday morning, with the Americans desperately trying to chip away at a whopping deficit, Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst were 1-up on the 13th hole over Annika Sorenstam and Janice Moodie.
Hurst had about three feet for birdie when Sorenstam holed a 25-foot chip to seemingly halve the hole.
But when Robbins walked back to line up her putt, she realized Sorenstam's ball had been four feet closer to the hole, and thus she had played out of turn.
What to do?
Chief referee Ian Randell was summoned and spelled out rule 10-1c: The Americans could order Sorenstam to replay the shot, or they could allow it to stand.
It was a sensitive situation, and Bradley took the decision over from Robbins.
That was the only smart thing she did.
Such a decision affects the entire team, a burden no single player should have to carry.
Bradley took the hard line and made Sorenstam play the chip shot again.
This time, she missed.
Rules are rules, and Bradley was well within her right.
But while Sorenstam played out of turn, it was clearly unintentional.
Would Robbins have raised the issue -- would Bradley have stepped in -- had Sorenstam missed the chip?
"We played within the rules of the game," Bradley said. "When the rules of the game are upheld, the spirit of the game is upheld."
The spirit of sportsmanship, which distinguishes golf from other major sports, was not.
Sorenstam was in tears, visibly shaken
. Robbins and Hurst went on to a 2-and-1 victory, and the Swede was whipped by Juli Inkster that afternoon in singles.
"Our goal was to make this a first-class event, in the sense we would show the men how to do it," Sorenstam said, a reference to the American's ugly celebration on the 17th hole at the Ryder Cup.
"We all talked about it when we got here," she said. "Personally, I don't think it turned out that way."
Robbins, who had a 3-1 record as the top American player, said later she felt "terrible."
"It was a situation that should never have happened," Robbins said.
The controversy only further damaged a spotty performance by Bradley.
Her captaincy got off to a rugged start in July 1999, when she grabbed the caddie of Dale Eggeling by his shirt collar and screamed at him for coughing during her backswing, which he denied.
Her two selections could be questioned -- every captain's picks could -- but her reasoning made little sense.
She said the final qualifying tournament would be a chance for players to show what they've got.
Brandie Burton played with Bradley in the first round in Portland, Ore., shot an 80 in windy conditions, and was still chosen.
So was Beth Daniel, another one of her pals, who went 0-3-1 for the worst performance by a captain's pick since Curtis Strange was 0-3 in the 1995 Ryder Cup.
And while Bradley expressed concern about having three rookies on her team, she placed them at the bottom of the order in Sunday singles.
True, the Americans trailed 9 1/2-4 1/2 and needed momentum at the top of the lineup, but some experience in the final three matches might have helped.
Still, her biggest mistake was turning her back on the spirit of sportsmanship, then hiding behind the rules.
The only saving grace was that this one didn't come back to haunt her.
And ultimately, this Solheim Cup will be remembered more for the rain, the chemically challenged greens at Loch Lomond and the great play by Europe.
"Everyone realizes that was a mistake, and I'm sure the people involved probably regret it," Davies said. "We were the better team all week, and it would have been a shame if one incident had turned it."
By Doug Ferguson