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Sunday, August 18, 2013
Liselotte Neumann inspired Europe

By Mechelle Voepel
espnW.com

European Team
The biggest motivation for Liselotte Neumann in taking the job as European captain was trying to finally get a win in the U.S. Sunday, her team delivered.

PARKER, Colo. -- Liselotte Neumann was born and raised in Sweden. But her home is the United States.

"I love being in America, and I will probably never move back to Sweden," said Neumann, Europe's Solheim Cup captain. "I've lived longer in America than I have in Sweden, actually. But when it comes to the Solheim Cup, you would probably have a hard time finding someone more Euro than me."

And Sunday at Colorado Golf Club, the Euro in Neumann glowed with pride. For the first time, the Europeans won the Solheim Cup on U.S. soil. The USA-Europe women's team event that began in 1990 with little fanfare in Orlando, Fla., has grown substantially. But the Europeans finally making this breakthrough as the "road" team is a significant moment in this competition. It is their fifth Solheim victory overall.

Liselotte Neumann
Liselotte Neumann wasnt afraid to use the six Solheim rookies on her team, and they repaid her confidence by going 12-5-2.

After an amazing sweep of four-ball play Saturday afternoon set up the Europeans for a splendid Sunday, they delivered the Cup with a decisive 18-10 win. It is the largest margin of victory in the event; Europe won Sunday's singles play 7½ to 4½.

Neumann was the first Swedish woman to win an LPGA major title, in 1987. And while she was then overshadowed by her more successful countrywoman, Annika Sorenstam, once again Neumann's name will always be associated with a "first."

"Oh, it's definitely one of the highlights for me," said Neumann, 47, who won 13 times on the LPGA Tour and eight times on the European circuit. "I just can't tell you how proud I am of all of them. They all really played so well. Everybody has done something great for the team."

The Europeans had their celebration briefly delayed; play was halted at 5:20 p.m. Mountain time because of thunderstorms/lightning with eight matches still on the course and Europe just one point from clinching.

But after 56 minutes, play resumed and it didn't take long for the star of this Solheim Cup -- Sweden's Caroline Hedwall -- to finish off the Europeans' triumph. She clinched their 14th point with her 1-up victory over Michelle Wie. Because the Europeans were the defending champions, they needed only a tie in points to retain the Cup. But they got a lot more than that.

Hedwall, 24, made history of her own by becoming the first player to win five points in one Solheim competition. She definitely made proud the Swedish braintrust that oversaw the European team: Neumann and assistant captains Sorenstam and Carin Koch.

Hedwall
Caroline Hedwall clinched the 14th point for Europe, and in the process, became the first player in Solheim history to go 5-0-0.

"This is really what you practice for, to be part of this moment," said Hedwall, who has yet to win on the LPGA Tour but has won five titles in Europe and three in Australia. "I can't believe this."

It's hard for the Americans to believe it, too. They came in as the big favorites, with far more LPGA titles amongst them (50 to Europe's 21) and more Solheim experience. But the Europeans putted better all three days and never actually looked like the underdogs they supposedly were.

With six Solheim Cup rookies, Europe knew it had to depend a lot on players who had no previous experience in this event, which is now known for its large galleries and raucous cheering. Further, Europe didn't have Solheim stalwart Laura Davies, who had participated in all 12 previous Cup competitions but didn't make the team this year.

But the six Solheim "newbies" more than carried their share of the load: Spain's Beatriz Recari and Carlota Ciganda, Italy's Giulia Sergas, Germany's Caroline Masson, and England's Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Charley Hull combined to go 12-5-2.

That group of Solheim first-timers ranged from the exuberant 17-year-old Hull, who has been a pro since only March, to the 33-year-old Sergas, for whom this surely is a career peak.

Hull was 2-1-0 here, including a 5-and-4 win over Paula Creamer in the second match out on Sunday that pretty much made it clear Europe wasn't going to allow an epic comeback by the Americans.

After that dominant victory was a charming scene: Hull got a golf ball and asked Creamer to autograph it, saying that she had a friend who was a big fan of golf's "Pink Panther." As talented a player as Hull appears to be, she's probably going to be signing a lot of autographs herself over the next several years.

Charley Hull
Charley Hull, at 17 the youngest player in Solheim history, scored a resounding 5 and 4 victory over Paula Creamer -- and then asked for her autograph.

"I didn't really feel that nervous," Hull said. "Because this is how I always look at golf: I'm not going to die if I miss it."

The three Spaniards on the team are all 26 or younger and played well here. Recari was 3-1-0, Ciganda 3-0-0 and Azahara Munoz 2-2-0. Comparisons will be made to Europe's first Ryder Cup victory on American soil, which was in 1987 when there were three Spanish men on the team.

One of them, Jose Maria Olazabal, had been in contact with Neumann and the European women's team, giving them encouragement. He and other European men's players have sent out supportive messages and tweets to the women's squad.

Recari said before this event began that she was inspired by Europe's Ryder Cup victory last year at Medina outside of Chicago.

"If they can do it, so can we," Recari said Wedesday, when -- let's face it -- virtually nobody was picking Europe to seriously challenge for this Solheim Cup. "I'm confident that we're going to start really strong from the beginning, and we're just going to be fearless out there.

"Everybody is reminding us how many times we haven't won in the United States, so there is nothing we have to lose."

Then Sunday, after she looked like a prophet, Recari said, "I don't have words. I mean, even if you interview me in Spanish, I still wouldn't have words. This has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my entire career."

How much does this mean to European women's golf? It has to be a big boost. The first European woman to win an LPGA major was French amateur Catherine Lacoste in 1967. There wasn't another European winner at a women's major for 20 years; that was England's Davies, who took the U.S. Women's Open in 1987. Neumann then won her only major the next year, at the 1988 U.S. Women's Open.

In the 23 years since the Solheim Cup began in 1990, just nine European women have won at an LPGA major championship, and seven of those have just one major title. The exceptions are Sorenstam (10) and Davies (four, one of them before 1990).

Norway's Suzann Pettersen is the current top-ranked European women's player at No. 3 in the world; she has one major among her 11 LPGA victories. She said that while the LPGA is the main focus of the best European women, they still have a place in their hearts for their home continent's tour.

"It was massive for us to win in Ireland a couple of years ago," Pettersen said of Europe's 2011 Solheim win. "To showcase European women's golf; it's growing. There's nothing I would love more than to see the European women's tour grow stronger.

"As much as we love the LPGA, we also fight for European rights in players' meetings. Because we represent Europe, and it's a big part of us and we all care."

With the LPGA Tour still headquartered in the United States and the huge success of Asian players in the past 15 years -- especially those from South Korea -- it's understandable the European women sometimes feel overlooked, especially after their greatest-ever player, Sorenstam, retired in 2008.

"What I think is different in Europe versus here and maybe Asia, I don't think the corporate support has been nearly as strong for women's golf in that part of the world," said broadcaster Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer. "I think that the talent that is over there and that is coming would prosper and would happen even a little bit quicker [with more support]."

Perhaps now, with this Solheim win, more support will come for European women from sponsors. There is also this positive for Europe: There are now two LPGA majors played there -- the Women's British Open and The Evian Championship, a high-profile French tournament that has been elevated to major status this year.

And the next Solheim Cup, in 2015, will be held for the first time in Germany, which had a 2-1-1 performance from the 24-year-old German Masson this year.

Neumann, who was 22 when she won her major a quarter-century ago, knows the ups and downs of women's golf for Europe as well as anyone. Sunday night, as her team sang and danced, Neumann reflected on how trying to finally get a Solheim win in the United States had been her biggest motivation for taking the captain's job.

"I think that's how I talked Annika and Carin into it, as well," Neumann said. "I said, 'We need to go to America and make history. No team has won here before; let's do this.' "

Rookies and all, that's just what Europe did.