U.S. team sent packing early
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Stacy Lewis carried a flag, and Paula Creamer had one draped scarf-like around her neck. They were observers while U.S. teammates Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr were on the No. 16 green. The sun was beginning to set at Caves Valley Golf Club on the last day of pool play at the International Crown.
The sun was also about to set on the Americans' hope of winning this inaugural event. Thompson and Kerr lost a playoff to South Korea's Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu. With that, the hosts were sent to the sidelines. Only the top five teams advance to Sunday's singles play, and the United States won't be one of them.
The No. 1-seed American team -- made up of players ranked Nos. 1, 5, 10 and 12 in the world -- will be watching, not playing, Sunday.
Actually, they might not even be watching. They still seemed stunned and in disbelief when it was over Saturday and admitted it had not crossed their minds coming into this event that they might not be in action on the final day.
"I have no idea what I'll be doing tomorrow," Thompson said. "We're still absorbing it."
It won't feel any better when they wake up Sunday and know five other countries -- Japan, Sweden, Spain, Thailand and South Korea -- will play for the International Crown. A trophy will go to the winning team, but the four players will also get real crowns as individual trophies.
"I wanted to wear that crown," Creamer said.
There were several decades in which the United States was top-notch royalty in women's golf, but the LPGA Tour has gone totally global, especially in the past decade. But does that explain why the United States has lost two consecutive Solheim Cups -- they were demolished in the most recent, the past August in Colorado -- and now won't even have a chance to play for this team championship?
"I don't think I do have the answer," said Kerr, who, at 37, is the oldest on the U.S. team. She then hastened to defend American women's golf's being in very good shape. The tournament results this year confirm that.
I don't think I do have the answer.Cristie Kerr
"I think you have to look at the overall body of work, and what the Americans have done the past couple of years on tour," she said. "Especially this year."
Indeed, U.S. players have won 11 tournaments thus far in 2014, including all three majors. But it's interesting that Kerr used the phrase "body of work." Where else do we hear that?
When it comes to seeding for the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, of course. We know "body of work" and a great seed don't always translate into victories. That's part of what March Madness is all about.
While the International Crown isn't one-and-done, the United States' losing both matches to No. 8 seed Taiwan in the first round of pool play Thursday was akin to a bracket-buster. Even though the Americans rallied Friday to win both their matches against Spain, going pointless that first day cost them.
"It ended up being the thing that kind of bit us in the butt," Kerr said. "It wasn't [Friday] or today. We all played our hearts out."
Maybe they played hard, but Saturday they won just one of their matches against Thailand, a nation whose top-ranked player is No. 28 Pornanong Phatlum. She's never won an LPGA title, and her playing partner, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, competes mostly on the Japanese tour.
Yet with Phatlum going on a birdie binge -- she had eight -- the Thai duo beat Lewis and Creamer 1 up. Kerr and Thompson previously had defeated the Jutanugarn sisters, Moriya and Ariya, in the other USA-Thailand match, but that left the United States with just six points, same as No. 2 seed South Korea. It was time for sudden-death.
Considering Thompson leads the LPGA Tour in driving distance and easily outdrove the other three on the playoff hole, you would have expected her to be the favorite to win the hole on a par-5.
But this advantage didn't go the Americans' way, either. She was almost on the green in two, but her ball rolled backward and into a divot. That left her with no choice but to putt uphill, rather than chip, to get back on the green.
The playoff counted the scores of all four players: Park and Ryu got birdies, Kerr and Thompson ended up with a birdie and a par, respectively. And that was that. Welcome to the final day of a new LPGA event without Americans playing.
There will be plenty of second-guessing about the format, including whether all eight teams should advance to Sunday's singles play. Considering the USA ended up two points off Japan's lead of eight but still didn't advance, does that indicate a flawed format?
Or does it just mean the United States, on home soil and with the No. 1 player in the world, simply didn't get it done?
The Americans now will go back to the individuality of the LPGA Tour. The next team event is the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany. All things considered, you have to say the Americans would now be considered underdogs against the Europeans.
"I think as a team, and the other Americans sitting watching us right now, we're very motivated," Creamer said. "Germany is going to be coming up soon."
Maybe not soon enough. The United States will have to wait at least another year to win as a team. And who knows? If the trend continues, it might end up being longer than that.