COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND | Up at the Walker Cup, Jim Holtgrieve, the engaging U.S. captain, was asked a question which took him more than a little aback. Namely, what advice would he have for the U.S. Ryder Cup men who seemed to have rather more of a struggle than their Walker Cup counterparts in conjuring up the right atmosphere?
Holtgrieve’s reply, which he prefixed with a humorous, “You’re going to get me into trouble,” was that the camaraderie among the amateurs was altogether better. He added that once amateurs (the American variety) turned professional and started to play for money, they tended to go their own separate ways. The European players, in contrast, were more likely to stick with the friendships they had forged in amateur days.
At Killeen Castle, Rosie Jones, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain, was quizzed along much the same lines. Did she sense that the U.S. Solheim Cup women, like the Walker Cup men, found it easier to work as a team than their Ryder Cup counterparts? Like Holtgrieve, she answered in the affirmative.
In her opinion, it was all about putting egos to one side in a match week. “Our players do that. Do they do it better than the men? I would hope so.”
Jones mentioned how Juli Inkster, who was at once an assistant captain and a team member, had helped in advance with the process of whipping up good vibes among potential team members. In weeks when she was playing tournaments and Jones was absent, Inkster had organised on-tour get-togethers.
Paula Creamer was next to venture an opinion. “We love representing our country,” she began. “I’m not saying that the men don’t but, as Rosie has said, we have been hanging out together for the last two years. We try to make time (for each other) because this is such a big week.”
Not wanting to get into deeper water, Creamer handed over to the more experienced Inkster, whose first instincts were to speak out in defence of America’s Ryder Cup men. As she sees it, they get “an unfairly bad rap” for failing to bond.
She could be right, but not too many followers of the game have been able to forget what happened at Oakland Hills in 2004 when Hal Sutton paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the foursomes. The look of ill-concealed contempt on Woods’ face as Mickelson made a hash of their all-important drive at the 18th was one of the abiding memories of the week. For the record, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, who had been 3 down after four, bagged the point.
The first of the practice days in 2004 furnished another example of how the Americans were not “in it together” to the same extent as the visitors. Both teams, for one reason or another, were struggling with their early tee shots but, where the Europeans were poking fun at each other’s mistakes, the Americans politely pretended theirs were not happening.
Inkster backed up the sympathy with a sentence which could leave Davis Love III, next year’s Ryder Cup captain for Medinah, in something of a quandary. “It’s more a girl thing and a guy thing,” she suggested, helpfully.
“Girls,” she said, “like to chat and go out to dinner and braid each other’s hair.” (Cristie Kerr, who was sitting at her side, chose to illustrate the point by reaching for her single plait and pointing to how the prettily criss-cross effect was the work of one of her teammates.)
Come in Morgan Pressel, the U.S. player who spent long hours organising hair ribbons bearing all the individual player names and overseeing tattoos (the temporary variety) for their faces. She and Creamer were liberally bedecked in both for the Friday four-ball in which they holed putts from everywhere to beat Laura Davies and Melissa Reid.
Pressel knew that one of the commentators at the 2010 Ryder Cup had made laughing reference to her hair ribbons but she strongly maintains that such things as braiding and bonding go together.
“Just take the dinner,” she said, in a reference to the pre-match banquet. “We were ringing each other for weeks discussing what we were going to wear. Then, in the hours leading up to the event, we were all in the same room getting our hair fixed. The men, at least the ones I know, are obviously not going to come together to talk about such things as jackets, ties and hair-dos.”
Karen Stupples, playing in her second Solheim Cup and a keen observer of every Ryder Cup, proffered a European point of view. She went along with everything Holtgrieve and Jones had said before putting a different interpretation on Inkster’s “girl thing and guy thing” theory.
To her, women make for better team members than men because most of them – though heaven knows not all – are prepared to compromise.
“It’s something that we’re used to doing,” she said, with a knowing air. “Anything for a bit of peace.”