Day That Begins In Controversy Ends In Glory For U.S. Team

The U.S. had lost the last two Solheim Cups and had to overcome the biggest deficit ever to avoid a third straight and win back the Cup. Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

ST. LEON ROT, Germany -- On Saturday night, U.S. captain Juli Inkster had a simple instruction for her team ahead of the final day. "You've got to play with heart," she told her players. "You've got to play with fire in your belly."

Little did she know that 12 hours later activities on the 17th green in one of the three remaining fourball matches on the course would ignite the kindling in those bellies and set them furiously ablaze. When Alison Lee missed her 11-foot birdie putt, she thought the short return had been conceded. For many hours the exact circumstances of what happened next were clouded in mystery, but the gist was that Norwegian Suzann Pettersen was indignant that Lee had erred in assuming the putt had been given, and the Americans thought there was sufficient evidence that she had believed it was and that the situation should be rectified.

The 18th hole was then played in an atmosphere of growing tension and confusion as Pettersen reiterated her belief, fanning the flames in those American bellies.

The previous evening Cristie Kerr had talked of the American challenge gathering momentum. In a sense, the point Pettersen and her partner Charley Hull had earned, giving Europe a 10-6 lead heading into the singles, had stalled that momentum, but in another, far greater sense, the Americans were stung and ready to hit back.

"We didn't need motivation," said Angela Stanford, "but that said, Alison is a class act. She's respectful of the game and that's what bothered me the most, what they did to her. She didn't deserve that and that's what made me mad."

Paula Creamer said the team room was united: "We were so fired up and ready to get out there and just play good golf. We wanted to win."

For the wounded Lee, the camaraderie was healing. "Seeing all the girls surrounding me and giving me a lot of support, showing me they had my back, it felt great," she said. "I think it really did motivate us all to play well in the afternoon and fire back."

It's one thing to want to overhaul a four-point deficit, quite another to accomplish it -- it had never been done before -- and in the early stages they were up against it. Carlota Ciganda and Lexi Thompson shared 15 birdies as they halved the opening match, whilst behind them Morgan Pressel (3-1-0 in singles) took on fellow singles specialist Catriona Matthew (5-1-1) and beat her by two holes. But Brittany Lincicome, Lee's partner in the earlier session, lost to Karine Icher, and Mel Reid completed an unbeaten week in defeating Brittany Lang.

With eight matches on the course, the visitors needed a minimum of seven points. It was a brutal task, but on Saturday evening Kerr had not only talked of momentum but of a favorite Babe Ruth quote. "You just can't beat the player that never, never, never gives up," he had said. Inkster had reiterated the message and the team had clearly listened. Those final eight players on the course needed to turn the leaderboard red, and they were not in the mood for giving up.

"It was a lot quieter today," Stacy Lewis said of the German galleries. "I knew that had to be a good thing."

"There were a few big screens," added Michelle Wie. "I could see on those screens that a few putts were being made by us. I saw Cristie up there as I was waiting for my putt. 'Walk it in, Kerr,' I said to myself, 'Walk it in.' And she did. It was amazing."

With a growing sense of something special in the cards, the mood across the St. Leon Rot course was changing. The home fans were nervous, the small collectives of American fans were making all the noise.

The tide truly began to turn when the bottom three Americans began to exert control. Cristie Kerr had quickly found herself three down to Charley Hull, but a visit by Nancy Lopez on the fifth hole turned her fortunes around.

"I'm not exactly sure what she told me," said Kerr, "just positive stuff, telling me I was good enough." Her response was extraordinary: nine birdies in 11 holes to complete a 3-and-2 win.

Michelle Wie was almost as impressive, playing the front nine in just 30 shots on her way to a 6-and-4 destruction of Caroline Hedwall. And Paula Creamer, in the bottom match, was gaining control against Sandra Gal. Anna Nordqvist did claim victory over Stacy Lewis, but wins for Lizette Salas over Azahara Munoz and redemption for Alison Lee in her match against Gwladys Nocera brought the possibility of an unlikely turnaround ever closer.

But the margins were now tiny, the Americans could afford no slip-ups, and Gerina Piller was suddenly thrust into the limelight. Leading by two holes on the 17th tee, she lost that hole with a bogey and left herself 10 feet for par on the final green. She had to watch as her opponent, Caroline Masson, played a birdie putt from 12 feet.

Had it dropped, Europe would have retained the Solheim Cup, but it missed and Piller was left needing to complete her own par to keep the dream alive. She did it and Pressel said: "Watching Gerina make that putt, the most clutch putt I've ever seen in my life, just sent shockwaves through our whole team and also to Team Europe."

With two matches left on the course, Creamer remained in command over Gal, so the focus turned to the 16th green where Angela Stanford duly rolled in a birdie from 15 feet to go 2 up on Suzann Pettersen. The great comeback was hurtling toward a conclusion in the most extraordinary fashion. "You couldn't make this up," said a voice in the media tent -- and indeed you couldn't.

The day's drama had begun on 17 and now it returned to that spot, and so did Pettersen. Perhaps even more extraordinary was the fact that it was Stanford who was on the brink of downing her. The Texan had spent the week in a flux, desperate to contribute but aware that she had added no points to the cause in either 2011 or 2013. Worse than that, after two defeats this week, she was facing a 10th successive loss.

"Behind closed doors it was hard," Stanford said afterwards. "It's hard to feel you're not contributing. I wanted to be a good teammate this week, that was my goal." She parred No. 17, so did Pettersen, and a victory (by 2 and 1) was finally hers. What a conquest and what a location to secure it in.

If the final action was a little underwhelming -- Creamer's 4-and-3 victory was assured when Gal failed to make birdie on No. 15 while the U.S. team still celebrating with Stanford -- the team performance was anything but.

The Americans had arrived in Germany hurting. Three straight defeats was unthinkable. They were desperate to stop the streak.

"It's huge," said Pressel. "It's special because being on those two teams hurt and it's extra special coming from so far behind."

For Creamer, the week had added significance after she required a captain's pick.

"This is big," she said. "Everybody questioned why I was here and I'm just so proud of myself and of my team for believing in me and, of course, Juli for picking me. Juli Inkster has not only been my biggest role model but my partner. I'm so proud of her for guiding us and leading us to this victory. What a day. What a great day."

The team sat tight in the aftermath, surrounding the captain they had fought for and who was, herself, slightly bewildered by the remarkable highs and lows of a long day.

"From my emotions this morning," she said, "to my emotions now, my team played so damn good out there. They just never gave up."

Of the controversy, she had had enough: "I'm over it. We got the cup."

Would you do it again in two years' time, she was asked. Inkster hesitated. "I'm going to the Octoberfest," she said, "to drink on it. I mean think on it." Everyone laughed, but her players looked like they wouldn't mind if she returned to the States wanting a shot at glory on home soil.