SOLHEIM CUP

"A cauldron of noise and colour" - the Solheim Cup first tee

1Sttee

You could hear it long before you saw it. 

All week, we had been told how the first tee of the Solheim Cup would be rocking long before the sun came up on the opening morning. It sounded like bravado. Turns out it was a promise.

By 7am, an hour-and-a-half after the gates of the club opened and fully 70 minutes before Mel Reid hammered away the first shot of the match, the stands horse-shoeing around the first tee were almost at capacity, a raucous sea of red, white and blue.

It wasn’t long before the first chant of ‘USA, USA’ went up, the heavily outnumbered Europeans trying valiantly to respond with an ‘Olé, olé, olé’ of their own. That only made the home fans louder.

Solheim Cup1Stteepano

Say what you like about Americans but they love their country. Their patriotism is as unmatched as it is unbridled. Thing is, their favourite sports, in the main, don’t lend themselves readily or often to international competition. The NFL, the MLD, the NBA, the NHL – all huge, all parochial. It’s rare they compete as the ‘United States of America’ in the sports they care most about.

Courtesy of the Ryder, Solheim, Walker, Curtis, PGA and Presidents Cups, golf delivers them that opportunity. And vocal chords be damned, they make the most of it.

On the rare occasion that the decibel level dropped below ‘deafening’, a DJ – located in the bowels of the stand – cranked it back up with a set-list that could most accurately be described as eclectic. From Keith Urban to will.i.am via Justins Timberlake and Bieber, the atmosphere was propped up by a stirring soundtrack. It wasn’t necessarily required but it helped.

Shortly before 8am, members of both teams began to appear on the tee, making their way through a strobe-lit tunnel and puffs of smoke, and past the Solheim Cup itself. If anybody needed reminding of what’s at stake this week, there it was, glinting away.

The announcement at 8am that live coverage had begun on the Golf Channel was greeted by a huge roar and fireworks.

To the comprehension of nobody, the DJ then took the opportunity to blast out ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ by the Baha Man although you have to figure he soon realised the inappropriateness of that decision when he cut it short. Well short.

Its place in the air was filled by an acapella refrain of ‘God Bless America’ from the largely US crowd, who celebrated at its conclusion with thunderous applause. Like I said, they love their country.

Mel Reid

After that, it was down to business.

Mel Reid and Charley Hull versus Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr in match one, with Mel handed the honour of hitting the first shot.

Down the middle. Cheers, applause.

Thompson followed.

On the green. Whooping, hollering, cranking it up to 11.

Barely had the players cleared the tee than Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson took their place followed by Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang.

Ciganda with the honour for Europe. Piped down the middle. Next up, rookie Kang, below, who channeled her inner ‘Bubba Watson’ by encouraging the crowd to scream and cheer as she hit her first Solheim shot. Was it pre-planned? Was it spontaneous? Maybe she wanted to feed off the good vibes. Maybe it was an antidote to nervousness, which would surely only have been exacerbated by the complete silence of 7,000 pairs of eyes trained on her. Either way, she hammered one down the middle and practically floated off the first tee, followed by her caddie who continued to beckon the crowd to make noise. 

Danielle Kang

Match No.3. Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall versus the US duo of Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst.

Hall, the much-hyped young English golfer, was a measure of cool and calm as she striped her own maiden Solheim shot down the middle, followed in quick measure by Ernst. Creamer, a late replacement for the injured Nelly Korda, gave her rookie teammate a squeeze of the shoulders as they left the tee.

It was interesting, too, to note how understated Creamer looked. No face paint, no American flags pinned in her hair. Just a few red, white and blue garlands. This first happened two years ago at the behest of captain Juli Inkster who wanted her players to tone down the accessories and turn up the professionalism. She’s quite right, too. For the Solheim Cup to continue on its upward trajectory, it needs to be seen as a credible alternative to the Ryder Cup and, in sport, credibility and professionalism are closely aligned. You can nail your colours to the mast without actually wearing them. By making her players less concerned about their own image, Inkster has in turn and at a stroke improved that of the match. 

Creamer And Ernst

Last but not least, match No.4. Karine Icher and Catriona Matthew versus Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller. Two more near-perfect drives.

With that, the stands rapidly emptied. They’ll fill again at lunchtime for this afternoon’s fourballs.

They’ll be red. They’ll be white. They’ll be blue.

They’ll be loud.

Very, very loud.  

All those people who scoff at women's golf must be feeling rather foolish now. Your humble pie is on its way.

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