Power to the pod, and other Solheim Cup notes

The 2017 Solheim Cup showcased great golf in nice weather with raucous fans. And even though Team USA threatened to run away with things after the team matches, Sunday featured its share of drama. Here are a few notes and quotes.

Image of Solheim Cup graphic

WITH THE U.S. Solheim Cup victory on Sunday, the pod system that Paul Azinger used with success in the 2008 Ryder Cup now has a 4-0 record for Team USA. Davis Love III revived it for last year’s Ryder Cup victory, and now U.S. captain Juli Inkster has won consecutive Solheim Cups by creating teams within the team.

Azinger developed the managerial strategy based on how Navy SEALS live and work together. His thinking was that golfers follow a me-against-the-world mindset throughout the year, and can find it hard to transition to team-first thinking at the Ryder Cup — especially in the tiny time-frame of one week.

Inkster adopted the philosophy and used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 2015 to create her pods. In light of that team’s stunning comeback victory, she stuck to the pod system for 2017.

“People say when you break them down into pods, they don’t really communicate with the other eight players,” Inkster said Sunday. “And I think it’s the opposite. I think when you’ve got small groups like that, I think it’s easier to communicate with the other people. And whether it works or not, I just think they learned to play for each other. It’s a little easier.”

Here were her groups:

Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson, Austin Ernst and Paula Creamer. Inkster called them the “Princess Pod,” but they called themselves the CLAP-Lo pod. CLAP stood for their first names and assistant captain Nancy Lopez (the “Lo”) was appointed to supervise them.

Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller, Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome. This pod of veterans, which needed minimal hand-holding from their leader, assistant captain Wendy Ward. remained intact from 2015 except for Lincicome transferring in.

Michelle Wie, Danielle Kang, Angel Yin and Lizette Salas. Their leader, Pat Hurst, had to wonder about directing the self-proclaimed “Minority Pod” after their amusing joint press conference produced the following sassy script:

LIZETTE SALAS: I just think it’s a good golf course for a player that’s wearing red, white and blue. That’s pretty much it.

ANGEL YIN: If you hit it long you have an advantage.

LIZETTE SALAS: That’s you.

ANGEL YIN: Speaking for myself right now.

MICHELLE WIE: She hits it really far, guys.

DANIELLE KANG: Angel outdrives me by a solid 80 yards average.

ANGEL YIN: I definitely agree.

LIZETTE SALAS: I’m getting a headache.

IT WASN’T ANNIKA’S FAULT

The European players raved about the first-time captaincy of Annika Sorenstam. The Hall of Famer, famous for her focus and organization, touched her team in the way that she inspired them.

Every night there were inspirational talks, and then there were the bracelets — “mantra bands,” Sorenstam called them. The one she gave the players Saturday night, when they were well behind at 10 1/2-5 1/2, said “She believed she could and so she did.”

“Every time she gave us them, it was like gave me goosebumps because it was so impressive,” Charley Hull said. “I think she captained really well. … And it’s quite cool. You kind of get into the mind of the greatest female golfer that’s lived. And that’s pretty special.”

Still, Sorenstam insists, “It’s a one-time show. It’s been a great journey and so forth. But we have so many wonderful candidates lining up, and it’s an honor to do this. And I would love somebody else to get the opportunity to do this.”

Inkster, alas, says the same. “I would love to do it, but I think there’s other people in line that deserve the chance,” she said. “But I’ll be there. I’ll be there with some hugs.”

Look for Catriona Matthew to head up Europe’s entry for 2019 at Gleneagles, Scotland. As for Team USA, there are three pod leaders who know the Inkster ropes and are willing to step up.

TRY THIS IN YOUR NEXT FOUR-BALL

Traditionally, the partner with the longer birdie putt goes first. If she misses but has a tap-in par, the thinking goes, then the partner who is closer feels free to go for it without worrying that she’ll blow it by the hole.

Team USA turned that tactic upside-down in the Solheim Cup. Time and again, the player with the 5- or 6-foot birdie putt went first. Here’s why that strategy was effective:

  1. The closer player usually made her putt. If not, she had a tap-in par, freeing the other player to go for the birdie.
  2. Once the closer player made her par, the opposing team was under pressure to make its putt — much harder to accomplish when you know you must.
  3. It saved time. Usually, the player who was away did not have to putt.

Yes, GottaGoGolfers, this strategy is within the rules of golf. It is the team that is away that putts first, and it’s up to that team which player goes first. Something to think about in your next Two-Lady Best Ball format.

NOISE ISN’T AGAINST THE RULES

Imagine stepping up to the tee to raucous cheering that suddenly goes silent. Now, imagine stepping up to the tee to raucous cheering that continues. Team USA rookie Danielle Kang decided she preferred the former, and so she urged the first-tee crowd to keep it going as she teed off.

“I was, like, I want to hear this roar,” Kang said. “I want to hear everyone keep chanting. I love it.”

“She loves being the center of attention, which is fine,” said her Solheim Cup podmate and longtime friend Lizette Salas. “At first I tried not to listen to the crowd because I didn’t want to get too hyped up. I knew it was going to be a long week. And I learned from Danielle, you’ve got to embrace them and feed off their vibe.”

Kang’s Solheim Cup record: 2-1.

ABOUT THAT TV COVERAGE

Even while appreciating the many hours of live coverage, we couldn’t help noticing:

  • It wasn’t NBC’s fault the matches ran so long on Saturday that the telecast had to return to Golf Channel, and that’s without any weather interference. But Sunday’s decision to let Golf Channel carry the show created confusion on the DVR front and seemed like a cop-out.
  • The sound mixing was terrible. At times we couldn’t hear the crowd at all and at other times the cheers and chants were so over-miked that we couldn’t hear Judy Rankin. And we always want to hear Judy.
  • The producers over-focused on the Lexi Thompson-Anna Nordqvist match on Sunday. Yes, Lexi has become the most popular woman player in the U.S. No, we do not need to watch her line up every single putt when there are 11 other meaningful matches under way.
  • The announcers put the masterful golf in perspective with their awe and praise for the quality of play. No, the golf course was not that easy. Yes, the play was that spectacular.

BEST SOLHEIM CUP QUOTES

Danielle Kang on her first Solheim Cup experience: “It was so special. If I could use some cuss words to explain to you how much it means to me, I would just explain it better.” … Cristie Kerr on what helps her when she’s nervous: “Drinking wine. They won’t let me do that on the golf course though.” … Brittany Lincicome on her pairing with Brittany Lang: “I’m drinking vodka-cranberry and she’s drinking Pedialyte. We balance each other, if you can tell.” … Charley Hull to teammate Georgia Hall, who played in five matches: “I wonder how your dad is feeling because he’s been carrying the bag for you. He’s going to be going home in a coffin.” … Team Europe’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff on her American accent: “I’m trying really hard now to be English.” … Judy Rankin: “Two years ago, Juli told those players to do their nails and all of that funky stuff before they ever got there, because it was going to be about golf once they arrived on the scene. She changed the mentality a little bit, and all for the better.” … Lexi Thompson before the start of play: “Go big or go home.”

Leave a Reply