One of the members of team U.S.A. was going to be standing on the wrong side of history late Sunday afternoon at the Solheim Cup. Ironically it was Michelle Wie, a polarizing captain’s pick who watched Swedish stalwart Caroline Hedwall seal the victory for the European squad with a clutch five-foot putt to win the 18th hole.
It was the deciding point for the Europeans that would eventually post the highest victory margin between the two teams with an 18-10 route and for the first time in the 23 years of competition-a victory on U.S. soil.
The 13th Solheim Cup set on the rugged terrain of the Colorado Golf Club in Parker, CO was beset by blazing temperatures and a golf course that was a better fit for the European style of play as the greens were fast and had a links type quality. Three days of match play competition in the biannual event cumulated on the 18th hole, as Hedwall won not only her match but then ultimately the cup for her European team.
For Wie that moment would overshadow what had been a steady performance for the 23 year-old who was unable to earn her way onto her third Solheim Cup instead relying on Captain Meg Mallon to appoint her to the team. It was a pick a-la Greg Norman in the Presidents Cup a few years ago when Norman picked fellow Aussie Adam Scott to his International team in hopes of propelling Scott’s floundering game. Judging by the green jacket that Scott won last April, it is fair to say the move paid off.
Wie burst on the scene as a young teenager a decade ago with the desire to turn the golf world on its head. Playing her way into both men’s and women’s professional events the tall bomber from Hawaii appeared to be the future of golf. Flanked by her ambitious parents who were rarely far away, Wie was showered with a lucrative Nike contract among others. By the time she officially joined the LPGA in 2009 there wasn’t a casual fan that didn’t know her name or her beautiful swing.
Wie earned her first LPGA victory that year and was rewarded a captain’s pick onto her first Solehim Cup and went 3-0-1 for the Americans. A second victory in 2010 quickly followed and then things started slowing down for the young prodigy. The wins stopped coming and the inconsistency grew.
Attending Stanford University while playing the LPGA tour simultaneously was often linked as the culprit to Wie’s golf decline. When she graduated in 2012 however her game remained stalled in the same inconsistent pattern and Wie saw her ranking drop to 82nd in the world this summer.
Which made Mallon’s captain pick all the more compelling. Passing over several Americans who were playing better (including a very irate Jenny Johnson who recorded a win earlier this year) Mallon instead decided to entrust Wie to bring some points this past weekend in Colorado.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad gamble. Wie was paired with fellow veteran Cristie Kerr Friday afternoon and earned one of the few points of the day for the Americans by going 2&1 over Catriona Matthew and Charley Hull. Saturday morning Wie was paired with Brittany Lang, undoubtedly the MVP for the Americans and the duo were able to capture a huge point over Suzann Pettersen and Beatriz Recari in foursomes.
A pairing with Jessica Korda did not fair as well for Wie in the Saturday afternoon four-ball session as they contributed to a disastrous losing effort for the Americans which ultimately led to their historic defeat on Sunday.
The U.S. needed a huge miracle to pull off an upset over Europe going into Sunday’s singles matches and although it was a format that historically favored the Americans, a five-point deficit ultimately proved too much.
Wie who watched Hedwall make the deciding putt in the fading daylight late Sunday afternoon hung her head in sadness before quickly congratulating the young European who also accomplished something never done before in Solheim history-winning all five of her matches.
Wie’s 2-2-0 record this past weekend was one of the better scorecards for the Americans and should cement Mallon’s elective pick to have Wie on the team. Yet for a player who has struggled so much with her game the past few years it is a good question to ponder if being in the spotlight of the loss will carry forward with her. The momentum was with the Europeans all weekend and had Wie not given up the winning point it is hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have happened within a few matches. The Euro’s were just too good and sometimes history is set to be made.
For now it will be interesting to see how Wie bounces back from the loss. Will she focus on the positives of the weekend and build from there or will the images of that final hole continue to haunt her through the final months of the season? This week the tour returns to Canada for the CN Canadian Women’s Open, ironically the last place that Wie notched a victory three years ago. Perhaps a good place to start and get her game back on track, something for Wie is long overdo.