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Lessons abound from Solheim Cup champs

By BOB HARIG
Published September 13, 2005


Tom Lehman says he will be keeping a close eye on next week's Presidents Cup matches, hoping to gain some knowledge for his captaincy of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team against Europe.

Perhaps all Lehman needs to do is call Nancy Lopez and pick her brain.

The LPGA Hall of Famer pulled all the right strings, pushed all the right buttons as the United States defeated Europe in the Solheim Cup.

She somehow got several young players to mesh with women old enough to be their mothers. She preached unity and togetherness and team spirit. She even made sure the players got plenty of practice on the Crooked Stick course, using the homefield to their advantage.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, she got a bunch of millionaire golfers to ride a bus together from Ohio to Indiana for a practice round at Crooked Stick.

"I think we developed," Lopez said after Sunday's 151/2 to 121/2 win. "We practiced a lot together. I mean, three or four times (before) coming here. I knew that made a tremendous difference. When I was (named) captain, I said we stink at alternate shot, we'll have to work on that. I felt like if we were going to win, I needed to make my players more familiar with that situation."

Before we get carried away, let's remember that winning the Solheim Cup - or the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup - is not strictly about bonding and friendship and being "a team."

The Europeans have reveled in waving that in the Americans' face during the Ryder Cup, and there is a good bit of truth to it.

But the European Solheim Cup team has plenty of unity and still lost.

The competition remains about playing good golf, making putts, finishing off matches.

And Lehman will never get Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to ride on a bus together.

And yet, there are still some lessons to be learned from the U.S. Solheim Cup team.

Figuring out the venue is important, especially when you are forced to play a format that is unfamiliar. The foursomes (alternate shot) part of the competition has always given Americans fits. It makes sense for the captain to decide who the partners will be and actually have them practice that format.

And it doesn't hurt to get along. Golfers spend the entire year trying to beat each other, having to be singular in their focus. While players don't have to be best buddies, they can learn to tolerate each other for a few hours on the golf course. (In their infamous first-day pairing last year at Oakland Hills, Woods and Mickelson did not even speak.) It might not help get the ball closer to the hole, but it can't hurt either.

"I think the practice rounds together, seeing the golf course three times before the week of the event, being able to bond as a team and get to know the rookies really well ... you try to make the rookies comfortable and they played great for us," said Beth Daniel , 48, who partnered with Paula Creamer , 19, during the first day alternate shot.

If the United States is to regain the Ryder Cup next year after its worst loss ever, the bottom line will be playing better.

But taking a few pages from Lopez's playbook could not hurt.

At one point during Saturday's competition, when the match was close and tense, Lopez encouraged her players to "tell some dirty jokes. Don't get quiet or turn inward. Keep each other loose."

Obviously, it worked.

MORE FOR MOORE: Former U.S. Amateur champion Ryan Moore took a big step toward earning his PGA Tour card with his tie for second on Sunday at the Canadian Open. Playing in just his fifth tournament as a pro, Moore earned $440,000 to gain special temporary member status on the PGA Tour because he surpassed the earnings of last year's 150th finisher. The significance of that is Moore can now accept unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the year in an effort to try to earn his PGA Tour card. Moore has now won $460,980.

"You try and block it out, but (the thoughts) do pop up and I have to tell myself to shut up every once in a while," Moore said afterward.

Last year, Moore won five significant amateur titles, including the U.S. Amateur and the NCAA individual title. He would rank 130th on the current money list if he were a full member and probably will need to earn about $200,000 over the course of the rest of the season to finish among the top 125.

MOVING UP: Clearwater's John Huston had one of his best finishes of the year, a tie for 11th at the Canadian Open, earning $115,000. That moved him from 174th on the money list to 150th, leaving him about $125,000 short of the top 125. ... Dunedin's Bob Heintz also tied for 11th in Canada, his best finish of the year. It was only the fifth cut made in 18 tournaments and moved him to 199th on the money list with $159,517.