Blog 331, 9/17/15 - Can a Mellower, More Subdued US Team Win the Solheim Cup?

How will Paula Creamer, a Captain's pick this year, survive without the face paint, ribbons, nail paint...?
Before they arrive at the range to warm up and take a dozen selfies each, should Captain Juli Inkster’s team spend an hour or more in the salon making sure their nails are painted just so; the red, white and blue face paint is applied correctly; and the hair ribbons are in place? Or should they break with tradition, hold back on the glamour, and adopt a more businesslike mentality, saving the pom-poms for if, and when, they actually regain the Cup?
Inkster, a veteran of nine Solheim Cups, a seven-time major champion, and a 2000 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, has made it clear she wants her players to cut out the razzle-dazzle. At yesterday’s press conference, US team member Lizette Salas told the press Inkster had instructed her players to stop with the “rah-rah stuff”.
"I was like, 'OK, we're not cheerleaders,” said Salas. “So, none of that face paint or none of those tattoos. It's definitely toned down quite a bit since the first Solheim I was at. I think it's a lot of excess energy that's used on, 'Where do I put this tattoo?' or 'Does this ribbon go with this outfit?' None of that. We go out and handle our business and play the best golf that we can. I think it's working."
Some commentators have suggested…no, come right out and said it…the dazzle has hurt the American team in the recent past, and that the apparent shift from wanting to win the battle on the course to winning the battle in cyberspace is costing them. They say the emphasis on getting visits, views, hits, likes, and comments on their various social media channels has caused players to take their eye off the ball as it were, and that while they’ve been piling on the powder and posing for pictures, the rest of the world has stolen in quietly to assume control.
Respected writer and the editor of Golf World, Jaime Diaz, is frank in his less than complimentary assessment of female American golf stars. “Among the US players,” he says, “there is an increasing drift toward style over substance.”
The numbers certainly bear him out. While Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, and Lexi Thompson – all young and, dare I say it, attractive players - rack up the followers, they have won just two events this year between them – Lincicome’s win at the ANA Inspiration in April and Thompson’s victory at the Meijer Classic in Michigan two months ago. Similarly uninspiring are team members’ performances in the Grand Slam tournaments over the last couple of years, with just three players – Wie, Lincicome and Thompson – winning three of ten majors.
It’s an easy argument to make then - ‘entitled’ American players (Diaz’s word) boost their endorsement contracts at the end of a lens while the overall quality of women’s professional golf in America declines.  
Diaz doesn’t say it, but what all this points to is a degree of laxity, slackness and, unpalatable though it sounds, unprofessionalism.
For anyone ranked in the top 100, 500, 1000 even in the world at what they do to be labelled ‘unprofessional’ is a grotesque slur that the target of the smear takes very seriously. They can put a bad round, bad quarter, or bad race down to a fitful night’s sleep or unfavorable conditions. They can attribute poor sales numbers to temporarily being off their game. But to be spoken of as unprofessional is deeply upsetting.
wie selfie
See? You can win a major and take a selfie.
Really though, have America’s female golf stars acted unprofessionally of late? Does taking selfies during practice sessions and practice rounds constitute unprofessionalism?
The simple answer to the question is no, with both the ‘n’ and the ‘o’ highlighted, stressed, accentuated, and underlined twice. For one thing (and here’s where a male writing about female golf becomes potentially very dangerous) we are talking about young women here. What young woman, especially one performing in front of millions (last year’s US Open attracted two million viewers) on TV doesn’t want to look their very best? Second, how long does it take to snap a few selfies? Does it really prevent these players from playing as well as they can? Third, and perhaps most important, aren’t these lady professionals actually acting extremely professionally by bringing attention to the event they’re playing in, their sponsors, and their Tour?
For 65 years, the LPGA Tour has played second fiddle to the men’s tour. That’s hardly surprising, it’s the way of the world. But it means, rightly or wrongly, the ladies often have to do more to promote their association than merely play well.
As for getting on a skid in their biennial encounter with pros from across the Atlantic (they lost 15-13 in Ireland in 2011, and 18-10 in Colorado two years ago), is it not similar to what happened with the Ryder Cup? For decades, the US trounced Great Britain and Ireland. Then Jack Nicklaus suggested involving players from Continental Europe, and Spain’s Seve Ballesteros was given the perfect stage on which to fight his enemies from the US. Every European golfer saw how much Ballesteros wanted to beat the Americans, and was drawn in. Even today, four years after his death, the great man’s spirit and competitiveness are a very significant part of what drives the European team to victory so often.
I believe it’s the same, at least similar, with the Solheim Cup. Neither Annika Sorenstam nor Laura Davies was ever quite as passionate about winning their Cup as Seve was his, but the desire to beat the Americans was strong with them too. And rest assured that same yearning fills the hearts and minds of today’s players. If you’re the biggest, strongest, richest anything, your competitors just want to beat you down, and they feel an immense surge of satisfaction when they do.
It’s not just an almost irresistible longing to beat the US that enables Europe’s women to win the Solheim Cup though. They’ve also become very, very good at golf thanks largely to the example set by Davies and Sorenstam, and the motivation they provided. The resulting combination of skill and desire is incredibly potent.
I get why some are saying America’s lady professionals are riding the gravy train, happily accepting the plaudits and endorsements while failing to realize their full potential. But we shouldn’t forget the competition, especially from South Korea (against whom some sort of team competition is surely a must) is extremely stiff these days.
And you never know, the US might actually win this week. If they do, it’s likely Inkster’s low-key, low-glitz policy will be given the credit. But could it be that America’s lady professionals are actually pretty good themselves?
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