By Mickey Walker
Having missed just one of the 15 Solheim Cups, the latest matches in Des Moines for me was up there with 1992 when Europe won for the first time at Dalmahoy and Denver in 2013 when Europe won on American soil for the rst and only time.
Readers might think that it’s rather strange where I rank this year’s matches when Europe lost
by 11.5-16.5 with two historic victories.
My enjoyment stems from a number of things: starting with the location, the people and fans. In my time playing on the LPGA Tour I had never travelled to or played a tournament in Iowa so I had no preconceptions about what to expect.
Des Moines has population of just 600,000 out of Iowa’s 3,500,000, which is small by American standards. This means that when a big event, such as the Solheim Cup, comes to town – unlike when it is played in a massive metropolis – everyone in the city, and I do mean everyone, really embraces it.
That can mean volunteering for the hundreds of positions needed at the matches from media, transport, marshalling or any of the other myriad positions needed in putting it all together and, of course, supporting the matches.
If I’m honest I wasn’t looking forward to witnessing another display of the patriotic and overly zealous American crowds and the persistent chanting of U-S-A as well as cheers whenever a European missed a putt.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised. The crowds were courteous, applauded the good shots of the Europeans and only occasionally started chanting.
Everyone I encountered, whether it was the hotel staff, people at the golf club, the person I got my rental car from or staff in local restaurants, they were all helpful, warm and welcoming.
My next revelation came regarding Annika Sorenstam’s captaincy. Having known Annika as a player since she turned professional been her captain in two Solheim Cups and then watched her become arguably the best female golfer of certainly the modern era my experience was of a shy person, who had set her whole being on becoming the best female golfer on the planet.
If that meant being a loner and at times selfish, then these were sacrifices that she was prepared to pay.
Roll the clock forward some 25 years and Annika evolved into the ultimate captain.
Yes, we all knew of her love of crunching numbers and attention to detail but what I hadn’t realised was quite how different Annika’s personality now is.
In Des Moines Annika seemingly had time for everyone and has that rare, magical quality that some hugely successful people have when they speak to you of making you feel like you’re the only person that matters to her.
I felt that when I watched her interviews, when she signed the hundreds of autographs and posed for thousands of selfies, on the several occasions during the week when we spoke and when she danced on the 1st tee.
And she was there when her team needed her, whether that was the encouraging word on the 17th tee when Anna Nordqvist found herself one down against Lexi Thompson having been four up after 10 holes, or consoling Georgia Hall after she had cruelly lost a tight match against Paula Creamer at the last.
Annika’s energy, sense of fun and insightfulness gave so much and everyone she encountered, making her a truly exceptional captain who deserved a better result. Europe might not have won but there were so many positives about the week that I came away inspired by our team who kept fighting until the last putt had been holed.
I can’t wait to be at Gleneagles in two years’ time.