Dramatic Solheim Cup defies what too many believe about women’s sport

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That’s what comes to mind when a scene unfolds that defies what too many believe about women’s sport. In the days leading up to the Solheim Cup, Annika Sorenstam said she no longer has to say, “You know, the female version of the Ryder Cup” as often as she used to.

I actually found myself using that exact phrase to my Lyft driver, Eddie, on the way to the airport. He wouldn’t have believed the atmosphere on Sunday at Gleneagles.

Same goes for the longtime golf buddy who jokingly said, “They still have that?” when told I was off to Scotland for the Solheim, a nod to the LPGA’s Asian dominance.

The sea of fans around the first hole at Gleneagles – packed in the largest grandstand in event history and stacked down the rope line of the fairway and along the tops of ridges – should be enough to shatter the misconception that women’s golf can’t match the passion found on the men’s side. That it’s simply not as entertaining.

Try telling that to the European fans who wear bright yellow daffodil cutouts around their heads at every Solheim. They brighten even the dreariest of Scottish days.

If only you could see Nancy Lopez, an American icon, clapping her mittens to the beat of “We Are Family,” to the delight of thousands. If you could see a statuesque Nelly Korda strut through the smoky tunnel like an outlaw with the American flag pulled up over her face.

If you could feel the energy. Watch the goosebumps rise on your arms with the pride of a country and a continent on the line. If you could stand in the midst of 30,000 fans who appreciate the quality of the craft and the mountain of guts it takes to be a hero in this kind of cauldron, you couldn’t help but become a fan.

“I can’t get wait to get out and play next week,” said a middle-aged man around the 10th hole on Saturday after Anne van Dam struck her tee shot.

How can a swing like van Dam’s not inspire?

If only you could hear the roar of Suzann Pettersen, a new mom whose competitive fire only sharpened after taking 20 months off to give birth to her son. She’s been both a controversial and beloved figure on the Solheim stage, and she walked off the 18th green as Europe’s savior and golf’s newest retiree.

With Herman back in her arms, she literally had it all.

On the right side of the first-tee grandstand at Gleneagles, tucked away in a private viewing area, sat 92-year-old Shirley Spork in a red-white-and-blue hat that must have stood 3-feet tall. The LPGA Founder flew over to Scotland from the California desert to take in spectacle that didn’t begin until 40 years after she helped start the tour.

In 1951, Spork came over the United Kingdom to give lessons at clubs like St. Andrews and Turnberry.

“That was my Solheim because at every exhibition on the first tee they raised the American flag and played the national anthem,” said Spork. “That was really special for me.”

Spork asked fans at the end of each session to throw shillings onto the 18th green for junior golf. It was always about growing the game for Spork. Still is.

Spork takes a handful of vitamins every morning and likes to get out to play nine holes with friends. Score doesn’t matter. It’s the sound of a well-struck shot. Seeing a pitch fall into the hole. Time spent with friends. She has two artificial hips and knees and jogged in place to demonstrate their usefulness.

“I just wish that more of our members were still alive and could be here,” said Spork, one of only two surviving LPGA Founders along with Marlene Bauer Hagge. “We were a real family out there, only 13 of us.”

From 13 players rose the spectacle of the Solheim Cup in Scotland, where 90,000 fans swarmed Gleneagles over the course of three days to watch one of the closest Cups of any kind produce unparalleled theater.

“I think a lot of people underestimate women’s golf,” said U.S. captain Juli Inkster, “and they don’t give it the credit that we deserve.”

Spork never misses an opportunity to praise those who backed the women’s tour in those early days – godfathers and godmothers of the LPGA. People who believed in the value of creating opportunities for women who would grow into role models for youngsters the world over.

Surely the Showdown at Gleneagles created a new band of believers.

It’s hard to imagine anything better.

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