GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Going into Saturday at the Solheim Cup, Chris Kelly, a three-time Scottish PGA champion, summed up the prevailing mood on Twitter. “When I grow up," he said, "I’d like to swing the golf club like Anne Van Dam."
And, at least for a while, the legend that the 23-year-old Solheim Cup rookie is fast becoming continued to grow in the biennial match between Europe and the United States. Blessed with the most picturesque swing in the women’s game—one vying with the glorious Gleneagles scenery for attention this week—Van Dam and partner Anna Nordqvist performed close to immaculately over the first six holes of their morning foursome against Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex.
More accurately, though Nordqvist was playing nicely, this was really the Van Dam show. A sample of what the galleries were treated to:
• Drilled a long iron into the wind and onto the green at the long par-3 fourth.
• Found the middle of the putting surface (again into the stiff breeze) from an awkward spot in the left rough at the fifth.
• All but “stiffed” her tee shot at the par-3 sixth.
• Smacked another long iron through the ever-freshening wind to 20 feet at the par-4 seventh.
By which time the Old World pair were the equivalent of three under par and 4 up.
Then it happened. That 20-foot putt by Nordqvist came up four feet short. Then the Americans holed from maybe six yards for an unlikely 4. Then Van Dam, after backing off multiple times as her ball wobbled on the green, missed. What looked like a 5-up lead and game over became 3 up and game on.
It was to prove a huge moment in the match and the entire Saturday foursomes session. Errors began to appear in the Europeans’ games. The Pressel/Alex combination saw their chance. And we began to learn exactly why Van Dam, for all her obvious gifts, is ranked as low as 100th in the world.
Van Dam found water with her second shot to the par-5 ninth. Two up.
The Americans made birdie at the short 10th. One up.
Van Dam thinned her wedge to the 11th green into the back bunker. All square.
Birdie from the Americans on the 12th. One down.
Van Dam came up short with her approach to the 13th, before Nordqvist, not the world’s best chipper, putted miles past. Two down.
Van Dam pulled her approach to the 15th short and left of the putting surface. The Americans also came up shy, but they were able to get up and down for par. Dormie 3 down.
To be fair, Van Dam struck a beautifully controlled third shot to the par-5 16th green that pulled up no more than four feet from the cup. And when the American pair could do no better than 6, the game was still on. Dormie 2 down.
A half in pars on the 17th put an end to proceedings, leaving spectators who followed the match to wonder what had happened to the European pair. Six holes of almost perfect golf was followed by an 11-hole run that contained five bogeys and much sloppiness.
“Anne and Anna played great golf, got off to a great start in really tough conditions,” Pressel said. “But the putt Marina made on 7 was really the turning point. From there, they started to get a little shaky and all the momentum went toward us. From there, we just kept playing our game.”
Pressel, a veteran of five previous Solheim adventures, was spot on in her analysis. As ever in foursomes, the most unpredictable and volatile format in golf, a combination of factors came into play.
Momentum, so important in “alternate shot,” was gifted to the Americans on that seventh green. And, to be fair, they made the most of it, making as many as four birdies thereafter, albeit a couple involved concessions when they had two putts to win the hole in question.
The good news for Team Europe was that even with the loss that looked like it was going to be a win, the Europeans split the session, 2-2, with the Americans and maintained a one-point lead, 6½-5½, heading into the Saturday afternoon four-ball session.
Van Dam’s much-admired swing suffered more than most in the strong wind, her tall, thin frame buffeted as the club moved upward. Her putting, long an issue, was consistently poor and provided much in the way of encouragement for the American pair. And there was, too, a hint of inexperience in her choice of shots. Finding the pond short and right of that eighth green was a particularly heinous mistake with acres of room to the left.
So, let’s not get too excited, as Suzann Pettersen did after she and Van Dam had beaten Danielle Kang and Lisette Salas on Friday. Yes, the lady from the Netherlands is a massive talent. But no, she is not the finished article. Not yet.