” There are only 3 rules in sports television. Get on the air clean, get off the air clean, and get all your commercials in.”
It’s time for the Solheim Cup. Those biennial golf matches that pit the best women golfers the United States of America has to offer against their counterparts for Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a thrilling, fun, competitive weekend of golf that means different things to different people. I’ve enjoyed it for as long as I can remember but 16 years ago it held a far different meaning for me.
My personal Solheim Cup story in some ways began with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. That day changed the world in a major way and in a much less significant, and much more meaningless way it changed golf’s “team cup” formula. At the time the Ryder Cup was played on an every other odd year rotation and the 2001 version was set for September 28th in 2001. The horrific events on the 11th made that impossible. The PGA TOUR and the R&A decided to postpone the 34th playing of the Ryder Cup until the following September switching the event from odd to even years. That meant the Solheim Cup would have to change too. But instead of calling off the competition for what would be three years the LPGA and its European counterpart decided to play in 2002 as scheduled but then change to the current odd years format in 2003. Meaning there would be back-to-back Solheim Cup matches.
Something else happened in 2002; David Manougian became president of The Golf Channel. That mattered in any number of ways but one of them was the way the Solheim Cup was televised. Manougian had been with the channel since the beginning as one of its best, most enterprising, and creative sales people. Early on he brought PING in as one of the channel’s “charter sponsors” and made sure he cultivated that relationship. During the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 that cultivation bore fruit in the form of the Solheim Cup. The matches had been broadcast by NBC but nobody was particularly happy with the arrangement. NBC relegated the women’s version of the Ryder Cup to minimal hours, all on tape delay. Manougian knew that wasn’t good enough for the Solheim family OR golf fans so he went to the Solheim’s, on behalf of the world’s first and only 24 hour television network devoted to golf, with compliments, kindness, a large bucketful of television hours, and a promise. If the Solheim Cup came to The Golf Channel the network would televise it live, from beginning to end, no matter where in the world the competition took place. In fact, the March 2003 press release promised 27 hours of LIVE golf coverage from the Bareseback Golf and Country Club in Sweden as well as prime time rebroadcasts the same day. Clearly it was an offer they couldn’t refuse, and they didn’t. And I’ll give you one guess as to who’s job it would be to put the production on the air.
So we put together a small, talented production team and headed to Sweden. 2003 was the first of three Solheim Cups that I produced for The Golf Channel and each produced memories, both good and bad, that I will never forget. To keep this under a million words I’ll mention one from each…
The American team that year consisted of Juli Inkster, Rosie Jones, Beth Daniel, Michelle Redman, Laura Diaz, Cristie Kerr, Meg Mallon, Angela Stanford, Kelly Robbins, Wendy Ward, Heather Bowie, and Kelli Kuehne. Those 12 talented players were captained by Patty Sheehan. The Hall of Fame player who had, the year before, led the American squad to a 15 1/2 to 12 1/2 victory at the Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota. This time, as I mentioned, Sheehan would be captain in Sweden, home to European team members Annika Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson, Carin Koch, and their team captain Catrin Nilsmark. It would be the first time the matches, on foreign soil, would be played outside Europe.
The Euros got off to a hot start on Friday morning winning three matches and halving the fourth for a commanding 3 1/2 to 1/2 lead. The U S teams played better in the afternoon winning 3 of 4 which meant the Europeans led the matches by 1 point heading into Saturday. The Americans once again faltered in the morning as Europe won 2 matches and halved the other two. So when both teams won 2 matches in the afternoon it meant Europe led 9 1/2 to 6 1/2 heading into Sunday singles.
Janice Moodie started the day off right for team Europe on Sunday beating Kelli Kuehne but Juli Inkster got that point right back crushing Koch. That ended up really being the last bit of good news for captain Sheehan. Sophie Gustafson and Iben Tinning won the next two and even though Redman beat Ana Belen Sanchez when Annika Sorenstam took care of Angela Stanford in match number 7 the Europeans were just one point away from winning the Solheim Cup.
The production was going well as we switched from shot to shot, match to match, bringing all the important moments into living rooms all over the U.S.. We knew we were close to the end and moments after Sorenstam won her match, Catriona Matthew (Europe’s captain this year) won the 17th hole of her match against Rosie Jones to cap a 3 and 1 victory and clinch the cup. When Sorenstam won the Swedish crowd, understandably, went nuts and the roars were heard all over the golf course. Those roars got even louder when Matthew clinched it. It was over. We knew it was over. Everybody on the golf course knew it was over. And that was when the shit hit the fan.
There were still five matches, five meaningless matches, left on the golf course and as I gazed at the monitors in our makeshift production “trailer” it was clear none of the 10 players in those five matches knew what to do. Fans and players were streaming out onto the course to congratulate and console competitors and teammates. Hugs were given, tears or joy and sadness were wiped away and shoulders were shrugged. Our microphones caught Meg Mallon and Laura Diaz wondering aloud whether they were supposed to continue playing or simply walk in. I dispatched our intrepid on course announcer Kay Cockerill to an official to find out the answer. All while the celebration raged on. It might have been the most confusing moments of television of which I had ever been a part. All the while the words of the great Don Ohlmeyer rang in my ears, I knew I had to get all my commercials in (something that would haunt me 2 years later). In the end some played on, others didn’t. In one of the days most anticipated and best singles matches Meg Mallon and Laura Davies were All Square through 17 holes. Because the cup had already been decided Mallon, in a wonderful gesture of sportsmanship, conceded the final hole to Davies giving her a 1 up win and her 16th point in her 13 year Solheim Cup career.
Back on United States soil at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana. Catrin Nilsmark was back to captain the Europeans and the great Nancy Lopez was charged with leading the American squad. Lopez had played in the very first Solheim Cup in 1990 but, despite a Hall of Fame career and 48 wins, she hadn’t played in another one. This would be her first and only stint as captain and she chose our dear friend, and Golf Channel analyst since day one, Donna Caponi as her assistant. New to the team in 2005 were Christina Kim, Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer. Back on the team was Pat Hurst who played for the American side in 1998, 2000, and 2002. They were all looking to help Team USA win back the cup.
It didn’t start well as once again the Europeans came out on top in the Friday morning matches winning 3 of the 4 available points. The teams split 2 and 2 in the afternoon. But on Saturday morning the USA won 3 of 4 points to tie the overall competition at 6 apiece. Another split in the afternoon meant we headed into Sunday singles all tied up at 8. It had been 2 great days of television and we knew we had a barn burner to come.
On Sunday The U.S. came out like a house on fire winning the first 5 matches. Things were proceeding fast and furiously in the truck as points were won and matches conceded. Of the 5, Laura Diaz, Paula Creamer and Christina Kim won in blowouts while Inkster and Hurst won their matches 2 and 1. That put the USA within 1 and a half points of reclaiming the cup and we started covering matches with that in mind. Sorenstam beat Beth Daniel but then Natalie Gulbis took care of Maria Hjorth and suddenly the USA was a half a point from victory.
One look at the scoreboard told us that half a point was likely to come from Meg Mallon’s match against the 2004 Women’s British Open Champion Karen Stupples so that is where we concentrated. It was the penultimate match and it went back and forth. Everybody in the truck was caught up in the excitement, including yours truly, so when Mallon clinched it by winning the 17th hole we stayed with the celebration for a while before going to break. During that commercial the associate director, the person responsible, besides me, for keeping track of how many commercials for which I was responsible informed me how many I had left. It didn’t take long for me to realize that, with only one match left on the golf course, I had one more commercial on my docket than I had segments with which to pay.
For the first, and only time in my career, despite getting on the air clean and off the air clean, I hadn’t managed to “get all my commercials in”. It’s a failure that nags at me still.
Back to Sweden we went and this time it was cold, wet, rainy, and miserable. At one point it was so windy that we had to move our announcers (Brian Hammons and Dottie Pepper) out of their broadcast position and into a trailer that we turned into a makeshift announce booth.
This was my most memorable Solheim Cup by a mile because of three words.
“Chokin freakin dogs”.
The whole story is relayed in detail in my memoir, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat). It’s all there in print, starting on page 449, in a chapter titled “Dottie gets bit by a freakin dog”. Get it. Read it. Along with a bunch of other stories about Golf Channel’s earliest days. It’s still a painful enough memory for me to not want to tell it again here. I’ll only say that I said something in Dottie’s ear, she repeated it a little differently out loud, a full EIGHT seconds after we were supposed to be in commercial. She paid for my indiscretion, never saying a word or throwing me under the bus, for years.
So I look forward to watching my friends Jerry Foltz, Kay Cockerill, Karen Stupples and Grant Boone on television working another Solheim Cup on Golf Channel. I’ll watch it knowing another friend, Beth Hutter Murvin (the first and, to this day, only female producing live golf) will be capably handling things from the truck. I’ll do it knowing the history behind the matches, how the channel came to be involved, and remembering with a tip of my cap all the great players and television people who have made it such a wonderful event.
Thanks for reading this. You can pick up my book, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In at Amazon or at http://www.barnesandnoble.com it’s published through Beacon Publishing Group, @Beaconpubgroup on twitter. Enjoy.