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Len Ziehm On Golf

Winning the International Crown was huge for Team USA

It’s official. The United States is the best women’s golfing nation. The UL International Crown was created to determine that very thing, and Team USA was up to the challenge in the second playing of the event at the Merit Club.

In 2014, the event’s inaugural year, the U.S. couldn’t survive the best ball matches at Cave’s Valley in Maryland as Spain won the crown. The second staging didn’t start well, either, as Team USA lost both its opening day matches vs. England.

After that, though, the foursome of Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson got better and better. They won three of their remaining four best ball matches on Friday and Saturday and came out swinging in Sunday’s concluding singles duels.

Lewis went out first, the second match of the day, and lost but one hole in dispatching Japan’s Mika Miyazato 3 and 2. That set the tone for the day.

“It was huge,’’ said Lewis. “I wanted to get a lead early and put a number up there for the girls to see. I haven’t done what I wanted in Solheim Cups on Sunday (matches against Europe, in which she had been winless), and this is not quite as much pressure. But my team pulled me out here for a reason and I’m just happy we could get two points on the board.’’

Piller was up next, against the formidable Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei. Piller, who wasn’t on the U.S. team that was such a disappointment in Maryland, didn’t lose a hole in a 4 and 3 victory in the day’s third match.

“Yani’s a great player, and she got off to a rough start,’’ said Piller. “She’s a prior No. 1 in the world. You can’t overlook that. She’s got the game. She’s got the length. I just dug deep towards the end and had the mentality of taking no prisoners.’’

No doubt that was the right strategy, but Team USA still needed something from Kerr, the most experienced member of the foursome, and/or Thompson, the top-ranked player (No. 4 in the world) in the four-day competition.

Kerr never trailed against England’s Mel Reid, though her 4-up lead after five holes did shrink to 1-up after No. 14. Kerr then won the next two holes to close out the match and the two points awarded for that victory gave Team USA an insurmountable 13 points. Kerr was surprised when her teammates swarmed her on the green.

“I just tried to take care of my match,’’ she said. “I didn’t know that it came down to my winning.’’

It did after Thompson dropped the last U.S. singles match to Korea’s So Yeon Ryu 2 and 1. That outcome didn’t matter.

“This is huge, unbelievable for us,’’ said Lewis. “To be called the best golfing nation is so satisfying. We had zero points the first day, and we still ended up with the most. It’s just a testament to these girls and their will to want to win this thing.’’

Korea, the top-seeded team (the U.S. was No. 2) when the competition started, was second with 12 points while England and Chinese Taipei each had 11 and Japan eight. Korea was without its best player, Inbee Park. She sat out with a left thumb injury and will also bypass her title defense at this week’s Women’s British Open in hopes the injury will heal in time for next month’s Olympics in Brazil.

Even without Park, however, Korea fielded a foursome in which all members were ranked in the top 12 of the Rolex World Rankings.

Korea’s chances were also hampered by the weather. Saturday’s late afternoon storms forced two best ball matches involving Korea to be pushed back to Sunday, so the team had to be back on the course at 7 a.m. to secure its berth in the 10 singles matches. Korea finished off both early matches vs. Australia with victories but couldn’t sustain that momentum once the singles began.

Neither could Japan, which won the wild card spot in singles after eliminating Thailand and China in a rousing sudden death playoff decided by Ayaka Watanabe’s 30-foot eagle putt.