Young Americans weather Solheim Cup storm to pull even with Europe

Lizette Salas bundled up and donned ear muffs featuring the Stars and Stripes to withstand Saturday's brutal Solheim Cup conditions in Scotland. ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- Saturday at the Solheim Cup is traditionally about firing at pins, draining putts and making birdies. Lots of birdies. Lots and lots of them.

Not this Solheim Saturday.

This was a day for finding fairways, finding greens and scrambling for pars.

It felt less like Scotland and more like the high seas.

Temporary buildings and grandstands creaked and groaned like sailing ships in a storm; players and caddies peered down fairways like sailors wary of rising waves; fans clung to raised ground like the survivors of shipwrecks seeking refuge on tiny islands.

It was the kind of day Juli Inkster had been wary of. Last week the U.S. captain had even fretted aloud that her inexperienced team might have encountered the odd bad weather day at the British Open, but that 36 holes of it was a "different ballgame."

Arguably, the reality was worse than she could have imagined. This is mid-September, after all. Even Scotland is not supposed to resemble January at this time of year.

But Inkster's concerns proved unfounded: At the start of the day, her team trailed by a point; by the end of it the U.S. squad had pulled level.

Everyone on her team played Saturday. Nine of her players earned points; all of them contributed to the performance.

The morning foursomes were split, two matches apiece, before the afternoon four-balls at one stage threatened to witness an American whitewash, but as evening closed in (this was once again a painfully slow day of action) the Europeans staged a late counteroffensive.

Nonetheless, the U.S. won two matches and halved one in four-balls so the two teams are tied with eight points apiece ahead of Sunday's 12 singles matches.

As the players tumbled off the course, they wore the look of mariners who had finally found safe harbor. Yet despite being weary with fatigue, they could laugh about their endeavors.

This was a day that had begun with the flat cap of Azahara Munoz's father being whipped from his head by a gust and flung in one giant leap down the fairway, quite possibly registering the longest drive of the week in the process.

That wind never ceased, the temperatures dropped and a stinging rain was often thrown into the equation.

Stars in the morning were sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda, who trounced Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law 6 and 5, before Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex completed a dynamic reversal over Anna Nordqvist and Anne Van Dam.

The veteran-rookie combination was 4 down after six holes, but won seven of the next nine, a run that included four birdies in a row starting with the ninth hole. The Americans won the match 2 and 1.

Inkster rested the unbeaten Kordas for the afternoon and they watched as rookies Brittany Altomare and Annie Park claimed a first Solheim Cup win and Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang earned their second as a partnership.

Angel Yin and Ally McDonald lost the last five holes to cede their point to Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier, the Anglo-French pair becoming Europe's top scorers in the process.

But it was Alex who again starred in the afternoon. Her second lap of the day was not without error -- a shanked chip shot very nearly clipped her partner Lexi Thompson on the shins -- but no one's was, because this was not a day for perfection.

Instead, it was a severe test of character as much as skill and Alex passed it. She is unbeaten in three matches this week, has two points in the bank, the last half point earned alongside Thompson against Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson.

"That was just brutal," Thompson said afterward. "Definitely the toughest conditions I've played in."

"It was such a grind," Alex said. "The margin for error becomes so small because if you mishit it a little bit, the elements will just crush your golf ball.

"Pars were winning holes out there so it was all about mindset. Think you're down a bit? Hang in there. It's tough, but string a little bit of good golf together and you're right back in it."

Having anticipated the difficulty of 36 holes in poor weather, had Inkster prepared her team for the challenge?

"She just encouraged us to be patient out there," Alex revealed.

And had that policy worked?

"Yeah, it was funny. I was out there, midway through the back nine, and it was so windy," Alex said. "I was thinking about a round I played at Turnberry, during the 2015 British Open.

"Those conditions were maybe even worse than today, to be honest. I was reminding myself that you can hit shots in these conditions, that I'd done it before, that it's not impossible. You just need to bear down and do it."

This was Inkster's prematch conundrum in microcosm: The rookie with just one experience of bad British Open weather, now attempting to defy 36 holes of it, but achieving it in style. Was the captain proud?

"Oh yeah," Inkster said, a tired smile breaking out. "My gosh, gotta be proud. I'm ecstatic where we are right now.

"Last week I kept looking at the weather. I knew it was going to blow and I knew it was going to rain.

"But most of the European team, they live in Florida or Arizona now. It's not like they play here every day. Yeah, they grew up in it, but they've played over in the States for a long time. I knew that as well.

"When you have to play in conditions like today, you have to find it deep down. You gotta say, OK, this is my job, I've got to suck it up and do it.

"And my team? They showed up."

The result is on a knife-edge, but the situation feels a little familiar.

A Jack Nicklaus-designed course? A Celtic setting? An 8-8 score ahead of the singles?

It's Killeen Castle in 2011 all over again. That year, we witnessed a Sunday finish for the ages, with Europe winning 7 of 12 singles matches for a 15-13 victory. It was Europe's only victory when the teams were tied heading into the singles (which has happened on four occasions), but just as importantly it was arguably the most dramatic conclusion in Solheim Cup history.

Here's hoping for more of the same drama this year.