WEST DES MOINES -- For a few moments the crowd was quiet and American Lexi Thompson hovered over her drive on the No. 1 tee Friday at Des Moines Golf and Country Club.

As Thompson lifted her club back, followed through and hammered her drive down the middle of the fairway, a raucous crowd of both American and European fans that had arrived more than a hour before the scheduled tee time exploded.

Just like that, the 15th Solheim Cup was off and running.

"Only going to get bigger," Thompson said. "The more people the better."

"Keeping giving them USA moments like that," Cristie Kerr laughed, following her and Thompson halving their morning foursome match by winning the last two holes to erase a 2-down deficit.

Mirrored after the Ryder Cup, and the brainchild of American golf club manufacturer (PING) Karsten Solheim, the 2017 event is the first LPGA event to be held in the state of Iowa since 1966, when the eighth and final Waterloo Open was held at Sunnyside Country Club, now Red Carpet Golf.

The scene from the last to the current LPGA event is being played on a different landscape, but no means was the Waterloo event a little blip on the LPGA radar.

Solheim Cup

Far left, Hampus Armnebjer and second from the left, Mac Sandberg of Eskilstuna, Sweden are decked out to support Team Europe Friday at the Solheim Cup at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in West Des Moines.

Some of the best women's players in the United States at the time played and won in Waterloo.

Among the LPGA Waterloo Open winners were three future World Golf Hall of Famers -- Betsy Rawls (1959 and 1966), Mickey Wright (1961 and 1963), and Carol Mann (1966).

Wright's victory in 1963 was her eighth of the season, and she went on to win 13 LPGA events that season, a organization record, as is her 88 career wins.

Mann's two-shot victory over Kathy Whitmire, another World Golf Hall of Famer, in 1966 earned her $1,500 in the final Waterloo Open.

Another famous former Waterloo Open LPGA participant was Althea Gibson, the first African-American player to win at Wimbledon, who switched to golf after her tennis career and played in the 1965 event.

This week, the Solheim Cup is estimated to generate more than $32 million in economic impact, $12 million more than the last time it was held in the United States (Parker, Colorado).

DMGCC officials are also anticipating the attendance record to be shattered as fans from 27 countries and all 50 states are expected to surpass 130,000 and potentially reach 150,000 for the three-day weekend. More than 50 percent of the tickets sold are from outside of Iowa.

Among those from abroad were Hampus Armenbjer and Mac Sandberg of Eskilstuna, Sweden, who were following around Swedish native Anna Nordqvist.

Decked out in yellow and blue, with match yellow and blue wigs, Armenbjer and Sandberg were with a huge group of Nordqvist followers.

"This is perfect. This is awesome. We are having so much fun," said Sandberg, whose daughter, Sophia, is married to one of Nordqvist's brothers.

"We are out-numbered so we have to be loud, both in dress and voice," added Sandberg, who also attended the previous Solheim Cup in Germany.

For Armenbjer, he is a newcomer to the biggest event in women's golf.

"This has been magical," Armenbjer said. "This so fun, even though we are in the minority. It is going to be a great week in a great environment."

The crowds wowed the players Friday. Probably the most appreciative of the fans was first-time Team USA member Danielle Kang.

"I know I am a rookie, but I feel like I belong here," Kang said after she and Lizette Salas topped Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson 1-up in foursome play in the morning. "I want this tournament to be like every week, it is so amazing. You just want everyone to be so supportive and they are just chanting and you don't want to disappoint them."

When the gates opened at 5:30 a.m., there were people already outside waiting to get in. Thompson and Kerr didn't tee off until 8:10 a.m.

The 24-year old Kang talked about embracing the experience leading up to the event.

"What I'm looking forward to is the vibe that I get that everyone talks about ... that experience that they have at the Solheim ... the first tee experience, the fan vibe," Kang said on Wednesday.

Kang certainly didn't let the experience overwhelm her. On the first tee, where almost everybody wants silence, Kang stepped back from her tee shot, waved her arms in the air to get the crowd to start chanting "USA! USA! USA!"

She then promptly bombed her tee shot down the middle of the fairway, leading to a first-hole win for her and Salas.

"That was the best drive I hit all day. I bombed it," Kang said after her and Salas' morning victory. "I kept telling her (Salas) on the fairway we got to intake this energy and ride off of this vibe because we don't get these kind of fans anywhere else. I love it."

"She loves the attention. She loves being the center of attention," quipped Salas.

The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup, is a series of 28 matches, two sessions of four groups of foursomes Friday, two sessions of four groups of fourball on Saturday and 14-match play matches on Sunday to wrap up the tournament.

The United States lead the all-time series, 9-5, including a victory in 2015 in Wurttenberg, Germany. 


Sports Writer

Sports reporter for The Courier

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