On that day in County Meath, Ireland, where Conway’s Summar Roachell would play the biggest match of her young life, the forecast was “was rainy and breezy.”
After walking outside and feeling the high winds and driving rain, Roachell had a different perspective for the final day of matches for the Junior Solheim Cup.
“We’d consider it a hurricane,’ she said. “We don’t play golf in that weather. We go and get in our basement.”
Roachell, a junior at Conway High who has won three straight 7A girls state golf titles, related her experiences as part of a 12-member U.S. team at the Junior Solheim Cup, during a guest appearance Wednesday before the Conway Kiwanis Club.
On that final day which the U.S. entered singles matches trailing 7-5 against a select European team, Roachell won her match after chipping within 2 inches on the 18th hole to help the Americans retain the Cup with a 12-12 tie.
“We fought through that weather,” she said. “I think the European players expected us to crumble in that weather, and I really think they were the ones that crumbled. We played really good in that weather, surprisingly. We started turning it on and started winning.”
She was a part of history.
“We were the first group of (American) girls to retain the Cup and win on European soil,” she said. “That was something I’ll never forget.”
Roachell had never played a match in international competition. She was one of the last players added to the U.S. team as a “captain’s pick” by captain Meg Mallon, a former LPGA golfer. After winning her first national tournament (the Bubba Conlee in Memphis), Roachell rose in the national rankings and followed that by a second-place finish in a national junior tourney in San Antonio then reached the quarterfinals of the girls U.S. Junior Amateur.
She then received an invitation to the PGA Junior Championships in Indiana.
“I was getting ready to go hear Tom Watson speak when Meg Mallon called me; I was really excited; I was jumping up and down and almost pulled a hamstring I was so excited. She asked me if I would like to represent my country. That was kind of a no-brainer.”
She flew to Chicago to join the U.S. team on Sept. 16, then the team flew eight hours overnight to Ireland for the competition.
“We expected a links-style course with grass way high and everywhere, but it was really Americanized, just like you would see at Conway Country Club or Centennial,” she said.
She teamed with Kyung Kim of Arizona State in the opening alternate-shot match and the U.S. team was blitzed, 4 and 3.
“We ran into girls who hit the ball within 2 to 3 feet on four straight holes and made birdie,” she said. “We’re like making 20-footers to tie. We had a good time but determined that Americans are not very good at alternate shot because we were down 5-1 after the morning matches.”
She discovered that her partner for the afternoon fourball match, Talbert of South Carolina, had a similar personality to hers.
“We were both really loud and outgoing,” Roachell said. “We knew we had won the match before it started. We were whooping and hollering on the tee box before it started. We intimidated them (the Europeans) really bad. They were loud, too, but we kind of shut them up. They were not loud that whole time.”
The U.S. team was down 7-5 after the first day. Five of the final singles matches on the final day went down to the last hole, Three of the last five were decided on the 18th hole after the Americans lost No. 17 all three times to square the match. One of those going down to the final hole was Roachell’s match against Luna Sobron of Spain.
“Not one time did anyone get down about us losing, even after being down 5-1,” she said. “We all knew we had a good group of girls and we could come back and win.”
Roachell played in the sixth of 12 matches.
“She (Sobron) was a really good player and it was back and forth the whole time,” she said. “On No. 16, I got up on her again, then I decided to make it interesting by hitting it into the water on 17. We go to 18 and we both miss the green. I thought I had a harder chip that she did and I hit mine to about 2 inches. She didn’t give me the putt. She hit hers to within 6 feet and missed the putt and I just tapped in my 2-incher for a par.
“That match gave us the chance to win. If I would have halved the match, we would not have won the Cup, pretty much.”
Glancing playfully at Conway school officials who were present, including superintendent Dr. Greg Murry, she noted that school was let out in that Irish community for the tournament.
“There were hundreds of little kids — I don’t know how old they were — on the fairway and by the greens,” she said. “We’re getting all excited because we’re close to winning and we’re running back and forth to check on our teammates. And they’re going ‘Boo, Boo,’ and they were chanting ‘Europe, Europe’ the whole time and we’d chant ‘USA, USA, we gotcha.’”
Roachell said one of the highlights was playing a four-hole mini-match with two American and two European pros who were there for the Senior Solheim Cup -— which had the most dramatic finish in history with the Europeans rallying to win at Killeen Castle.
“We got to go inside the ropes with them and got to talk to all the players, all their caddies, all their parents,” Roachell said. “We got to hit range balls on the same range they did, putt on the same putting greens. We all felt like we were part of that, that we just belonged there. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, we’re with the pros, omigosh, freak out.’
“I talked to Paula Creamer’s parents for about three holes and Morgan Pressler’s aunt and cousins for a couple of holes and it was great how supportive they were of us. Morgan Pressel was texting our captain every day, seeing how we were doing, wish us luck. It was neat to see all the professionals support us in as big a way as they did. We went to the gala dinner in which they introduced all the players and all the professional players came to our tables and talked with us about our game and life. It’s not everyday that you get to talk to professional athletes about whatever you want to.”
She also became a big fan of Mallon.
“She the nicest person I’ve ever met and gave us so much good advice and so much support and we had such a great time,” Roachell said. “She kept us calm. We listened to music during team meetings. It was serious but we still had a lot of fun. I think that was a big part of our coming out and fighting back. We stayed relaxed the whole time. The Europeans were really uptight. We were trying to talk to them and they really didn’t want to talk to us. We were there to have fun. We were trying to be serious, too, but have fun the same time ... And we had a really good crowd over there (including her parents and two of her grandparents) and you could tell who was winning holes because our yells were really distinct out there.”
She said she gained a lot of confidence from the experience.
“I knew I could compete with them by being selected to this team,” Roachell said. “She (Mallon) could have picked anybody in the whole USA. For her to pick me, it made me feel I really belonged out there. And especially in winning two matches, it made you feel you could play with anybody out there. Even coming back and playing in the state tournament (Monday and Tuesday), it just gave me confidence in my whole game.”
But her greatest moment may have been an old-fashioned patriotic one.
“Our last match that we won was on the 17th hole,” she said. “We thought it would be pretty cool. We formed four lines of three and locked arms and sang the National Anthem as we were walking all the way up to the clubhouse.
“Getting to represent not only my city and my state but to represent my country and to win for the first time of European soil. That was just a huge thing for me. I’ll never forget that moment.”