The Solheim Cup

The Solheim Cup

For the first time in 16 Solheim Cups, the result of the 2019 contest at Gleneagles was determined by the last putt on the 18th green of the final match on the course. Only once in the history of the Ryder Cup had a player holed such a putt to win for his team — Syd Easterbrook from three feet in 1933 at Southport and Ainsdale. It was a heart-stopping moment to lay before a record crowd for the biennial women’s match — over 90,000 spectators for the week — but the circumstances to reach such a thrilling denouement were even more remarkable for two reasons.

Firstly, Europe needed to win all of the last three matches to win by a single point. In the anchor match Anna Nordqvist defeated Morgan Pressel, 4 and 3, but Bronte Law had to win three holes out of four to go from one down to a 2-and-1 victory when Ally McDonald missed for par at the 17th. Meanwhile, in match 10, Marina Alex had won the 13th and 14th holes to take her match to the 18th and missed from 10 feet above the hole to secure a third successive victory for America and Juli Inkster as captain. Secondly, the player who faced the do-or-die putt from seven feet — miss and America would win, hole and Europe would win for only the sixth time — was Suzann Pettersen. The 38-year-old Norwegian was a controversial wild card selection by European captain Catriona Matthew as she had played only four events, missing the cut three times, since returning from maternity leave. Pettersen had been away from the game for 18 months after complications early in her pregnancy meant she could not fly. But Matthew, who played alongside Pettersen in the Dow Great Lakes pairs event in July, always wanted the veteran on her team despite Pettersen’s misgivings about continuing her professional career now she was a mother to son Herman.

This was Pettersen’s ninth appearance — she ended it with 21 points, fourth all-time for Europe — but injury had prevented her playing in 2017 and in 2015 her insistence on not conceding a putt to Alison Lee in the fourballs had sparked a furious American rally in the singles that secured the only previous one-point victory in the Solheim Cup.

Pettersen lost her voice on the eve of the contest at Gleneagles but enjoyed partnering the big-hitting youngster Anne van Dam to a win and a loss in the fourballs. She appeared in control of her singles against Alex, so far undefeated on debut, but was taken all the way to the 18th. Reaching the green, Pettersen was unaware of Law’s match finishing on the 17th but, no matter, in went the putt. It was not just a victorious end to the match but also her career. Amid the wild celebrations with teammates — and baby Herman — Pettersen decided to retire on the spot.

“I didn’t know it was for the Cup but I knew it was important,” Pettersen said of her putt. “Beany [Matthew] appeared on the 18th hole and said: ‘This is why I picked you.’ I never thought I was going to be here four months ago. It’s the perfect way to end my Solheim career and my professional career. This is it, I’m completely done. My life has completely changed in the last year. Now I know how it feels to win as a mother and I’m going to leave it like that.”

I could barely watch,” said Matthew in her first experience of captaincy. “It is far harder having to watch, but you just have to trust the players out there and I always had faith in Suzann. She has been one of the trailblazers for European golf and the Solheim Cup. It was such a special moment, what a way to go out at the top.” Pettersen added: “This is the ultimate dream. To win in Scotland, for Beany in her home country, for all the fans out there, to come down to the last putt, it was the ultimate.”

Europe has now won all three of the matches played in Scotland — including Dalmahoy in 1992 and Loch Lomond in 2000 — which meant a great deal to Matthew, a proud Scot who twice as a player secured the winning point for Europe. She made no immediate decision on continuing as captain, but it was farewell time for Inkster. “We had a few tears but we had a great week,” Inkster said. “The Europeans played great and we’re going to have a party. This will fuel us for two years’ time. It’s been an honor to do this three times. I’m 2 and 1 and that’s good. But it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about the memories and the friendships and being part of a team.”

For the first time since 2011, when Europe also prevailed late in the singles, the two teams were tied at 8-8 after the first two days. Europe edged ahead in the Friday morning foursomes, but the first point came from the first pair of sisters to play together in the Solheim Cup. Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam played for Europe in 1998 but not in combination. Jessica and Nelly Korda won four of the first five holes against Caroline Masson and Jodie Ewart Shadoff and ran out 6-and-4 winners. “That was a lot of fun,” said the 21-year-old Nelly, who was making her debut. Matthew had put her top-two ranked players together at the top of the order and Carlota Ciganda, with a long birdie putt at the 17th, and Law claimed a half against Pressel and Alex. Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier then won the first of three matches together by 2 and 1 over Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare, Thompson’s first loss since her rookie year in 2013. Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz took the anchor match over Megan Khang and Annie Park, 2 and 1, to give Europe the lead at lunch.

The afternoon fourballs proved a lost opportunity for the home side. The USA again claimed the first point via McDonald and Angel Yin, who made seven birdies in defeating the experienced Swedish combination of Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall, 7 and 5, equaling the biggest margin of victory in fourballs. McDonald was the only one of Inkster’s six rookies not to play in the morning, having only been upgraded from travelling reserve to team member on Tuesday when Stacy Lewis was ruled out with a back injury. The top match went to the home side as Pettersen and van Dam won 4 and 2 against Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas. “When you have a superstar
like this who just bombs it, you’ve got to be very happy,” Pettersen said of her partner.

There was a chance of Europe winning the last two matches to open up a three-point margin, but the visitors fought back magnificently in each. In fact, Thompson and Jessica Korda were two up with four to play before Ciganda and Law won the next three holes, the Spaniard again birdieing the 17th. But Thompson birdied the last to force a half in a classic contest.

even more wounding to the home side was Hull and Munoz losing a four-up lead with six to play against Altomare and Nelly Korda. The Americans birdied the 13th, then each of the last three holes. Nelly Korda almost holed in one at the 17th, with Hull lipping out from five feet for the win, while at the last Altomare holed from 25 feet before both Munoz and Hull again missed chances to take the point. “For two rookies to be four down with six holes left and to come back and tie, you can’t teach that. It’s just in your belly,” Inkster said of Altomare and the younger Korda. “Those two half points at the end were huge.”

Despite Europe leading by a point, there was no doubting the happier team were the visitors. But Matthew said: “Our objective is to try to win every session, but we would have taken a lead at the start of the day, so we’re pleased.” Saturday’s foursomes, played in a cold, blustery wind, also ended all-square with another American comeback in the top match. Pressel and Alex were four down after six holes to Nordqvist and van Dam. But the Americans had four birdies in a row from the ninth to go in front and produced a 2-and-1 victory. “It was a hard-fought battle,” said Pressel. “The putt that Marina made on seven was really the turning point in our match.”

By then there had already been another foursomes win for the Korda sisters, this time by a record-equaling 6-and-5 margin over Ciganda and Law. However, Hull and Munoz continued their unbeaten run with a 4-and-3 win over Kang and Khang, while Hall and Boutier claimed a second win together by 3 and 2 over Salas and McDonald.

It was in the afternoon fourballs that America won their first session to draw level, and that with the undefeated Korda sisters resting up for the singles. With the rain making conditions even tougher and rounds approaching six hours, it was quite a battle. Altomare and Park won at the 18th against Pettersen and van Dam, Pettersen keeping her team in touch with five birdies in six holes around the turn. Thompson and Park then produced a half against Masson and Ewart Shadoff, a pair returning for the first time since Friday morning. Masson had the chance to win at the 18th with a seven-footer which lipped out to her shock.

It was Hall and Boutier who prevented America taking the overall lead by recovering from being four down after seven holes to beat McDonald and Yin by two holes. “It was brutal out there,” said Hall, the 2018 British Open champion. “When we were four down I just thought, ‘enough is enough.’ We both switched on and played some good golf.” They were six under for the last 10 holes, with Boutier holing long putts for an eagle at the 14th and a birdie at the 16th.

Moments later, however, Salas and Kang closed out the Spaniards Ciganda and Munoz, the only two players to appear in every session. Not since 1992 had all four matches in a fourball or foursomes session gone to the 18th and that streak continued when Kang birdied the 17th for a 2-and-1 victory.

“At one point this afternoon it looked as if it could potentially go 4-0 or 3-1 against us, so we’re pretty pleased,” said Matthew. “That fight back from Georgia and Celine was great. Caroline is devastated she missed that putt on 18, but she hit a good putt.” In the top singles on a calmer Sunday, Ciganda left it late to gain her first win of the week as she leveled against Kang at the 16th and then won at the 18th. Hedwall led Nelly Korda three up after six holes, but the young American won five holes out of six at the start of the back nine on the way to a two-hole victory.

Thompson, who tweaked her back while warming up in the morning, nevertheless went two up on Hall early on, but the Englishwoman rallied around the turn and collected a 2-and-1 win. So did her partner of the first two days, Boutier, who beat Park by the same score as the pair collected records of four wins out of four. Europe now led 11-9, but America took four and a half points from the next five matches. There were wins for Altomare, 5 and 4, over Ewart Shadoff, Yin over Munoz, 2 and 1, Jessica Korda, 3 and 2, over Masson, and Salas over van Dam at the 18th. That meant Jessica and Nelly Korda were America’s top performers on three and a half points out of four. There was also a half for Khang over Hull, who birdied the 16th to go one up, but from 20 yards off the green at the last, took three to find the putting surface.

It looked then as if Europe would come up short by the narrowest of margins until Nordqvist, Law and Pettersen got the home team to 14½ points. “It could not have been any better,” Matthew said. “To come down to Suzann was unbelievable. Everyone remembers the last putt, but we had to get there and that’s down to everyone in the team. They all contributed to the victory.”


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