The Greatest Solheim
The 2019 Solheim Cup, played on the PGA Centenary Course at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland, promised to be the greatest ever biennial contest between the best golfers from Continental Europe and the United States.
With first-time captain Catriona ‘Beany’ Matthew taking the reign on home soil against twice-successful Juli Inkster, captaining the U.S. Team for the third time, the stage was set for an epic battle, but after three days of intense competition, it all came down to one moment – and no-one could have written a better script.
Rewind to Monday 9th September and the beginning of Solheim Cup week at Gleneagles. Matthew was looking characteristically calm. “I was very confident, actually, quietly confident,” she said of her team’s chances of success for the first time since 2013. “In terms of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, they were ahead of us, but playing on home soil is a huge advantage and a lot of our players had been playing well.”
Carlota Ciganda, Anne van Dam, Caroline Hedwall, Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Azahara Muñoz, Caroline Masson and Anna Nordqvist had all earned their place on the team and Matthew had chosen Bronte Law, Céline Boutier, Jodi Ewart-Shadoff and Suzann Pettersen as her picks.
Pettersen, who had played in just three LPGA events following an 18-month maternity leave, was selected to make a ninth appearance based on her vast experience in Solheim Cups.
Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open champion, said: “We were all very excited to start the week and all very ambitious in what we wanted to do.”
The battle began with the opening foursomes and Matthew was determined to have all 12 players go out on the first day. The first tee grandstand was buzzing with excitement, singing and cheering on Friday morning as the players warmed up and anticipation was building.
Rookie Law, paired with Ciganda, hit the opening tee shot in the top match against Marina Alex and Morgan Pressel and just like that, the 16th Solheim Cup was under way.
The match went back and forth, ultimately finishing all square, before Hall and Boutier wrapped up the second match with a 2 & 1 victory over Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare.
The Korda sisters, Jessica and Nelly, made a flying start and proved too strong for Ewart-Shadoff and Masson, but Hull and Muñoz won the fourth match 2 & 1 over Meghan Khang and Annie Park and the morning foursomes scoreline was 2 ½ to 1 ½ in Europe’s favour.
In the Friday afternoon fourballs, rookie van Dam was paired with her idol, Pettersen, who said: “Anne was as pumped as I was.”
The pair got off to a brilliant start and beat Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas 4 & 2. In second match, Ally McDonald and Angel Yin, both left out of the morning foursomes, took just 13 holes to beat Swedish duo Nordqvist and Hedwall 7 & 5.
In the third match, Thompson holed a curling 25-foot birdie putt across the last green to secure a halve for her and partner Jessica Korda against Law and Ciganda.
Then, in the final match, Hull and Muñoz also lost the last to a birdie to tie their match with Nelly Korda and Altomare, halving the session 2-2 with Team USA with the home team 4 ½ – 3 ½ in front heading into the second series of foursomes and fourballs.
Saturday was a chilly and breezy day, which tested the players’ nerve and endurance, particularly on the more exposed parts of the course, where the wind was howling.
The Korda sisters had the wind in their sails as they beat Law and Ciganda by a record-equalling 6 & 5 margin in the top match. Hull and Munoz made it two out of two in foursomes with a 4 & 3 victory over Kang and Khang. Pressel and Alex completed a gutsy turnaround victory over Nordqvist and van Dam, while Hall and Boutier were Europe’s other winners, the session ending 2-2 overall.
The Saturday fourballs proved to be another battle against the elements as the players were buffeted by winds gusting up to 48 miles an hour throughout the afternoon and they also had to contend with driving rain.
An inspired eagle on 14 from Boutier, paired with Hall, contributed to the pair’s success, but the Americans beat the Europeans 2 ½ – 1 ½ in a tense second fourball series. After two days of intense competition, the teams went into the 12 singles tantalisingly tied at eight points all.
Europe went into Sunday in a buoyant mood and Matthew put Ciganda out first. She delivered the first point on the board for the home side when she beat Danielle Kang on the last in a match in which there was never more than one hole in it, but Nelly Korda then evened things up at 9-9 when she came back from three down after nine holes to beat Caroline Hedwall by two holes.
Europe then edged ahead again when Hall beat Thompson, ranked third in the world, by 2 & 1.
Europe went two points ahead when French rookie, Boutier, also came from behind to beat American counterpart Park 2 & 1. That meant the 24-year-old captain’s pick completed her first Solheim Cup with four wins in her four matches and completely vindicated the faith Catriona Matthew had placed in her. It also saw her tie Hall as the top points-earner in the home side.
Ewart Shadoff lost 5 & 4 to US rookie Altomare and the US revival continued, first when Yin led almost all the way to even the match up at 11-11 with a 2 & 1 win over Azahara Munoz and then when Jessica Korda completed a memorable family double with a 3 & 2 comeback victory over Caroline Masson.
That win by the elder Korda sister meant that for the first time in the entire match America held the lead and Europe’s predicament worsened when Hull lost the last hole to halve her match against Khang and again when van Dam missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last that would have given her a halve with Lizette Salas.
European dreams looked to be shattering with Team USA charging towards what looked like a third successive Solheim Cup victory, needing only half a point to retain the trophy. However, that was when Matthew’s three heroines, Nordqvist, Law and Pettersen, stepped in.
Nordqvist, out last, was four up through 13 holes on Pressel and the Swede quickly won 4 & 3 but Pettersen and Law were tied with Alex and McDonald and both had to win to stop America winning the Solheim Cup.
In the penultimate match, English rookie, Law, described by Pettersen as the ‘pit bull’ of the team, was the first to grasp the moment when she won both the 16th and 17th to beat McDonald 2 & 1.
All the pressure of winning the Solheim Cup then came down to Pettersen, playing the last hole.
Having missed the 18th fairway, the Norwegian took the captain’s advice to lay up and she then hit the perfect wedge shot which flew straight over the pin and span back to seven feet short of the hole.
Her opponent Alex was first to putt, but her effort from 10 feet slipped past the right of the hole and Europe’s hopes remained alive.
“We all knew that this was the putt for it and that was why Suzann was in that position and that’s why I picked her,” said Matthew.
Under the most intense pressure, Pettersen took the putter back and through and as the ball found the middle of the hole, she rocked back, roared to the sky above and leapt into the air, having secured what was one of the most dramatic victories in the history of the game. The delirious European team rushed to congratulate her and the 18th green turned into a sea of European blue.
There was a tearful hug with her two-year-old son Herman and then Pettersen quickly found herself in front of a microphone, where she said: “I think this is a fantastic closure for my career and I can’t ask for anything more.”
Matthew said: “I don’t know if anyone saw that retirement coming, but it was a fairy tale moment, the way it finished.”
Carlota added: “In Scotland, for Catriona to win at home, in front of all the crowds, with her family, to win the way we did, in the last match, on the last hole, with the last putt, I don’t think you could write anything better.”
The 2021 Solheim Cup will be played at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Matthew will return with her original team of vice captains: Pettersen, Kathryn Imrie and Dame Laura Davies. This was Europe’s third success in Scotland and looking ahead, the quiet but competitive Scot said, with a smile, “Inverness Club: it doesn’t get more Scottish than that!”July 18, 2020 9:44 am