As Europe stole the Solheim Cup, here’s what it looked, sounded and felt like
CASARES, Spain — Precisely 65 minutes before the European team’s first celebratory cork was popped into the sky, James Longman was in a rush to the 16th tee at Finca Cortesin. He had seen some things.
Longman paced quickly ahead of Nelly Korda’s match, where she was about to win the 15th hole and claw back to even against Carlota Ciganda, Longman’s longtime girlfriend, who had been leading for the last 12 holes (and roughly three hours).
Longman stopped when he spotted a familiar face.
“Carlota just shanked one,” he told Euro player-captain Anna Nordqvist. It was a “proper shank” Ciganda said later. Chunky from the fairway and exiting on a beeline toward a town called Lost Hole.
“Okay, well Caro just won,” Nordqvist said. “She birdied the last three to win.”
“Caro,” as in Caroline Hedwall, and that point changed this Solheim Cup in a big way. What Hedwall’s victory up on the 18th meant was already clear to Longman, this being his fifth Solheim Cup in the BF role. It was all coming down to his girl’s match. In her home country.
“The Solheim Cup is always like this,” Longman said, shaking his head and assuming another nervous position right of the 16th tee box. “Gleneagles came down to the last putt. Inverness came down to, what, the last two holes?”
Sure! But what happened on the last two holes of this Solheim Cup defies imagination. It was more EA Sports than Hollywood, as Ciganda was battling the video-game boss character of women’s golf. Korda, with her perfect swing and silly distance and steely demeanor and bloodline of pro athletes — well, she’s genetically built to break hearts on the golf course. And thousands of Spanish hearts surrounded the 16th. None of them could have been shocked when Korda dropped her approach in to eight feet, a shot so good both fanbases had to applaud.
The Cup had been crescendoing on this hole all week, the only place on the back nine where two holes run alongside one other. Golf courses are not arenas until late in the day at the biggest tournaments in the world, but that’s what this was, with every sunburnt spectator straining for sight lines. And now many of them have a video on their phones they’ll never want to delete. Ciganda saw Korda’s approach at 16 and hit her own so expertly you’d think she was aiming for Korda’s ball, tossing a wedge from 111 yards to less than one.
Korda’s birdie try slipped by and Ciganda’s ensuing make gave the crowd another video they’ll never delete. From a shank to, somehow, the sublime. Europe 1 up; Spain, losing its mind. Longman charged onto the edge of the green to high-five his lady and followed her on the sweaty walk up the hill to 17. When he reached the top he let out a heavy exhale and said what everyone had to be thinking: “You couldn’t script it.”
This was to say nothing of Ciganda’s entire week as the only Spaniard in the field. She sat the first session because Pettersen was convinced Ciganda was so amped she might “jump off and fly if she could.” Only victories followed that benching: 4 and 2, 2 and 1, 2 and 1. Ciganda clearly wasn’t too keen for the 18th hole. But to Longman’s point, if you were scripting it, we’d see a couple 3s on the 143-yard par-3 and march to the par-5 finisher. Ciganda had other plans, taking what was the greatest shot of her life and dropping it down one rung, sticking her tee ball even closer this time: to two feet.
That both shots happened right in front of the king of Spain only adds to the fact that it will go down as one of the greatest moments in Spanish golf history. In women’s golf history. In golf history. So much that it was almost too much.
“To be honest, I don’t really remember much what had happened,” Ciganda would say later. Her name had been chanted millions of times. She was drowned in Oles. Korda had a chance to chip in at 17 and extend the match, but she too had been drowned in Oles. Everyone onsite had been.
When she came oh-so-close-but-didn’t, Pettersen turned to the 10 Euro teammates kneeling just off the green.
“For the win,” she mouthed.
Two minutes later the putt dropped and the party officially began, as if it hadn’t already. The Americans scored 14 points and the Euros scored 14 points. As the keepers of the Cup, they retained it rather than win it outright. The difference doesn’t matter.
It makes sense that Ciganda’s memory was hazy. The next hour was sensory overload. She was mugged by her caddie, then by her teammates. She bounced between interviews in English and others in Spanish and then was hoisted onto the shoulders of two Swedish teammates, Nordqvist and Madelene Sagström. For a few seconds Ciganda was perched above the Solheim Cup. What that view looked like Sunday only one person knows.
Longman, the boyfriend, bounced around, too. He crossed paths with Lisa Maguire, the twin sister of Leona Maguire, who is already dreaming of all this excitement playing out for Leona when the Solheim Cup inevitably returns to Ireland.
“You couldn’t script it,” Maguire said to Longman.
There’s that phrase again. Behind them, the winning team had congregated arm in arm for a quick stream of pictures. Then they circled together and, like any sports team would, placed their hands in the center, one on top of the other. Their captain finished an interview and came bounding in, planting her hand on the top and croaking out a scream:
“AND I SAID THREE-PEEEEAT!”
That was the cue. That first celebratory cork lobbed into the sky and champagne quickly followed. Longman was the facilitator, holding the empty bottle and wearing a grin even wider than Ciganda’s. Time to lap up the victory.