How Europe, alone and outmatched, stole the Solheim Cup on U.S. soil
TOLEDO, Ohio — Not even the gusto of tens of thousands clad in red, white and blue could will Team USA back from the brink. Instead, it was the cheers of just 40 people — outfitted in European blue and yellow — that echoed through Inverness Club Monday evening as Team Europe claimed a 15-13 victory in the Solheim Cup.
The win marks the second in a row for the Europeans and the fourth out of the last six Solheim Cups. In an event once dominated by the Americans, Team Europe has placed a stranglehold on the event over the last decade.
“It’s not really sunk in yet,” European captain Catriona Matthew said. “Closing out on 18 was just dream-come-true stuff.”
The demeanor of the Americans and the Europeans coming into the final day of the Solheim Cup was a study in contrast.
Team USA’s 12, surrounded by friends, family and a host of adoring fans, were loose and relaxed as they prepared for their singles matches.
Lexi Thompson pumped up the crowd as she teed off, and Lizette Salas greeted her family behind the practice tee and signed autographs for fans. Jessica Korda and Megan Khang hit the “Dougie” as music was pumped into the teeing ground, while Nelly Korda chatted with her entourage on the putting green.
The dozen from Europe, meanwhile, were all business.
Anna Nordqvist stared inscrutably down the fairway as she was introduced to the masses in the first match. Sophia Popov locked in with her earbuds snug in place as she rolled balls end over end on the putting green. Charley Hull kept a steely glare as she loosened up, stopping only to coax her golden locks into a long braid.
That all-business attitude carried over to the golf course. Nordqvist, matched up in the leadoff match with American stalwart Lexi Thompson, never allowed her opponent to gain any momentum. The duo stayed deadlocked throughout, and by the time the pair traded 18th-hole pars for a half point each, a European win seemed likely.
But it wasn’t yet guaranteed. Time and time again, the masses on site pleaded for a spark; anything to rejuvenate the energy that the Europeans snatched away. But each time the Americans looked to gather momentum, an Irishwoman, or a Swede, or a Finn, would answer back.
Leona Maguire proved herself to be a match-play ace in her Solheim Cup debut. Appearing in all five sessions, the 26-year-old went 4-0-1, punctuated by a 5&4 beatdown of fellow rookie Jennifer Kupcho, earning Europe their first point of the singles session.
“I’ve given it my absolute all this week,” Maguire said. “I couldn’t have given it anything more. I couldn’t have asked for a better week.”
As Maguire joined the European delegation on the sidelines, the “USA!” chants changed in tenor. The cries began to feel compulsory rather than the expression of uncontainable pride they’d represented all week, and they petered out quicker.
Madelene Sagstrom earned another critical point for her side early during the session. In her match against Ally Ewing, the Swede battled back from an early deficit to take firm control on the back nine. She won three straight holes from 14-16 to close out the match 3&2.
“I played some really good golf today,” she said. “Ally did, too, so we had a really good game, but I’m really happy to be on the winning side.”
Despite that early momentum snatched by the ladies in blue, there was, for a fleeting moment, a small opening that could have allowed the U.S. to win back the cup. World No. 1 Nelly Korda defeated Georgia Hall, and behind her there was a sea of red on the board.
Whispers started in the gallery mapping out scenarios that would allow the Cup to stay on home soil.
If Ernst can flip her match, and Khang hangs on, and Salas can scratch out a half, that’s 14.5 — it’s not over! We can still win this thing.
A group of star-spangled women behind the 18th green started to chant.
I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!
Soon, more joined in, and the cheers grew in vigor. The Yankees suddenly had life. The scoreboard grew with red by the minute, and momentum began to favor the home team.
But just as a rookie set the tone early for the Euros, it was another rookie who slammed that window of opportunity shut. This time, Matilda Castren was the hero.
The rookie was facing down scrappy Lizette Salas, and though her counterpart dwarfed her in experience, Castren never flinched. She never led by more than a 1-up margin, but she also never trailed. Salas kicked and clawed to extend the match to the 18th hole, but when Castren’s 10-footer for par dropped to clinch the match, she also assured that the Cup would make the trip back to Europe.
“It’s hard to put it into words right now. I think I’m still shaking,” Castren said. “I was looking at the board and I knew it was going to be an important putt and I wanted to make it, and me and Mikey read it and read it perfectly and it went in. I’m just so happy right now.”
There was still technically golf to be played. The final match went down to No. 18, where Danielle Kang was battling to narrow the margin — but Emily Kristine Pedersen came up with birdie on 18. When the putt dropped to put the finishing touches on the 15-13 victory, the only sound at Inverness came from the Euros, who will own the Cup for two more years.
Ole Ole Ole Ole! Oleee! Oleeee!
Four years ago, there was jubilation in Iowa at the Cup’s conclusion. This time around, bubbly showered down, the Americans hung their heads, and the fans flooded for the exits. Forty remained, clad in blue and yellow and champagne, chanting into the night.