Why this Solheim Cup is closer than the Day 1 score indicates
CASARES, Spain — The math nerds will tell you there are more than a hundred million ways an 18-hole golf match can reach the final hole, but when the matrices are dictated by humans and not coin-flips, getting to 18 doesn’t happen as frequently.
Humans have heartbeats and different skill-levels and confidence and…scar tissue. It all matters. And so a much smaller number of matches reach the final hole. It’s a shame, because that’s where teammates crowd in nervously. It’s where captains show up and whisper into their radios. The 18th is where the goods take place, and thankfully, for pure theatrical entertainment, it served as center stage on Day 1 at the Solheim Cup, with five of the eight matches being decided there.
Friday morning was dominated by the Americans, who swept a foursomes session for the first time in the 33-year history of this event. But not all big leads look the same. There was the 3-1 start the American men took at Whistling Straits in 2021, in which zero matches reached the 18th. And then there was the 3.5-0.5 lead the European women took earlier that month at the Solheim Cup at Inverness, in which every match reached the final hole.
“I’ve told ’em, there’s several ways to the top,” European captain Suzann Pettersen said. “Sometimes it don’t always go your way. You got to stand up, try it again, and do it all over.”
But when opportunities slide past the cup on 18, it gets harder to stand up, try again, and do it all over. Two of those morning matches went the distance and both wrapped with European putts failing to sniff the hole for a half-point. Celine Boutier’s 20-foot birdie try missed the hole a full foot left, and 15 minutes later, Anna Nordqvist’s 15-footer on a similar line also missed by about the same margin. Win-win for America. Goose egg for Europe.
Things had gotten so out of hand that one of the many friends and family inside the ropes joked to European vice captain Laura Davies that she should disrobe to serve as a distraction. If only golf fans — yes, golf media is just as culpable — could just stay a bit more patient. Every match has an ebb and flow to it.
Four-ball matches in particular, which we saw this afternoon, tend to trudge along. Friday’s encroached upon the 6-hour mark. Your partner becomes a safety chord you can pull when seeking to limit the damage. Fewer holes are won, and, ultimately, the 18th feels more like a faraway beach than an obvious destination. So, around 7 p.m., just when the course started leaning in the direction of the final hole, only a couple of hundred people were there. The majority were hanging out near the green. Dozens of them were laying down on the spongy Bermuda grass. No one lined the ropes.
But then, fitting the theme of the day, Match 1 arrived. The Europeans backed their way into pars, and the Americans missed their birdie putts. Clutch halved points or a lost opportunity? That depends on which team you support.
Fifteen minutes after that, the Lexi Thompson-Lilia Vu-Georgia Hall-Leona Maguire match arrived. Thompson was in the catbird seat, only a few yards away from the hole in 2. No one got as close as she did all afternoon. It felt like her hole to lose, right up until the moment Maguire chipped in for a birdie that shook the course and, just maybe, shook Thompson’s confidence, too. Her lie in the rough had to seem trickier. The bottom of her wedge had to feel heavier.
Because the universal truth is that when matches get to the 18th, weird things tend to happen, something weird did happen. Humans have heartbeats. Thompson’s ball shanked out to the right, virtually certifying another point for the Euros, and one they weren’t planning on getting. The kind of point that flipped this Solheim Cup from an American walk in a Spanish park to much more of a dogfight.
We’ll gladly sign up for two more days of it.