The Solheim Cup is tied 8-8. Sunday will be a dogfight

carlotta ciganda

Carlota Ciganda poses for the camera after winning her third match of the Solheim Cup in her home country.

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CASARES, Spain — Team Europe began its Solheim Cup by getting “slapped in the face”, to use Emily Kristine Pedersen’s rather blunt words. The inspiration for a comeback needed to come from somewhere, and it needed to come quickly. 

For Pedersen herself, there was the 3-wood she hit on 11 Friday afternoon to a foot. Her next swing was somehow better — an ace on the 12th. That’s some good inspo. But then there was also the stern phone call that arrived Friday evening.

“If I see you tomorrow not smiling,” the caller said. “I’m gonna beat your a**. Head up, chest out, smiling to the crowd.”

The man on the other end of the line was none other than Thomas Bjorn, Ryder Cup vice captain, European golf legend and, according to Pedersen, a golfing father figure. (Both hail from Denmark.) It was the night before his wedding but he didn’t like seeing Pedersen sulking on his television. 

Message received, Thomas! Twenty-four hours later, Pedersen added two victorious matches, which included eight birdies in the afternoon session that once again went 3-1 in favor of Europe. After their inauspicious start, somehow Europe has clawed its way to an 8-8 tie heading into the Sunday singles matches. The inspiration needed to come from somewhere. 

There was also the speech that European captain Suzann Pettersen gave to her team Friday night. It was bound to be just as profane. 

“I just think I spoke from the heart,” Pettersen said late Saturday night. “For the ones who know me in this room, [it] would probably not be too appropriate to say out loud. But I think it was needed. So I laid the land and they kind of got it.”

I think so, too. 

It’s hard to tell exactly when the comeback began but it may have been on the final putt of the morning session, when Linn Grant lipped in a putt on the 18th hole to remain 1 Up and keep them from taking a step back on the scoreboard. Grant then proceeded to birdie the first six holes of her fourball match and add another pair on the back nine.

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Her teammate, Carlota Ciganda, made eight birdies herself. That their match reached the 17th hole says a bit about how well Danielle Kang and Lilia Vu played, but it was on that 17th hole that this weeklong affair officially became tied again. And where the spectators showered Spain’s native daughter with their own remix of the White Stripes’ “7 Nation Army”.

Carrr loh-ta Ci-Gan-Dah

Carrr loh-ta Ci-Gan-Dah

Carrr loh-ta Ci-Gan-Dah

The inspiration is never scarce with Team Europe — especially when they’re playing at home. That side always seems to inflate during these weeks. It’s never just 12 women and their captains. It’s the Bjorns of the world, tuning in pre-nuptials, or the Mel Reids, one of Ciganda’s longtime Solheim teammates, who has been texting words of encouragement all week from across the Atlantic.

Apparently, there’s no shortage of bulletin board material on the American side, too. The only American pairing to win in the afternoon was the soft-spoken Cheyenne Knight and her not-so-soft-spoken teammate Angel Yin. The latter has been so rambunctious — even showing up to her press conference in “Deion Shades” — that the reserved Knight has “broken out of her shell a bit,” captain Stacy Lewis said. They’ve been very keen for one Sanders quote all week: “We keep receipts.” The inspiration needed to come from somewhere.

nelly korda and carlota ciganda
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So, where does the Solheim Cup go from here? Anywhere, really. Team Europe needs six points. Team USA needs six-and-a-half. Both sides have felt momentum this week and both have also lost it. Both captains think they’ve got the mo’ entering Sunday’s singles matches. The Solheim Cup, at times, can be all about convincing yourself to believe something, no matter how unlikely.

For the final day, the Americans will kick things off with the law firm of Khang, Zhang and Kang while the Euros have entrusted their start to Grant, Maguire and Hull. Fiery, steely and feisty. Buried deep in the slate is the potential for an all-timer between Nelly Korda, USA’s best player, and Ciganda, Spain’s heart and soul. The result of the 11th match doesn’t always matter in these team events, but that’s one beautiful thing about the 8-all tie. No one gets a head start. All the motivation you’d ever need.

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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