Tour Confidential: Solheim Cup reactions, MVPs, Lexi Thompson and more

Europe's Carlota Ciganda with the Solheim Cup following day three of the 2023 Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin, Malaga. Picture date: Sunday September 24, 2023.

The Europeans retained the Solheim Cup in a 14-14 tie with the U.S.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we’re discussing the Europeans retaining the Solheim Cup in a 14-14 tie with U.S. team, MVPs and Lexi Thompson’s awkward moment.

1. The Americans and Europeans tied 14-14 in the Solheim Cup on Sunday in Spain, meaning Europe will retain the Cup and deny the U.S. a trophy it hasn’t won since 2017. The U.S. was up 4-0 after the opening session on Friday and the event was tied 8-8 heading into Sunday. What happened? And what was the difference between the U.S. and Euros this week?

team europe solheim cup
As Europe stole the Solheim Cup, here’s what it looked, sounded and felt like
By: Sean Zak

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): The oddsmakers had this one right from the start. It was always going to be close. Even that opening session whitewash by the U.S. was tighter than the score made it look. What happened was an event playing out as a lot of people envisioned it would. In the end, that clinching singles match between Ciganda and Korda summed up the razor difference: the flatstick. Hard to remember a Solheim Cup (or Ryder Cup) when that hasn’t been the case.

Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): It’s interesting that one of the differences ended up being putting when this course, as noted on the broadcast, featured Bermuda grass and is rare in Europe and presumably would give Team USA an advantage. However, in the end, it felt like every crucial putt by Europe went in the heart while U.S. golfers — especially Nelly Korda — were ice cold with the flatstick. Ultimately I think home-field advantage proved the tipping point. When you have a Spanish fan base rally around Carlota Ciganda like they did, that’s tough to beat.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): All points matter, of course, but hard to overstate the importance of Caroline Hedwall’s point on Sunday, especially given the captain’s pick Suzann Petersen expended on an underperforming Hedwall raised more than a few eyebrows. In the eighth match of the session, she was 2 down to Ally Ewing through 13 holes; lose the match and the U.S. takes a two-point lead. But instead, Hedwall stuck in and won five of the last six holes — which included a closing eagle — to win 2 up and bring the overall score back to a tie. That allowed Europe to need only two points in the final four matches to retain the Cup. Huge pressure-reliever.  

2. Who earned MVP honors for each side, and whose struggling performance were you most surprised by?

carlota ciganda at solheim cup
‘Is this how you wanted it? It’s all yours’: How Carlota Ciganda became legendary
By: Nick Piastowski

Sens: Leona Maguire was a force for Europe, but Ciganda’s week played out so perfectly, it seemed almost scripted. Never trailed in a match. Got the point that secured the Cup. In her home country, no less. Slam dunk. For the U.S., I’ll go with Megan Khang. Came in with a less-than-sparkling Solheim record but was rock solid. Didn’t lose a match and did her best to set the tone on Sunday by going out first and grabbing a full point.

As for struggles, Charley Hull was not the factor she seemed poised to be, but late news of her neck issues helps explain that. On the U.S. side, Lilia Vu won two majors this year but just one match this week, and Zhang’s winless week has to count as something of a disappointing cap to an otherwise epic year. 

Hirsh: Ciganda for team Europe isn’t even a question for MVP. For the U.S., I’ll go outside the box and say Angel Yin. As much as Ciganda was the heart and soul of Team Europe, Yin, complete with her Deion Sanders shades and smack talk, was the emotional leader of Team USA, despite being one of the youngest members of the team. She went 2-1-0 in her first Solheim Cup.

In terms of struggling performances, I was surprised to see Charley Hull not only win just one point, but only play in three matches. She’s perhaps the most exciting player in women’s golf and was 11-5-3 in Solheim Cup matches coming in. For the U.S., it has to be Lilia Vu. The top-ranked American player went just 1-3-0 after a season in which she won two majors. Nelly Korda going 2-2-0 with a freezing cold putter wasn’t so great either.

Bastable: Yeah, Ciganda’s clutch home-game performance might be the story of the year. Had chills for her. Also loved European skipper Suzann Pettersen’s steely cool. She didn’t seem to overthink her role, and in an analytics-mad world relied on gut decisions. We also need to talk about Lexi Thompson. With so many questions swirling around her form, she went out and hung up three points, including a singles win in the anchor match. That contest proved to be moot, but the Cup could have oh-so easily hinged on it.

3. In an afternoon four-ball session on Day 1, Lexi Thompson needed to get up-and-down for birdie from off the green to tie the match (or have her partner, Lilia Vu, make a long birdie putt), but Thompson shanked a chip and made par, as the Europeans won the match 1 up. Afterward, things got awkward when a reporter asked Thompson about it: “I don’t need to comment on that,” she said. U.S. captain Stacy Lewis added: “That’s a terrible question.” The internet, and players like Jessica Korda, had lots to stay about this situation. How would you unpack it all?

lexi thompson awkward press conference
Lexi Thompson’s shank was human. A later exchange made things awkward
By: James Colgan

Sens: The question wasn’t terrible but Thompson’s response and the general defensiveness around it were. That’s the price that comes with being paid well to play a game for a living. You get asked about your triumphs. And your trials. Some commentators suggested that the question had sexist undertones. But a male player in that same situation would have gotten the same question, and that, too, would have been perfectly fair.

Hirsh: Well said, Sens. Our colleague James Colgan eloquently summed up the situation here too. To Thompson’s credit, she didn’t have to speak to the media at all and that would have been fine and understandable. But the fact she decided to talk meant she would have had to figure she was getting asked the question. To echo Sens, it’s a perfectly fair question and should have been answered if she was going to be there. 

Bastable: Stacy Lewis is a pro, but the “terrible question” jab was amateur hour. What would have been terrible is not asking the question. When a world-class athlete’s skill caves under intense pressure, fans want to know what went wrong. As Colgan pointed out, Thompson and Lewis’ edgy response made the whole episode a bigger deal than it would have been or should have been.  

4. In hindsight, it’s always easy to second-guess decisions. Any head-scratchers made by U.S. captain Stacy Lewis you think she might want a mulligan on?

Team Europe's Spanish golfer Carlota Ciganda (R) talks with Swedish golfer Linn Grant on the second day of the 2023 Solheim Cup biennial team golf competition at Finca Cortesin golf club in Casares, on September 23, 2023.
Solheim Cup Winners and Losers, Day 2: Controversy, coaching style, Carlota
By: Dylan Dethier

Sens: Her team wasn’t favored heading in. Her opening foursome pairings went 4-0. And the Americans came away with a tie playing on the opposition’s turf. Sure, it feels like a disappointment, but it’s hard to say the Americans underachieved or that their captain failed them.

Hirsh: Rose Zhang finished the matches with just a 0-2-1 record, failing to secure her first Solheim Cup win. It’s pretty hard to win your first point when you’re given so few chances. Not to mention she is the youngest player on the team and would have had the easiest time playing 36 one day. Sitting her twice in the opening two rounds was probably not the best call.

Bastable: See question 3. Beyond that, no. By all accounts the team was uber-prepared.

5. As our James Colgan wrote, with the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup (which we’ll break down in full in the next couple of days) being played in back-to-back weeks in Europe, golf was put in a unique position to grow the sport, yet it seems like it was a lost chance to collaborate. Was this a wasted opportunity for golf? Or was actually making these two events work together much harder than it sounds?

nelly korda waves flag
An unusual Ryder-Solheim Cup schedule gave golf a ‘Barbenheimer’ moment. Was it wasted?
By: James Colgan

Sens: I guess it would have been fun to see the events played back to back on the same course, a la the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. But this was a one-off year, with a schedule altered by Covid, and courses had already been chosen. So that was never in the cards. Could they have ‘collaborated’ for this one event and had some contrived-feeling tandem exhibitions? I suppose. Would it have given golf itself an electric jolt? I doubt it. More than anything, this feels like a concocted story about a missed opportunity to ‘grow the game.’ (leave it to golf pundits to never miss an opportunity to talk about ‘growing the game.’)  I’m glad the two events are going back to alternate years so they can each have their own spotlight and we can put this conversation to rest.

Hirsh: I’ll take the opportunity to play contrarian here and let Alan decide which idea he likes better. I say play them at the same time! This was floated over the weekend and I have to say, it makes a lot of sense. One of the biggest issues with team matches is there are just a few players on the course at any one time. This doubles the number of matches on the course for fans to watch and allows everyone to share in one huge spotlight. You can bring more fans on the course, have more viewing areas, split revenues with half the expenses. Everyone wins! (Except the teams that lose, of course).

Bastable: Play them simultaneously?! My aging heart can only take so much excitement. I know Lewis felt like the match organizers missed a marketing opportunity, but with I’m with Josh: how much can or should the Solheim Cup try to draft off the Ryder Cup? The Solheim is an incredible, thrilling spectacle that deserves its own moment.   

6. This year was the first time the Solheim Cup has ever ended in a tie, which isn’t exactly the most fun thing in the world. Quick: you have been selected to figure out how to properly end Solheim Cups and Ryder Cups that are all square after regulation. What’s your solution to crown a winner?

europe celebrating solheim cup win
Solheim Cup’s ‘awkward’ finish could have been avoided. Here’s how
By: Alan Bastable

Sens: Take a page from soccer and go to a penalty shootout. Each team sends out 5 players, one at a time, to play a short par 3. If the teams are tied after that, it goes to sudden death.

Hirsh: Select two players from each team for a chip-off. Two balls each and you aren’t allowed to watch anyone else’s attempts. Team with the closest ball wins. I’m also going to use this opportunity to point out how egregious it is that in 2023, NFL games can still end in ties.

Bastable: It’s a deeply unsatisfying way to conclude three days of hard-fought competition. I loved what the Presidents Cup had in place until 2005: before the singles matches, the captains each put one player’s name in an envelope. If the overall score was tied at day’s end, those players faced off in a sudden-death playoff. You’ll remember that’s the format that gave us the epic Tiger Woods-Ernie Els showdown in 2003. Darkness eventually forced the captains to agree upon a tie, but the three holes before that accord were a blast. Time to put that format back in play in all the big team events.

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