Winners and Losers from Solheim Cup, Day 1: aces, blunders, more
They say you can’t win the Solheim Cup on Friday but you sure can lose it.
Okay, they don’t really say that. And it wouldn’t make sense if they did. But halfway through Friday it seemed like the U.S. side had a chance to run and hide after roaring out to a 4-0 morning sweep. But then the Euros roared back. By day’s end they’d cut the lead to 5-3 in a series of rousing, nail-biting afternoon matches, serving as reminder that the Solheim Cup is (1) an incredible event, and (2) a long, long way from declaring a winner and a loser.
But that won’t stop us. Here are the winners and losers from Day 1.
WINNER: The first-tee scene
Ahead of this year’s Solheim and Ryder Cups I couldn’t help but feel some trepidation about the first-tee scenes, given the pressure for loud, filled bleachers. What if they weren’t? I know very little about the golfing cultures of Spain and Italy; would there be enough local interest to fill a massive amphitheater in the wee hours of the morning?
But then I flipped on the coverage just before 11 p.m. from home in Seattle (our James Colgan and Sean Zak are on the scene in person) to see a glorious overhead shot of the first-tee scene. In the foreground was a rollicking group of some of the happiest-looking golf fans I’ve ever seen, dancing in the dark as they awaited opening tee shots. The backdrop was the Andalucia sunrise, promising daybreak by the time Lexi Thompson pummeled the opening tee shot down toward the green.
LOSER: West Coast viewing
It was awesome to be able to stay up to watch that scene. And then I was psyched to watch the first few holes of the matches. But then what? I love watching alternate-shot match play in these massive moments. I love it. Am I supposed to turn ’em off after three holes? Five holes? When?! My East-Coast brethren had the benefit of waking up to watch the matches conclude with coffee and bagels. Instead I just … stayed up. Now I’m tired.
WINNER: Lexi Thompson’s first 35 holes
Coming into this competition, Lexi Thompson’s game was arguably the biggest question mark on either team. How would it stand up under arguably the greatest pressure in the sport? U.S. captain Stacy Lewis decided to lean in; she thrust Thompson into the fire by having her very literally hit the opening tee shot of the entire competition.
It worked. Thompson and partner Megan Khang handled the moment better than their much-heralded rookie opponents, Linn Grant and Maja Stark, roaring out to a 3-up lead through three holes. Thompson said she loved the first-tee pressure.
“Of course I had a little bit of nerves, but it’s the highest honor and it’s an adrenaline rush and that’s what we play for,” she said.
They’d ultimately close out the match on 17.
Thompson had her moments in the afternoon, too. Birdies at 4 and 12. A highlight-reel at 14. She and partner Lilia Vu were playing Leona Maguire and Georgia Hall to a stalemate. What a massive, massive win to come out and compete at such a high level. Until…
LOSER: Lexi Thompson’s 36th hole
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, I shouldn’t need to add many more to this video of Thompson taking on a tricky eagle chip at No. 18 with the match tied and … doing this:
Thompson was asked about the chip post-round. She didn’t seem interested in shedding much light on the moment.
“I don’t need to comment on the chip,” she said. “It was a bad lie, and I didn’t hit a good chip, but it was pretty much impossible, so…”
WINNER: Leona Maguire, Solheim Hero
She very nearly willed her team to a morning half-point. But in the afternoon Leona Maguire — chipping directly before Thompson — would not be denied:
WINNER: Corpuz and Khang
Only two players left the first day having earned more than one point: Allisen Corpuz and Megan Khang.
Corpuz, this year’s U.S. Open champ and a Solheim Cup rookie, teamed up with Nelly Korda in the morning and holed a clutch par putt at No. 18 to finish off a 1-up victory. In the afternoon she nearly aced the par-3 17th and then holed a clutch birdie putt at No. 18 to grind out a half-point.
Khang, arguably the best irons player on the U.S. team, entered the week with plenty of Solheim Cup experience but with a newfound confidence, too, after notching her first LPGA win last month. She and Thompson earned a morning victory before she and Rose Zhang halved their afternoon match.
Khang was effusive in her praise for Corpuz:
“I mean, Allisen, I screamed, like, ice in her veins, guys [on 18]. I mean, you wonder why she’s won a major, that’s it, as Stacy said. It’s super cool.”
Khang grew up in Massachusetts, while Corpuz is from Hawaii, but they’ve known each other since they were “like, seven,” Khang added.
“It’s pretty cool to see how far we’ve come just friendship-wise, and we’re playing on the biggest stage and here representing our country being one of 12, or two of 12 — it’s incredible. It’s going to be memories that last a lifetime.”
LOSER: Team Europe’s final-foursome strategy
The Golf Channel broadcast was particularly puzzled by the decision to have Emily Pedersen hit the opening tee shot rather than her partner Charley Hull in morning foursomes. The reason for that second-guessing? In foursomes, one teammate tees off on the odd holes while the other gets evens. The course skews heavily in one direction: whoever tees off on the odd holes will hit more drives and birdie putts, while the even player will hit more approach shots. Hull is the statistically superior putter while Pedersen is better on approach.
Captain Suzann Pettersen said later that she doesn’t prescribe which players tee off on which holes.
“You can only lead people to water. You can really help ’em drink it, right?” she said.
“I told the players, whatever you guys figure out between you from the knowledge that I’ve given you, you make yourself comfortable and play how you guys think it’s going to line up the best. So, no, I didn’t really tell who to play what hole.”
Whatever the reason, Hull and Pedersen struggled out of the gate; they recorded an alternate-shot 44 on the front nine and were 6 down at the turn before ultimately falling 5 and 4.
WINNER: Pedersen’s par-3s
First there was the ace — only the second in Solheim Cup history — which featured an epic use of the side slope.
Then there was the near-ace on 17 that led to a crucial birdie needed to tie the hole and ultimately allow Team Europe to earn a half-point in the match.
LOSER: The only woman on the bench
Europe’s Caroline Hedwall was the only player on either side to sit both sessions; the other 23 players got into at least one match. What led to that decision?
“I mean, we have to put our A team out, and she’s completely in with that,” Pettersen said. She added that Hedwall will “for sure” play tomorrow. “She’s 100 percent in it, she’s feisty, she’s ready to go tomorrow, so she’s all over it.”
WINNER: The local legend
Carlota Ciganda, the only Spanish player on Europe’s roster, didn’t play the morning session — but she was among the first players on the first tee nonetheless, dancing and cheering and interacting with fans.
“I was just embracing it and having fun,” she said. “I think the atmosphere on the first hole, it’s amazing. I’m so happy that we get to play here in Spain. It’s very special for me.”
When she actually teed it up in the afternoon, she put on a show alongside Linn Grant. Ciganda birdied No. 1 to put the team 1 up — and they never looked back. The two combined for a 4-and-2 victory, Europe’s biggest of the day.
“Carlota, I’m just trying to put a leash on this week,” Pettersen said. “I mean, she would jump off and fly if she could. So I’m really just trying to keep her grounded. She’s playing fantastic.”
That’s all for today! And apologies for mere drive-by mentions of undefeated 1-0 Americans Danielle Kang, Andrea, Lee, Nelly Korda and Cheyenne Knight. You’re all very literally winners.
Good news: There’s more match-play golf in like, just a few hours. Rest up!
You can see Saturday morning’s matchups below:
Solheim Cup Saturday morning foursomes matchups, start times (ET)
Match 1, 2:10 a.m. — Lilia Vu/Jennifer Kupcho (USA) vs. Emily Pedersen/Carlota Ciganda (EUR)
Match 2, 2:22 a.m. — Lexi Thompson/Megan Khang (USA) vs. Leona Maguire/Anna Nordqvist (EUR)
Match 3, 2:34 a.m. — Nelly Korda/Allisen Corpuz (USA) vs. Celine Boutier/Georgia Hall (EUR)
Match 4, 2:46 a.m. — Danielle Kang/Andrea Lee (USA) vs. Maja Stark/Linn Grant (EUR)