The good news is, there is another Solheim Cup in 12 months’ time. If events at Marco Simone in Rome, where male players from Europe and the United States take centre stage from Friday, are a patch on this then golf fans should prepare for a Ryder Cup for the ages. This Solheim Cup was not a one-off, either; time and again it throws up enthralling contests, decided by fabulous golf and the narrowest of margins. Women’s golf is in terrific shape.
Suzann Pettersen’s European team are history makers. For the first time, they have lifted the Solheim Cup three times in succession. The trophy was retained in Spain, with the scores locked at 14-14. Carlota Ciganda, the home hero, fittingly was the one to hole the crucial putt. This was the first time the Solheim Cup had been played on Spanish soil. “I love Europe, I love Spain I love the Solheim Cup,” declared an emotional Ciganda. The feeling appeared mutual.
The context of this result renders it special for Europe. Pettersen was searching for answers after the US steamrolled their hosts in Friday’s opening session. A 4-0 lead looked unassailable for Stacy Lewis and her team. It is tricky to pinpoint very much Lewis did wrong thereafter; so many matches were wonderfully tight. Still, the glory of that Friday foursomes spell must feel an eternity away for Lewis. She gathered her team in a huddle as the European contingent partied.
“I just told them: ‘We didn’t lose,’” Lewis said. “It was a tie and there was so much to build on from this week. I told them how proud I was of them and to hold their heads high. They did everything I asked of them this week and more. They had great attitudes, they were classy opponents, and they represented this country so well.”
During the Sunday singles, the tournament didn’t so much ebb and flow as crackle and pop. By 20 past three in the afternoon, Europe had a firm grip on proceedings. Within an hour, the US had turned the tables. As Georgia Hall, Gemma Dryburgh and Céline Boutier conceded leads to Andrea Lee, Cheyenne Knight and Angel Yin respectively, Europe were wobbling. Hall cut a devastated figure after three putting from 10ft at the 17th en route to halving her match.
Help was soon at hand. The selection of Caroline Hedwall by Pettersen was deemed controversial, with the Swede ranked 121 in the world. How Hedwall repaid the faith of her captain. She was one down to Ally Ewing after 15 but won the next three holes for a 2up victory. “I know it’s never over until it’s over and that’s the fight I put on today,” said Hedwall. “I’m just really proud of myself right now.” With good reason.
Leona Maguire wears dark sunglasses as routine. In the Solheim Cup, she might as well don a cape. Maguire, who played in all five sessions for Europe, boosted Pettersen with 4&3 dismissal of Rose Zhang. The 20-year-old Zhang is regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in golf; she proved no match for Maguire. As the pair shook hands on the 15th green, Europe were ahead for the first time in this Solheim Cup staging, 9-8.
The US responded in kind. Megan Khang defeated Linn Grant 1up. Danielle Kang earned a 4&2 success over Charley Hull, whose Solheim Cup experience was partly soured by injury. Anna Nordqvist eased some European nerves by beating Jennifer Kupcho, 2&1. Blink and you missed the shifts in momentum.
It was increasingly apparent the key matches would be numbers 10 and 11. With them, the Europeans were looking to ensure Lexi Thompson’s anchor clash with Emily Pedersen – the American was in front from the early stages – was irrelevant. As Maja Stark held off Allisen Corpuz, 2&1, all eyes were on Ciganda. A point from her meeting with Nelly Korda would take Europe to the promised land of 14 points.
Ciganda had been three up after eight but the deficit was reduced to one by the 11th tee. Korda squared the match after Ciganda slipped to a double bogey six at the 15th. Cometh the hour, cometh Ciganda. She delivered a glorious approach shot to set up a three at the 16th, which reinstated Europe’s advantage. Even better was to come at the penultimate hole, Ciganda striking her tee shot on the par three to tap-in range. Ciganda’s two bettered Korda’s three and Europe could start their celebrations. Thompson did defeat Pedersen, 2up, to ensure Europe did not win the cup outright but nobody in blue had cause to care.
The 19th staging of this contest, in Virginia next September, cannot arrive soon enough. Pettersen and Lewis will be the captains once more. They have set a fantastically high bar.