Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

Solheim Cup

Missing player creates anxious moments for Europe, leads to miserable start at Solheim Cup

September 22, 2023

Stuart Franklin

CASERAS, Spain — To be fair, she arrived on the first tee in time to give her partner, Emily Kristine Pedersen some encouragement before the Dane hit Europe’s first shot in Game 4 of the 18th Solheim Cup. But she certainly wasn’t early. Let’s just say Charley Hull was fashionably late, to a point where a clearly concerned European captain, Suzann Pettersen, went looking for her star player.

It turned out to be a short and successful search. Only minutes after Pedersen made her (lonely) walk past the raucous crowd massed around the tee, Hull appeared alongside her skipper. Pettersen could only roll her eyes and smile. “Just Charley being Charley” was clearly the message, the official verdict being that Hull was on the range and lost track of time.

Otherwise, the scenes around the opening series of foursomes matches followed the now traditional script. The music was loud. The crowd got into it. There was dancing, with Carlota Ciganda the star of that particular show. The Spaniard, surprisingly omitted from the four foursomes matches, has moves. And, of course, there was a predictable range of tee shots. Most found the fairway, or sand near the green on the sometimes drivable 280-yard par 4, but Nelly Korda was the only player on either side to find the water left of the short grass.

Elsewhere, there was a nice surprise for the gallery when the Solheim Cup appeared, carried by Spanish golfing legend Jose Maria Olazabal. Seven times a Ryder Cup player, European captain at Medinah in 2012 and a vice-captain to Luke Donald next week in Italy, the two-time Masters champion got a suitably rousing reception. For the second time this week actually. The evening before, Olazabal had dinner with the European side here, before regaling them with one of his patented speeches.

“Charley was not teeing-off on the first, so she had extra time,” said Olazabal with a smile. “No problem. But yes, this was a really nice honor for me to come here and leave the trophy on the tee. They asked me maybe three weeks ago, and I was delighted to agree. I won’t be heading to Rome until Sunday so I obviously had time. And it is so great to be here. This scene is what is so special about the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup. You don’t see and feel this sort of atmosphere anywhere else. I mean, at 6:30 this morning it was pitch black and the stands were already full of people. Crazy. But that is the beauty of the event.”

As for what had transpired the previous evening, Olazabal was less keen to reveal exactly what he had shared with the European squad.

“I just talked about a couple of stories about Seve and myself,” he said. “The mood in the amp is positive. they know they have a tough task ahead. But they have the chance to make history by winning for the third time in a row. They are very conscious of that. Hopefully they will be successful.”

Not surprisingly, Olazabal was equally upbeat about Europe’s Ryder Cup prospects, although he was wary about predicting anything to outlandish. Like most observers, he sees the 44th encounter with the U.S. as a match that could go either way.

“I think we have a good chance,” he said. “The U.S. team is very strong, but our boys are playing good golf, as they showed at Wentworth [in the BMW PGA Championship] last week. It is true that we have four rookies. But the way they have performed in the last month or so makes me feel positive about our side overall. I can see it being close though. There is not much to choose between the teams.”

More than a little surprisingly, Olazabal’s optimism with regard to European hopes of a good start turned out to be hugely misplaced. In foursomes, the one format in which they have historically dominated Solheim play, the home side flopped badly, losing all four games. That does not augur well for their future prospects. Every time the Americans have won the Friday morning foursomes, they have gone on to win the Solheim Cup.

Indeed, it all went horribly wrong for Pettersen and her team. The seemingly unlikely partnership of Hull and Pedersen proved to be just that, the pair going down 5 and 4 to the steady play of Ally Ewing and Cheyenne Knight.

The top match also went America’s way. Lexi Thompson justifying her captain Stacy Lewis’ faith, combining with Megan Khang for a 2-and-1 victory over Swedes Maja Stark and Linn Grant.

Matches two and three were both tight affairs, but again the U.S. came out on top. Nelly Korda and Allison Corpuz saw off Leona Maguire and Anna Nordqvist on the last green, a feat repeated by Danielle Kang and Andrea Lee over Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall.