TOLEDO, Ohio — It was still early Sunday morning at the Solheim Cup when an American fan suffered a fainting spell, and, well, if you’d seen the board plastered in blue and watched the European team emphatically—and quite regularly—plucking the ball out of the cup, you might get light-headed, too.
Somehow, though, America’s team members kept their cool, found their footing, weathered those early European salvos, and finally injected some drama into the 17th Solheim Cup.
With the clock ticking on their hopes louder than the hundred-year-old historic grandfather clock in the Inverness clubhouse, Team USA shook off its doldrums in the morning foursomes and then leaned on its rookies in the afternoon to make it a contest heading into Monday’s singles matches.
Europe, resourceful and resilient (and also buoyed by rookies), remains in front, regrouping to win the four-ball session, though its lead was sliced to two points, 9-7. Not surprisingly, each side felt pretty good about the proceedings on a brilliant, sun-splashed day.
The Americans dug down deep and got the crowd involved early, winning three of four matches in morning foursomes. The Europeans parried back and didn’t wilt as cheers reverberated throughout Inverness Club, taking the four-ball session, 2½-1½.
The back-and-forth dynamic played out over the final two holes of the day’s final game. Rookie Jennifer Kupcho, a stalwart thus far for Team USA, chipped in for birdie from 16 feet at the 17th hole to give herself and Lizette Salas a 1-up lead over Europe’s Mel Reid and Leona Maguire. Reid, battling a sore neck that required treatment on the eighth hole, answered on 18 with an approach that barely cleared the front bunker and settled two feet from the hole for an easy birdie to claw back a half-point.
“We had a slightly disappointing morning, and then to come back like we did in the afternoon [was great], because at one point it was kind of very much the Americans had the momentum,” European captain Catriona Matthew said. “Obviously, the finish with Mel and Leona was fantastic and has really buoyed us up going into the singles tomorrow.”
“Started off a little bit cold, but came out with three points, so I felt like we rode the momentum from last night from the afternoon matches,” said U.S. captain Pat Hurst. “We’re happy with today.”
Like many on the U.S. team, Danielle Kang hope to see a few more putts during Monday's singles session.
The Americans found themselves playing from their heels Sunday morning, put under tremendous pressure by a European team that continued to have a better feel for Inverness’ sloping greens. For the second straight session, Team USA found itself trailing in all four matches. It’s hard to seize momentum when you have to fight so strenuously just to regain a modicum of equilibrium.
And yet, somehow, the home team extricated from within itself a passionate response. Maybe it was just the odds evening out. Or maybe they just decided to stop letting their opponents punch them in the nose without countering with their own haymakers.
“I think we just told ourselves that we're Team USA and we need to play Team USA golf,” Salas, appearing in her fifth Solheim Cup, said. “We're some of the best players in the world. And I feel like we don't have to do anything special. We just come out here and do our thing.”
Briefly, the Europeans nosed ahead by four points when Reid and Maguire, an irrepressible Irish rookie having a stellar week thus far, overwhelmed world No. 1 Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing, 5 and 4. Maguire finished 3-0-1 in team play.
“Yeah, I'm very, very impressed with her. I was impressed with her even before she made the team,” Matthew said of Maguire, the former world No. 1 amateur. “She has the reputation of being a great match player, and I think she's shown everyone that that's true.”
Kupcho, who also once was No. 1 in the amateur ranks as well as a former NCAA champion, was no less impressive, going 2-0-1. The Wake Forest product repeatedly buried long putts on Sunday, including two daggers down the stretch as she teamed with Salas to stop previously unbeaten Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren, 3 and 1, in foursomes.
“I feel like the MVP of our team is this one right here,” Salas said, nodding toward Kupcho, who, by the way will go up against Maguire in Sunday’s third singles duel at 12:25 p.m. EDT.
Rookie Leona Maguire has been a inspiration to Team Europe as it tries to win the Solheim Cup on the road for just the second time in history.
The Kupcho-Salas comeback from 2 down was the capper to a morning in which the U.S. finally woke up its fan base. In another comeback, Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst lost the first two holes but then won two of the last six to beat Georgia Hall and Madelene Sagstrom, 1 up. Brittany Altomare and Lexi Thompson then closed out Charley Hull and Emily Pederson, 2 and 1, thanks to Thompson’s curling 20-foot birdie putt. It was Thompson’s first points of the week.
“Starting out there was a lot of blue on the board,” Hurst said, “but it's all about the ending, and I saw a lot of red at the end, so that was what we wanted.”
And more red followed when rookies Mina Harigae and Yeolimi Noh delivered a 3-and-1 victory over Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov in the afternoon’s first four-ball game to square things at 6½ points apiece. Behind them, their teammates at one juncture held leads in the other three matches. The momentum had shifted.
But back came the Europeans. Carlota Ciganda and Nanna Koerstz Madsen outlasted Jessica Korda and Megan Khang, 1 up, and Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen took out Austin Ernst and Danielle Kang, 3 and 2. Reid’s final bit of brilliance was the difference between a one- or two-point lead going into singles.
“Obviously to go in with a two-point lead is huge,” Reid said.
“I think we're excited,” Matthew said about her team's prospects for retaining the cup. “I just gave them the order they're going to be playing in, and they're just looking forward to getting out there. It's going to be tight. Every little half-point here or there is going to be crucial.”
“I feel pretty strong about our team and about our lineup,” said Hurst, who added that the singles session is “where we usually shine.”
Whatever unfolds, it likely won’t be for the faint of heart.