Solheim Cup 2021: Europeans outplay Americans when it counts, surge to big early lead
Mel Reid (left) and Leona Maguire of Team Europe react on the 12th green during the first round of the Solheim Cup.
TOLEDO, Ohio — Beware Spanish dancers on American soil in these biennial match-play events.
A Senorita in a red flamenco dress, waving the European colors, danced beside the first tee at Inverness Club Saturday afternoon as the second session of the Solheim Cup commenced, a fair representation of Europe’s mood on an opening day it largely dominated.
Were it not for two nail-biting wins in afternoon four-ball to split the session—one of which came after a controversial rules decision—Team USA would have been staring at a monumental deficit. As it stood, Europe, led by reigning AIG Women’s Open champion Anna Nordqvist and rookies Matilda Castren and Leona Maguire, waltzed to a record-tying 5½-2½ advantage on the strength of an inspired closing flourish in morning foursomes that resulted in capturing 3½ of the available four points.
Seven of eight matches went to the 18th hole, but Europe summoned most of the clutch shots for an unprecedented road advantage.
“It could have went either way. It happens that it didn't go our way,” U.S. captain Pat Hurst lamented.
“Obviously, absolutely delighted,” European captain Catriona Matthew said. “We got off to a fantastic start winning 3½-½ and obviously 2-2 in the afternoon was a solid result for us. We knew the Americans would come back fighting, and to get through that session without losing it was great.”
In 1987 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, about two hours south of here, Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal danced on the 18th green after Europe secured its first Ryder Cup win on Yankee turf. At least he waited until the end.
Not to suggest that this 17th edition of the Solheim Cup is over—far from it. But the Europeans sure got a great head start toward securing their first win in America since 2013 and just their second ever. Three times previously has the first-day lead been as large as three points, and each time by the home team on the way to victory. The most recent came in 2017 in Des Moines, Iowa, as the U.S. won by five.
Team USA never has come back from more than two points down after the opening day. And it could have been worse for the Americans, who at one point trailed in all four afternoon four-ball games before gaining a little purchase.
A rules technicality aided their surge to a respectable outcome.
Madelene Sagstrom picked up Nelly Korda’s ball that had come to rest on the edge of the cup at the par-5 13th hole, but match referee Missy Jones deemed that Korda’s 20-foot putt had a chance to drop in. Because Sagstrom removed it before waiting the prescribed 10 seconds, a violation of Rule 13.3b, Korda’s putt for an eagle was deemed to have been holed. Korda and Ally Ewing, who trailed by two early, took a 1-up lead and held off Sagstrom and Nanna Koerstz Madsen, 1 up.
“The ball was laying still, and I decided to pick it up,” Sagstrom said. “I do believe in integrity, and I do value myself high in that aspect, so I would never, ever pick up a ball that had the chance to go in. It was obviously a shock when I walked up to the next tee box to hear that position. I didn't agree with it myself, but at the end of the day it wasn't my decision. I'm a little disappointed, sad, feel a little bit bad for the rest of the team now, but we're going to regroup.”
“A hundred percent believe Madelene did not for one instance think that ball had any chance of going in the hole when he she picked it up, and I don't honestly believe Nelly or Ally actually thought it was going to go in either,” Matthew added.
Lizette Salas reacts while the spectators cheer after making her putt on the eighth green during the Solheim Cup.
The only other U.S. victory came when Lizette Salas sank a five-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in Match 6 for a 1-up victory with Jennifer Kupcho over Carlota Ciganda and Sophia Popov.
The rest of the day belonged to the visitors, especially Nordqvist and Castren, who dismantled Lexi Thompson and Mina Harigae, 4 and 3, in four-ball in the only match decided by more than one hole. Earlier in the day the European duo opened the 17th Solheim Cup with a 1-up foursomes win over Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst.
“I think overall we played pretty solid today, and when we were off, we weren't too far off,” Nordqvist, playing in her eighth Solheim Cup, said.
Added Castren: “Getting two points is more than I could ask for.”
It was almost more than Team USA managed all day, largely because of how the morning foursomes played out.
Maguire, the first Irish player to appear in the Solheim Cup, also won twice for Europe. First, she teamed with Mel Reid to deliver a statement 1-up victory over the previously unbeaten sister duo of Nelly and Jessica Korda in a match in which the Europeans never trailed. In the afternoon, Maguire and Georgia Hall broke a tie with Hall’s birdie at 15 for another 1-up decision over Brittany Altomare and Yealimi Noh.
Arguably the biggest match was the last in foursomes as Charley Hull and Emily Pederson rallied from 2 down with four to play to steal a 1-up victory against Thompson and Altomare. The Euros converted three birdies, at 15, 16 and 18, with Pederson draining a four-footer on the home hole to complete the rally after Thompson had saved par from seven feet.
Also crushing for USA was the result of Match 2 in which the American team of Ewing and Megan Khang led for the first 17 holes, but only came away with a half-point. Hall and Celine Boutier, who went undefeated two years ago in three matches together at Gleneagles, won the last two holes. Ewing had a chance for the full point but missed from four feet for par.
“They're playing fine,” Hurst said of her team. “Like I said, it could have went either way. I don't want them to be down on themselves. If they just go out and play like they know how to play, we'll do fine.”