When it mattered, Europe found a way. From the verge of despair to redemption. The soul-searching which ensued after being whitewashed by the United States in the foursomes was followed by a stirring fourballs session that saw their revival; no longer a lost cause, if it ever was, but one which saw Suzann Pettersen’s team play their way back towards a realistic attempt to achieve that historic three-in-a-row in the Solheim Cup.
The United States won the foursomes 4-0 and, yet, the fiery response from Europe was shown in a fourballs where three of the four matches went to the 18th. And the one that didn’t reach the last went Europe’s way, as Carlota Ciganda – the only Spaniard in the team – combined with Linn Grant for a 4 and 2 win over Angel Yin and Ally Ewing.
Europe’s resurgence in the fourballs – two wins, two halved matches – for a 3-1 session win meant that the gap closed mightily, a turnaround that saw the USA’s lead at the end of day one reduced from four to two (at 5-3). “The level of golf played this afternoon was unbelievable, it’s a very tough golf course,” said Pettersen.
The fourballs exploded like fireworks on the back nine, where Emily Pedersen’s hole-in-one on the 12th – only the second in Solheim Cup history – finally got the noise reverberating around the hills and through the valleys that make this course such a physically exhausting examination.
Where the front nine holes in all four fourball matches had taken each group three hours and more to navigate, even making it questionable if the matches would manage to finish in daylight, the adrenaline rush after Pedersen’s ace thankfully speeded things up and considerably ratcheted up the noise levels as the European fans who had traipsed and laboured around the hilly course finally found reason to acclaim the on-course deeds of their team.
Once again, Leona Maguire – who had made a stunning Solheim Cup debut in Ohio in 2021 – showed how invested she has become in the match. It’s part of her DNA. And a brilliant chip-in birdie from off the green on the 18th gave Maguire and Georgia Hall a last-gasp win over Lexi Thompson, who shanked her own chip, an eagle effort from just off the green, and Lilia Vu.
“To finish off the way Leona did, she’s made for that. She turned around to me and said, ‘how would you have done it?’ ‘Just the same’, I said,” came Pettersen’s recall of the Irishwoman’s grandstand finish.
The morning’s foursomes had started with a raucous send-off for one and all, music blaring from speakers and that dramatic first shot from an elevated tee box to the noise of a packed grandstand. Yet, the performances of the Americans in the foursomes was such that the giddiness and expectations of those home fans was diluted and muted as Stacy Lewis’s team dominated to an extent which no American team had ever managed before. A 4-0 whitewash; and many fans wondering if the match was over before it ever got going.
Europe went into the fourballs without Charley Hull – who had apparently suffered a shoulder injury, something later denied by Pettersen – and Caroline Hedwall, one of Europe’s wild cards, was the only player from either side who went the day without playing. But there was fight in the European bellies, as if there was a point or two to prove.
“Hats off to all my players, the level of golf played in the afternoon was absolutely incredible,” said Pettersen. “I told them, there’s several ways to the top. You get knocked over, you stand up, and you fight the next match.”
Although the pace of play was painfully slow in the fourballs, especially on the front nine, with the wind forcing players and caddie to take more consideration on club selection and shot execution, there was little or nothing between teams.
“It was really tough with the wind. I don’t think I ever hit as many 3-woods in my life. But every half point, every point, is really hard-earned, and I’m just really proud of the whole team for fighting back this afternoon,” said Maguire.
The match could have swung the USA’s way entirely, at one point. But Europe’s resilience and determination was shown, all the way to the end.
After the morning whitewash (a feat last achieved by Europe at Loch Lomond in 2000), Europe’s response was strong: Gemma Dryburgh, on her debut, grew into the match in partnering Madeline Sagstrom to a halved point against Rose Zhang and Megan Khang; Maguire’s chip-in gave Europe a first full point in partnership with Hall; Pedersen and Maja Stark managed a halved match with Jennifer Kupcho and Allisen Corpuz; and Ciganda and Grant wrapped the session up with a fine win over Yin and Ewing.
Europe’s 3-1 success in the fourballs revived their chances, has made it all to play for again. 5-3 down. But very much all to play for.