Leona Maguire the star as Europe swing together to claim Solheim Cup

Maguire the on-course leader as Catriona Matthew’s side win 15-13 to retain trophy

Europe’s Leona Maguire celebrates with her sister Lisa after defeating the US’s Jennifer Kupcho on the 15th hole during the singles matches at the Solheim Cup golf tournament. Photograph: AP

Europe’s Leona Maguire celebrates with her sister Lisa after defeating the US’s Jennifer Kupcho on the 15th hole during the singles matches at the Solheim Cup golf tournament. Photograph: AP

 

The team Catriona Matthew knitted together from eight different nationalities played as one, as Europe - the underdogs coming into this 17th edition of the biennial match at Inverness Country Club in Toledo, Ohio - defeated the United States in an absorbing encounter to retain the Solheim Cup.

From the off in Saturday’s first session of foursomes, Europe had laid down a marker of intent. And, having carried a 9-7 advantage into the final series of 12 singles matches, Europe slowly but surely turned the screw to weave out a victory for only the second time on American soil: in a team that mixed veterans with rookies, the blend worked wonderfully.

From the inspirational play of Leona Maguire - the standout player in her debut appearance, the only one to play all five sessions and contributing four and a half points along the way - to the doggedness of another rookie in Finland’s Matilda Castren, who ensured the retention of the trophy with a brilliant up-and-down sand save on the 18th to half the hole and defeat Liz Salas one up, Europe’s play for the most part silenced the partisan home crowds.

Matilda Castrenwith Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew after retaining the Solheim Cup. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty
Matilda Castrenwith Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew after retaining the Solheim Cup. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

While marshals waved their placards intended to quiet the crowds but instead urging them to use their vocal chords, and while players - among them Austin Ernst and Nelly Korda - too raised their hands to encourage roars of support, it was Europe who stood strong for a famous win and they head to Spain in 2023 intent on completing a hat-trick of wins.

Maguire was, again, a rock. Just as she had been through the foursomes and fourballs, Maguire played the role of on-course leader.

It was her 5 and 4 win over Jennifer Kupcho that got the first European singles win on the board and Madelene Sagstrom (beating Ally Ewing 3 and 2) and then Celine Boutier (beating Mina Harigae 5 and 4) further strengthened Europe’s cause.

A halved point from Ana Nordqvist from her duel with Lexi Thompson kept the total moving upwards.

Matilda Castren’s putt on the 18th ensured Europe would retain the Solheim Cup. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty
Matilda Castren’s putt on the 18th ensured Europe would retain the Solheim Cup. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

And, then, the journey to victory got rockier. Uncertainty about the outcome came in waves over the old Donald Ross designed course as American players fought the good fight.

Nelly Korda, the world number one, came from two down against Georgia Hall to win by one hole.

The energy spread to those behind her, as Brittany Altamore - two down with six to play - beat Carlota Ciganda 2 and 1 and then Megan Khan (six up with six to play) stumbled before regaining her equilibrium to defeat Sophia Popov 3 and 2.

But the wind came out of the sails. Austin Ernst had a six feet birdie putt on the 18th to win over Nanna Koerstz Madsen but missed, that was a half point lost for the USA and a precious half point won for Europe. It edged Matthew’s team ever closer to the goal.

Castren, like Maguire a rookie, proved the golden touch. One up playing the 18th, a poor approach shot into a greenside bunker came with a fried egg lie. Worse, the ball was close to the face of the bunker.

The Finnish golfer, though, showed her creativity and inner steel. Unfazed, she played a superb bunker recovery out to 10 feet and, with nerves of steel, sank the par putt which ensured a one hole win over Salas and brought Europe to 14 points to ensure retention of the trophy.

“It’s hard to put it into words right now. I think I’m still shaking. I was looking at the (score)board and I knew it was going to be an important putt, and I wanted to make it . . . . it feels amazing. It’s just crazy, crazy. I can’t believe I made that putt. I knew it was important. I knew it was going to break a little bit left,” said Castren who played her way into Solheim Cup history.

Castren added: “We have Suzann’s (Pettersen) photo when she made the putt at Gleneagles. It’s in our locker room when you get out of the locker. I look at it every day, and I hope one day that can be me and I hope I can handle the pressure.

“To have retained the cup, it’s such an amazing feeling. There was a little part of me that thought I wasn’t able to do it, but I don’t know, I guess just the pressure, and it just made me focus a little bit more, and just rolled those putts in.”.

What did Matthew make of Castren?

“Just a superstar. I mean, that putt she holed there on 18, I mean, she had a plugged lie in the bunker, and then to roll that putt just lipped in the middle, we all just kind of exploded at the side of the green there,” said the captain.

Victory was soon guaranteed, with Emily Pedersen assured of at least a halved point when Danielle Kang three putted the 15th green. Pedersen was three up playing the hole and in danger of seeing the margin reduced until Kang’s putter behaved like a disobedient child and refused to do as asked of it.

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