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20th September 2019

Team Europe produce a masterpiece at Gleneagles

Harry Deacon looks back at a historic weekend at Gleneagles, where Team Europe’s comeback to win the Solheim Cup will go down as one of the greats
Team Europe produce a masterpiece at Gleneagles
Suzann Pettersen emerged as the unlikely hero for Team Europe. Photo: Wojciech Migda @Wikimedia Commons

It was Europe who took the spoils in what was a dramatic final day of the 16th Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.

The contest went right down to the wire, with Suzann Pettersen and Bronte Law snatching a thrilling 14½ -13½ victory for the hosts. The competition, which reached its climax last Sunday, was the sixth to be won by the European team, but their first since 2013.

To comprehend just how narrow the one-point victory for the side captained by Catriona Matthew was, it’s important to understand how the Solheim Cup works. There are three types of matches that take place over the course of the weekend: foursomes, fourballs, and singles. Friday sees a round of fourballs followed by a round of foursomes, with Saturday following the same structure, before the singles are played out on Sunday.

The foursomes offer some extra entertainment, as teams of two face off against each other with players on the same side taking alternate shots. The lowest score wins the hole and the team with the most holes won wins a point in the overall standings, with a half-point being awarded to both pairs if the round finishes all-square.

So, with the foursomes explained, this is how Friday played out: It was an even start to the day, with Carlota Ciganda and Law rescuing a late draw on the 17th against Team USA’s Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex. This was followed by narrow victories for European pairings Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier, and Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz. The Americans did, however, manage to strike a blow through the Korda sisters’ 6&4 demolition of their opponents. Nevertheless, Europe held the lead as the opening day’s foursomes concluded.

Next came Friday’s fourballs. This is format again involves four golfers per hole, however unlike the foursomes, each player plays the round normally and the woman with the lowest score wins the hole for their team. 38-year-old Pettersen and her teammate Anne Van Dam put the hosts back in front before Hull and Munoz threw away a 4up lead to give Team USA a lifeline in the championship.

With the final two fourballs of Friday’s play ending all square, it meant, as Saturday rolled around, the stakes grew ever higher. A brilliant back nine meant Pressel and Alex completed another comeback; they went one further than their efforts on Friday and took the first point of the day for Team USA. Yet, Europe were not about to relent. Emphatic wins in the next two foursomes briefly gave them some breathing space. This was short-lived, however, as the Korda sisters yet again strolled past their European opponents 6&5.

With Europe a point ahead going into Saturday’s fourballs, it was still all to play for. Team USA cruised to a five-point victory back in 2017 but it was looking like this year would be a much tighter contest. The pressure was mounted on Europe when America’s Brittany Altomare and Annie Park clinched a point to once again level the score at 6½-6½.

A draw in the next foursome, followed by a European victory, meant that the one point lead was regained. However, the last result of Saturday proved to be crucial. Team USA levelled the scores going into the final day through a heroic effort from Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang. Thus, with the scores all level, and the singles still to be played, the anticipation grew around the famous Scottish course.

It was Europe who dealt the first blow. Ciganda remarkably took the point on the 18th following a match that, up until the closing holes, looked to be going the way of Kang.

Another comfortable win for Nelly Korda showed why she is one of the best in the world. World rankings were then thrown out of the window, however, as Bournemouth-born Georgia Hall beat the world number three, Lexi Thompson, to put Europe back in front. Hall’s efforts were replicated by Boutier before the competition was turned completely on its head. Of the next five singles, only England’s Hull could score for the hosts as she levelled with Megan Khang. The impressive run from Team USA included comfortable wins for both Jessica Korda and Altomare and put the visitors two points up going into the last three singles.

A controlling performance from Anna Nordqvist eased some of the nerves in the Team Europe camp, sending the competition into the last two singles, with Europe just a point behind. Yet, with Pettersen losing a two shot lead on the 14th, and Bronte Law a shot down going into the 14th, things looked dead and buried for Matthew’s side.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Stockport’s Law cruised to victory, clinching three of the next four holes, and showed true talent and determination.

While this was happening, the deadlock could not be broken between Pettersen and Alex. The pair went into the 18th with the scores still level, both for the individuals and for their teams. The destiny of the 2019 Solheim Cup rested on the shoulders of Team USA’s Marina Alex, ranked 35 in the world, and Team Europe’s wildcard selection Suzann Pettersen who is not even in the top 600.

Then an average hole from Alex left the Norwegian with a six-foot put to win the tournament.

The fairytale ending became a reality as she calmly sank the putt and sealed one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Solheim Cup. A 14½-13½ victory sounds close, but only when looking at just how much the weekend ebbed and flowed can you see just how dramatic the 2019 Solheim Cup actually was.

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