Feeling at home on the greens, Europe comes to American and takes home the Solheim Cup
PARKER, Colo. – Europe never looked more at home at the Solheim Cup.
Especially on the greens.
From the 45-foot putt that 17-year-old Charley Hull rolled in to re-ignite the momentum Sunday to the 4-foot tester Caroline Hedwall sank to end what little drama was left, the Europeans owned Colorado Golf Club.
Led by Hull, the youngest player to suit up at the Solheim Cup, and Hedwall, the first player to go 5-0 at this event, Europe romped to a record-setting 18-10 victory over the Americans and won the cup on U.S. soil for the first time since the event began in 1990.
"We took it to them," Europe's Suzann Pettersen said, "and they couldn't answer."
This was a wire-to-wire victory, the likes of which very few saw coming.
America had more top-20 players (5 to 3), more major-title winners (5 to 3) and more Solheim Cup experience (25 years to 17) to say nothing of more success over the history of this team event (8 victories to 4).
But Europe took the lead Friday, took an even firmer grasp of it with a sweep in the best-ball matches Saturday, then closed it out by winning five of 12 matches Sunday and earning half-points in five more.
A lightning delay of about an hour put off the inevitable, but when the weather cleared, Hedwall returned to the 17th tee box, tied with Michelle Wie, and didn't miss a beat.
She halved that hole, then stuck her approach on 18 using a 9-iron from 150 yards out. She celebrated the putt that gave Europe its clinching 14th point with an uppercut into the air. A handful of her teammates, already off the course, ran to congratulate her.
A bit later, Catriona Matthew holed a 5-foot par putt to halve her match and give Europe the outright win on the seventh try in America. Within moments, the Europeans were in a full-throated rendition of "We Are the Champions."
This is the first time they've defended the cup, which they won two years ago in Ireland. Their eight-point victory was the largest in the history of the event.
"In sports you just cannot always predict what's going to happen," American Cristie Kerr said.
The course was hand-picked by the Americans and captain Meg Mallon brought her team to Colorado a handful of times in the months leading up to the tournament to get used to the undulations in the huge greens that are subtly influenced by the Rocky Mountains to the West. With wide, almost-unmissable fairways, this was a three-day chipping and putting contest and the United States lost badly, especially in the closing stretches.
On Sunday alone, the U.S. saw leads turn into ties or losses over the final three holes in five matches.
"The way we played 16, 17 and 18 I think is really what made the difference," Mallon said. "It wasn't for lack of preparation, because we played this golf course quite a bit. So it wasn't like it was a surprise for us, it was just a matter of who dropped the putts on those holes and unfortunately it was the Europeans."
European captain Liselotte Neumann said many of her players headed back onto the greens after their practice rounds earlier in the week to soak in the subtleties of the greens.
"We did talk a lot about the speed," she said. "As soon as we got here, we realized they were super-fast, some of the fastest we've ever played. It was a matter of reading the greens, reading the speed into the putts."
American Paula Creamer went 1-3 for the week, including a 5-and-4 loss to Hull, who took the lead with a 45-foot birdie on No. 6 and never looked back. After Hull closed out the match on No. 14, she asked Creamer to autograph a golf ball for a friend back home.
"I'm going to take that as one of the highlights of my career right there," Creamer said.
Kerr, another American veteran, went 1-2-1, earning the tie after she and Karine Icher agreed to halve the day's final, meaningless match while walking up the 18th fairway in fading light.
Stacy Lewis, ranked second and fresh off a victory at the Women's British Open, finished 1-2-1.
Mallon put her at the top of the lineup Sunday, knowing the Americans needed some quick, momentum-building wins to have any chance at a comeback from five points down. Lewis lost her lead when Anna Nordqvist, who had made a hole-in-one on No. 17 to close out a match a day earlier, hit her tee shot to 20 feet and made the putt. Lewis salvaged the tie by getting up and down on 18 after the last of a handful of shaky approach shots that marred her week on what Mallon called a "second-shot course."
While the U.S. veterans were struggling, Neumann got more than she ever could have expected from her six Solheim Cup rookies. They combined to go 12-5-2. That included a 3-0 effort from Spain's Carlota Cigunda.
It was Cigunda at the center of the week's biggest, and strangest, drama — on Friday, when she hit her second shot on No. 15 into a hazard, triggering a 25-minute delay while officials figured out where she should drop.
Cigunda saved par after that, then went on to team with Pettersen for a 1-up victory over Lewis and Lexi Thompson.
That, it turned out, was the start of a European romp that the Americans were powerless to stop.
"With such a young team, with nothing to lose, it just seemed like they were a little bit looser," Mallon said. "They were making more putts and we were not. And that's what it came down to."