Any thoughts that Europe’s march to a record third consecutive win in the Solheim Cup would be a simple one were dealt a swift and heavy blow on Friday morning, when Suzann Pettersen’s foursomes pairings all found themselves down in their matches early on in proceedings at Finca Cortesin in Spain.
And things went from bad to worse when none of the four groups were able to get their noses back in front, resulting in the first ever 4-0 whitewash inflicted by a US team in the foursomes format of the competition.
The last of the morning pairings for Europe, Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen, were the first to lose, suffering a 5&4 loss to Ally Ewing and Cheyenne Knight. Hull, who has been battling a neck injury this week, and Pedersen had an error-strewn front nine, losing six holes. They won the 10th with a six-foot birdie putt from Pedersen, but it was too little, too late. Needless to say, Hull did not play in the afternoon fourballs.
The other morning matches were tight. Thompson and Danielle Kang took the opening game 2&1 over rookies Maja Stark and Linn Grant after the Swedish pair lost the first three holes. They bravely battled back, squaring the match by the 13th, but lost on the 17th when Grant missed a short putt.
The previously unbeaten partnership of Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier were always in their match with Danielle Kang and Andrea Lee, and there was never more than one hole in it. But Boutier was unable to knock in from 15 feet on the last as the Americans won a third point.
In the third match, world number two Nelly Korda had gifted Maguire and Anna Nordqvist the first hole, hitting her opening shot into a lake when attempting to drive the first green. But Korda and US Open champion Corpuz won three holes in succession from the third, and also took the ninth, after the Europeans had drawn level by winning the sixth and seventh. The US went two ahead by the 11th but Maguire, who was unbeaten in five matches on her Solheim debut in 2021, birdied the 16th to reduce the deficit and rolled in another lengthy putt on the 17th to ensure the match went to the 18th. But Corpuz holed a short one to crush any hopes of Europe salvaging a half-point from the morning session.
Time will tell whether the body blow that Europe suffered during a tough morning over the challenging Finca Cortesin course will prove fatal when it comes to deciding who ends up with the trophy, but the wake-up call that it delivered at least prodded the home side into action in the afternoon fourballs, with two European wins and two half-points leaving the match more evenly poised at 5-3 in favour of Stacy Lewis’s team.
The half-point secured by Gemma Dryburgh and Madelene Sagström against Rose Zhang and Megan Khang in the fourballs placed blue on the board for the first time. And then, enter stage left Leona Maguire, the star of Europe’s 2021 victory over the US, who looked in trouble having watched her third shot to the par-five 18th roll off the green. The US pairing of Lexi Thompson and Lilia Vu sensed a significant victory. Maguire had other ideas.
During an extraordinary few minutes in the fading Spanish light, the Irishwoman chipped in for a four. Thompson then shanked her shot from greenside rough. Europe not only had a full point, but an element of momentum, which increased when Carlota Ciganda and Linn Grant comfortably defeated Angel Yin and Ally Ewing 4&2 to chalk up another blue point.
Jennifer Kupcho and Allisen Corpuz reached the 18th green all square with Emily Pedersen and Maja Stark. Pedersen’s hole-in-one at the 12th was just the second in Solheim Cup history. Corpuz calmly converted from 15ft at the last for a four. Stark followed the American in. The European fightback was on and the result of the matches remains firmly in the matches with 20 points still up for grabs.
“It was a tough start,” said Pettersen. “I am immensely proud of the way the entire team fought back in the afternoon. It is not easy knowing you are down by four. Hats off to all my players, they showed their character. You get knocked down, you stand up and you try again. That’s what I told the girls. We are not even halfway through and we are right in this.”
US skipper Stacy Lewis accepted the morning session score was “unexpected”. She added: “All the matches were close all day long. The two halves this afternoon were really key for us but we were a hole-in-one and a chip away from leading 6-2. It was a really good day for us.”
If Europe do go on to lose on home soil, there are already some question marks over some of the decisions being made by Europe’s leadership team. Putting Hull’s fitness issues aside, the thinking behind putting two untested rookies, Stark and Grant in the very first match out backfired; while leaving Spain’s Carlotta Ciganda out of the afternoon foursomes raised a few eyebrows, as did omitting Celine Boutier, arguably Europe’s best player from the morning sessions, while captain’s pick Caroline Hedwall was left twiddling her thumbs all day – the only player from either team who didn’t get a run out in either session. Admittedly, the veteran Swede is one of the lowest ranked of all the players competing this week, but it would be a surprise if she gets to play more than two matches come end of play on Sunday afternoon.
All these issues will prove irrelevant if Europe maintains the momentum of its Friday afternoon fightback into tomorrow’s matches, although both teams will go into Saturday feeling like they have points to prove – and to win.