Team Europe retained the Solheim Cup on Monday after a gripping 15-13 battle with Team USA at the Inverness Golf Club in Ohio.
Europe’s rookie Matilda Castren held her nerve to roll home a five-foot putt on the 18th to secure her singles victory over American Lizette Salas, securing her team’s successful defense of the biennial golf tournament which pits the best professional women’s golfers from Europe and the US against each another.
Emily Pedersen made sure of the victory by winning the last match, sparking scenes of jubilant celebrations in which European captain Catriona Matthew was lifted aloft to commemorate the achievement.
The Scot became the first European captain to win the competition twice – and given how much of an underdog her team had been coming into the competition, the 52-year-old was obviously delighted afterwards, although she did admit that it would be her last Solheim Cup.
“It’s over to someone else now. I think – we have so many good past players, and I think everyone deserves their chance to be captain,” Matthew told the media afterwards.
“I think to be part of the Solheim, I was lucky enough to play in nine and I’ve captained two, and I’ve had a fantastic time. It’s the best week I’ve had every two years, and to have been involved with it now for over 20 years, I’m sure I’ll be there watching, but it’s someone else’s turn.”
Amongst the many congratulatory messages on social media to the European team was a message from Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who will be hoping for more European success on US soil later this month as his team face American opposition at Whistling Straits.
“What an inspirational performance by Team Europe,” Harrington said on Twitter.
Down to the wire
Entering Monday’s final day of play, the European team had a 9-7 advantage over their host, needing just five points to record a memorable victory.
And the day of singles matches couldn’t have started better for the visitors, winning the first three points to extend their lead.
However, Team USA came roaring back, winning points from the following five matches to reduce the deficit to two with four games still on the course.
But facing tough opposition in a hostile environment – there were 130,000 fans at the course in Toledo – Castren was able to hold her nerve to silence the home spectators and claim Europe’s second ever Solheim Cup victory on US soil.
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Just six weeks ago, she won the 2021 Gant Ladies Open in her native Finland to earn Ladies European Tour membership. And now, she’s a Solheim Cup winner.
“It’s hard to put it into words right now. I think I’m still shaking,” an emotional Castren said. “I just knew I was looking at the board and I knew it was going to be an important putt, and I wanted to make it. Me and (caddie) Mikey (Patterson) read it and we read it perfectly and it went in.
“I’m just so happy right now, and I’m not sure what the final scores are, but I’m just… Yeah, a lot of emotions right now.”
Performing on the biggest stage
It was another rookie, however, who stole the show over the weekend.
Ireland’s Leona Maguire, the first Irishwoman to play in the event, never looked fazed at any point during the festival of women’s golf in Ohio.
After her decisive 5&4 win over previously unbeaten US rookie Jennifer Kupcho, the 26-year-old finished as the tournament’s top-scorer with four-and-a-half points from her five matches.
A fast start on Monday helped Maguire maintain her unbeaten debut at the Solheim Cup.
“Just wanted to put pressure on Jen from the get-go. She’s a phenomenal player; we’ve played many times before, and I knew I’d have to have my ‘A’ game today, and luckily, there was still some energy left in my legs and I was able to get it done.”
Team Europe captain Matthew praised Maguire afterwards, whilst also commending her team’s unity.
“This team, we’re always one team and we win as a team or we lose as a team. It’s tough to pick out individuals. I think they all played fantastically well, so we’re all one team.”
‘Low blow … be better … you’re better’
While the standard of golf dazzled, it wouldn’t be a Solheim Cup without some controversy.
Putting for eagle on Saturday, Nelly Korda’s putt finished agonizingly close to the hole. The American sunk to her knees in frustration while her opponent, Madelene Sagstrom, threw the ball back to her.
As the players moved to the next hole, an official could be heard telling the European players that because Korda’s ball wasn’t given 10 seconds on the lip of the hole to see if it would drop, the putt would be counted as an eagle and not a birdie.
The incident got a lot of people commenting on social media, including Tommy Fleetwood’s caddie, Ian Finnis, who said: “Listened again and the caddy had it perfectly right!! ‘Don’t do sh*t like this again!! It was’nt [sic] even hanging over the hole”
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In reply to Finnis’ tweet, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood said: “Some people will be able to look in the mirror this morning and some people won’t.”
Korda’s sister, Jessica, replied to Westwood, saying: “Low blow … be better … you’re better.”
She sent another tweet shortly afterwards seemingly referencing the incident, saying: “So much hate on Twitter. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’d speak to your loved ones the way you speak to us. Think twice before you tweet. And stop hiding because we can see you.”