Sandwiched between Europe’s epic Ryder Cup wins at Celtic Manor and Medinah was a victory arguably as improbable and indubitably more important. It was delivered by Europe’s women in Ireland, a triumph against the American foe which also doubled as a blood transfusion for the Solheim Cup.
Europe had not won since 2003. The contest was failing as a spectacle under the weight of American dominance. If it were to have a future it needed Europe to land a punch. They did more than that. They fashioned the ultimate climax, retrieving a losing position with a knockout blow on an extraordinary afternoon at Killeen Castle.
Europe climbed off the canvas to come home 15-13. Suzann Pettersen did the Ian Poulter thing, rattling off three straight birdies to beat Michelle Wie one-up. And her fellow Swede Caroline Hedwall, two down with two to play and a captain’s pick this time, did the… yes, she did the Ian Poulter thing, winning the final two holes to claim a half against Ryann O’Toole. Oh, and the weather was worse than Celtic Manor, but never had it mattered less.
That rousing finish saw ratings at the American broadcaster, the Golf Channel, soar by 35 per cent on the numbers generated four years earlier when the contest last took place in Europe. A cable company can do business on numbers like that, and with the spiked interest came the commitment to continue with the show and end talk of scrapping the two-team format in favour of a round-robin event to include a third international team, allowing for the powerful factions from Asia and Australia.
Two years on and Poulter was being button-holed on the putting green at Oak Hill after his final round in the US PGA Championship last weekend to wish his European sisters well in a cheeky address. “Go get ’em, girls,” said Poults.
Europe have neither won in the United States nor retained the trophy so a historic double first is the requirement in Colorado over the next three days if the Cup is to return home with them.
Five members of the team that won so dramatically in Ireland make this selection alongside six rookies, the youngest of whom, Charley Hull, was not born when the inaugural match took place in 1990.
At 17, Hull is the youngest participant ever on either side, and with five runners-up spots on the Ladies European Tour already in her debut season, she brings a fearsome competitive spirit to the piece.
Pettersen, who alongside Scotland’s Catriona Matthew is making her seventh appearance, welcomes the infusion of young blood. “I think it’s healthy for us to have new players coming up,” Pettersen said. “I don’t think it’s a disadvantage to have a lot of Solheim Cup rookies. They’re all out there, and they’re fearless and have nothing to lose.
“I think it’s much better to have that kind of player rather than the experienced ones who put a lot of pressure on themselves and have everything to prove to the rest of the world that they deserved this spot on the team.”
The Americans start as heavy favourites. In rankings and experience they are packing a heap of muscle. When Wie makes it only as a captain’s pick, it gives some indication of the depth of the American talent. Wie seems to have been at the heart of the US game forever, yet she is still only 23. Like many a juvenile starlet co-opted by the system she lost her way through adolescence but is starting to reassert herself on her own terms.
The outstanding American of this vintage is the world No 2 Stacy Lewis, who made up four shots on the back nine at St Andrews to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open a fortnight ago. She has formidable support in fellow twentysomethings Morgan Pressel, who led going into the final day before finishing in a tie for fourth, and Paula Creamer, plus veteran Cristie Kerr.
The American team also includes four rookies, two of whom, Lexi Thompson, 18, and Jessica Korda, 20, are in the Hull category of vaulting ambition.
Central to Europe’s chances are the contributions of Pettersen and Matthew, tied fourth and 11th respectively at St Andrews. Youth is a fine attribute but at some point the babes might just need mothering.
Solheim Cup: How it works
The Solheim Cup follows the same template as the Ryder Cup, featuring two days of fourballs (in which each player plays their own ball) and foursomes (players hit alternate shots using one ball).
Each team selects four pairs per format and the home side decides the order, one format in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Each match is worth one point to the winners or 0.5 each if the match is tied, or halved. The contest ends with 12 singles matches on the third day.
As holders after winning 15-13 in Ireland in 2011, Europe need 14 points to retain the trophy or 14.5 to win it for the first time in America. The United States lead 8-4 in matches overall.