The story of Europe’s Solheim Cup victory in Colorado reads like a list, a bucket list of dream outcomes, the kind of fantastic entries on history’s ledger that you conjure in your sleep but fear would never survive the cut and thrust of competitive reality. Except across three remarkable days high in the North American sierra history was indeed made, and by the bucketload.
The win secured in the early hours of yesterday morning was the first by Europe’s women on American soil, and the first time they had retained the trophy. The margin of victory, 18-10, was the largest recorded by a European team and Caroline Hedwall’s birdie putt at the last to beat Michelle Wie gave her an unprecedented clean sweep of five points, the maximum haul an individual can contribute. And we have not even got to Charley Hull, one of six rookies in the side and at 17 the youngest player to represent either team, who in Sunday’s singles smashed American totem Paula Creamer 5&4 to claim the first point of an epic afternoon and her second of the contest.
You can take a breath, now. This was a triumph of individual brilliance, of collective will, of smart, intuitive leadership from captain Lotte Neumann and it has transformed this competition and the prospects for women’s golf on this side of the Atlantic. The Ladies European tour is the LPGA’s poorer cousin, lacking the range, depth and commercial support of women’s golf in the United States.
Europe’s triumph in Ireland two years ago was as significant as it was dramatic, requiring points from the last four singles matches to halt a run of three successive defeats to the United States.
Just as broadcasters were tiring of America’s domination of the Ryder Cup in the Seventies so interest was draining in its sister event. Predictability is death to the sporting spectacle and has television companies and sponsors running for the door. Victory in Colorado, therefore, substantiated considerably the Irish success, the more so given the manner of its delivery. Hedwall takes the headline plaudits with her record points haul, but it was Hull who symbolised the transformation, a slip of a girl from Kettering, who a year ago was a part of the GB&I Curtis Cup team that beat the United States for the first time in 16 years. Hull, like Hedwall, was a captain’s pick. Though five times a runner-up, consecutively at that, in this her debut season on the Ladies European Tour, Hull, unlike Hedwall, was a hunch in this environment, and what a dividend she paid. Playing alongside fellow Englishwoman Jodi Ewart Shadoff, also a captain’s pick, in the top match in Saturday’s afternoon fourballs, she returned her first point for Europe against Creamer and young Amazon Lexi Thompson. On Sunday she was unleashed at the top of the order again and after leaving major winner Creamer a broken woman, asked her to sign a golf ball for a mate back home. Kids eh?
Asked if she was unnerved by the prospect of facing a former US Open champion and heartbeat of the American team, Hull said: “I didn’t really feel that nervous, to be honest. Because this is how I always look at golf. I’m not going to die if I miss it. I just hit it and find it and hit it again.” To quote from the lingua franca of American sports coverage: “Wow.”
Speaking to the BBC, Hull added: “I gave myself high hopes and just wanted to prove people wrong. I’m 17 and people were wondering if I could perform under the pressure but I go out and enjoy it, which takes care of the pressure. Before the match [against Creamer] I just thought ‘bring it on’ because I beat her on Saturday and I’d try to do it again.”
According to Sweden’s Suzann Pettersen, a veteran of seven duels with America at just 32, the fearlessness of Hull and her fellow rookies was at the heart of a triumph that she sees as transformative. “I think this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. I talked to Annika [Sorrenstam, vice-captain], I said this is a new generation coming up. To sit and watch the kids, I call them the kids, the girls, Charley thinks I’m old, to sit and watch them perform the way they did, yesterday afternoon, it was almost more fun watching from the sidelines than actually playing yourself.
“A fantastic team effort, and I think all the rookies did a fantastic job. It’s massive for women’s golf, it’s massive for Solheim Cup. For us to be historical and win on American soil, in Colorado, in front of pretty much an all American crowd. We took it to them and they couldn’t answer.”
For her selections, her pairings and the order in which she sent the players out, Neumann deserves all the praise coming her way. “My first two picks were Jodi and then Caroline and in my mind I was thinking of players that I could pair them with and who would be my next picks. Charley was definitely in the thinking there. She was on my junior team two years ago and she’s just a special girl. And she has a special game and she brings a lot of energy to our team and she’s just a terrific player. She plays fearless and it was just awesome to have her on our team. I think we all love Charley.”
The putt that won the cup for Europe was holed by the oldest player on either side, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, 43. Playing against Gerina Piller, Matthew was two down inside three holes and again with five to play after the American lasered birdies at 12 and 13. A birdie at 14 brought her within a hole of her opponent, who conveniently bogeyed the penultimate hole to leave the match all square going up the 18th.
“I was kind of shaking. They told me coming up, so I knew that if we get a half there, we would win it outright. I’m still shaking, I think. I like these little five footers on the last.”
Heart and Sol: European stars
At 17 the youngest player in history to contest the Solheim Cup, a fearless mascot scoring two wins.
Unprecedented victories in all five sessions, contributing five of Europe’s18 points.
Sank the putt for the half point needed to win the trophy for the first time in America.