The thing about sports is that there is a scoreboard and when time runs out – or in the case of golf the holes run out – there’s a winner and a loser. But this Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland had a victor far greater than just Europe. The United States was a shining co-star in what was a great day for women’s golf and women’s sports.
That Suzann Pettersen won the Cup for Europe on a 7-foot birdie putt with the final stroke on the final hole of the final match still on the course was a fitting punctuation mark to a remarkable day of golf. Five matches ended on the 18th green and four others made it to No. 17. But that was only part of a sensational week.
When Europe trailed 13½-11½, all appeared lost for the home team. Then magic happened.
Europe took the final three matches with Pettersen, the 38-year-old veteran playing her ninth Solheim Cup, justifying the decision by Catriona Matthew to make her a captain’s pick despite a limited schedule the last two years while on maternity leave.
Then, to give the storyline a true fairytale finish, Pettersen said that not only was this her last Solheim Cup, it was also the end of her career as a competitive golfer. She walks away with 15 LPGA Tour victories, including two major championships and a sterling Solheim Cup record.
The Norwegian burst on the scene at the 2002 Solheim Cup when she was 5 down with five holes to play against Michele Redman in singles and came back to earn a halve, spicing up her live TV interview with a bleepable word to describe her feelings. Gleneagles was a perfect closing parenthesis to the one Pettersen opened at Interlachen 17 years earlier.
While there was disappointment on the American side, to be sure, there was also the real sense that they had been part of something special – something pivotal in the way women’s golf and women’s sports is perceived and perhaps even how it is covered by the media.
Any news outlet not at Gleneagles missed out on an event that may well be the sports story of the year. Perhaps this will be the contest that makes those serious about sports realize the power and passion of female athletes and their fans of both genders. Like the Women’s World Cup in soccer, pushed into the spotlight by an amazing U.S. national team, the Solheim Cup was lifted by the efforts of both sides.
Anyone who was on site in Scotland and experienced the singing, dancing, chanting excitement of the 90,000 fans who attended, covered in face paint and costumed in team colors, knows they were fortunate enough to be part of something special.
U.S. captain Juli Inkster said it. Jessica Korda said it. Matthew and Pettersen said it: Sunday was a great day for women’s golf. But it was also more than Sunday.
On Friday, when it looked as if the United States would lose the opening day 5½-2½, the Yanks rallied to halve the final two matches of four-ball to make the score 4½-3½.
Nelly Korda and Brittany Altomare birdied the last three holes against Azahara Munoz and Charley Hull while Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson engaged in an epic match against Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law. Only two holes were halved, Europe making birdies on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to go 1 up before Thompson made a birdie on No. 18 to square the match.
The quality of play Saturday in a relentless wind that gusted to 40 mph was nothing short of sensational. In morning foursomes, Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex shot two under par for 17 holes in their 2-and-1 victory over Anne van Dam and Anna Nordqvist. At one point, Pressel and Alex made four consecutive birdies. That’s remarkable in alternate shot in perfect weather, let alone in a four-club wind.
In the afternoon four-ball matches, three were decided on the 18th green and the fourth on No. 17. Altomare and Annie Park defeated Pettersen and van Dam 1 up despite the fact that Pettersen made five birdies in six holes beginning on No. 7. Again, given the weather conditions – the afternoon matches had not only wind but rain and fading light – those are remarkable efforts
That the score was 8-8 going into Sunday singles set the stage perfectly for what was to come.
The United States never led in the competition until Jessica Korda’s 3-and-2 win over Caroline Masson at 4:15 local time put the Americans on top 12-11. Megan Khang’s halve with Charley Hull and Altomare’s 5-and-4 triumph over Jodi Ewart Shafdoff made it 13½-11½ for the Yanks, who then needed only a half-point to retain the Cup on a tie and a full point to win it outright.
But first Anna Nordqvist closed out Pressel 4 and 3, then Bronte Law edged Ally McDonald 2 and 1 and the showstopper was Pettersen’s 1-up win over Marina Alex.
This was a Solheim Cup that showcased a new generation of stars. Both Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall went 4-0-0 for Europe while Charley Hull earned 2½ points. For the Americans, Jessica and Nelly Korda were both 3-0-1 while Altomare gathered 2½ points. They are the future of the Solheim Cup.
But we also got a glimpse of a bigger future at Gleneagles: we got a glimpse of the future of women’s golf and the role it can play in elevating women’s sports in terms of both equal attention and equal pay -- and one leads to the other.