TOLEDO, OHIO | The momentum the United States team picked up by winning three of the four foursomes matches on Sunday morning fell away late in the afternoon with one perfectly struck 8-iron by the emotional, and now on-course leader of the European team: Mel Reid.
The story went thusly: Once the Americans cut a three-point deficit down to one, it looked for all the world like the matches would be tied 8-8 going into the singles as they were two years ago at Gleneagles. And in case you weren’t a fan or don’t remember, that event in Scotland proved to be the most dramatic in Solheim Cup history.
The U.S. still trailed at lunchtime on Sunday at Inverness Club. But fourballs favor the Americans, or so the thinking and the stats have shown over the years. And Team USA had a lot of momentum early. Yealimi Noh and Mina Harigae, two of Captain Pat Hurst’s captain’s picks, both Solheim rookies, jumped out to an early lead over Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov that stretched to 3 up at the turn.
Meanwhile Jessica Korda and Megan Khang went 1 up on 9 over Carlota Ciganda and Nanna Koerstz Madsen. The Americans seemed to be in command of their games and the match in that one.
But, as European Captain Catriona Matthew said, “Around the turn you could sense it was changing a little bit and going toward Europe. You weren't hearing quite so many cheers (from the partisan American crowd).”
That was because Europe did on Sunday afternoon what they did all day on Saturday – dominate the closing holes. Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen went on a back-nine tear, birdieing six of their last 10 holes to close out Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst 3 and 2. Then Ciganda and Koerstz Madsen birdied five of the final nine holes to turn their match around and beat Khang and Korda on 18.
Just a few minutes later, the match on which the day turned marched up the final fairway. Reid and her partner Leona Maguire, a magical duo that took out Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing for Europe’s only win on Sunday morning, fell 1 down to Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho with one hole to play. It was the ninth of 16 matches to go all the way to 18, showing how extraordinarily tight these matches have been from the beginning.
Salas and Kupcho hit their approach shots to 18 first, finding the difficult green and leaving themselves 20 and 25 footers for birdie. Maguire also hit the putting surface, leaving herself about 30 feet downhill.
Then it was Reid’s turn. She hit a less-than-full 8-iron from 136 yards with the wind in her face and the shot left the clubface headed straight at the flag. But in the air, it looked as though the ball would come up short, perhaps even short enough to bound back into the front bunker. At best, it looked like it would hang up in the high grass on a knoll between the bunker and the green. Instead, the ball caught the high grass and bounced forward, the thick stuff killing just enough of the momentum to leave Reid a 2-footer for birdie, just below the hole.
Salas and Kupcho hit good putts that didn’t fall. And Reid rolled in her birdie, pounding her chest in triumph at digging out a half-point tie to give Europe a 9-7 lead.
“I was right there,” Matthew said. “I was basically opposite where it landed. I was watching it coming in through the air and thought it was maybe just going to carry the bunker and get caught in the rough. It just got a fortunate bounce, just bounced through the rough and ran down beautifully. Slightly lucky. But, probably for that match, a halve was a fair result.”
“I knew as soon as I hit it, was either going to be a little bit left and short or it was going to be good,” Reid said. “So, I was hoping for the good. And I almost willed that ball into the hole.”
Then Reid offered her analysis of the day and in so doing, summed up the entire week.
“We knew the Americans would come out fighting,” she said. “They played great this morning. It was great that we played great, and nice to finish that match off. These players are just so good. You really can't give them anything.
“Like Lizette and Jennifer, they both are fantastic players, obviously world-class players. They played a perfect fourball today. If one was out, one was almost making birdie or making birdie. The momentum has gone back and forth.
“That's what a Solheim Cup is. But that was a huge half point for us. That makes it a very nice afternoon for us and a nice little two-point lead going into Sunday.”