As the dry Spanish wind grew from a zephyr to a gale on Friday afternoon, Finca Cortesin got faster and tougher, as did the home team. After being shut out in the opening foursomes for the first time in Solheim Cup history, Suzann Pettersen’s European squad rallied in the post-lunch fourball matches, while all the American players who rested in the morning got out on the course in the afternoon.
Among them was two-time major champion and former Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No.1 Lilia Vu, who teed off in Match 6 alongside Lexi Thompson. That pair took on Leona Maguire and Georgia Hall.
With the possible exception of Rose Zhang, Vu was the rookie that fans wanted to see the most.
Europe won the match 1 up on the final green. But that summary doesn’t come close to describing the heart-pounding drama it produced.
For starters, Thompson shone like the star of old for most of the match, keeping the Americans within striking distance while Vu struggled to find her swing. Hall made an eagle on the par-5 4th to put Europe 1 up but that’s where the match remained for two-and-a-half hours as Thompson fought off both Europeans with great ball-striking and some good lag putting.
That all changed on 14 when Thompson hit a perfect drive on the short, tight par-4 14th. Her ball caught a hillside and skirted the edge of the hole before stopping some 30 feet long. Lexi rolled that putt into the center of the hole at a perfect speed for an eagle two to tie the match.
But a hole later, Thompson three-putted for bogey after Vu missed a 4-footer for par to give Maguire and Hall a 1-up lead once again.
That set up 30 minutes of arguably the best match-play golf so far in this Solheim Cup with the two best shots of the match coming on the last two holes on the course. Vu, who continued to battle without really contributing, hit a 7-iron on the par-3 17th to 12 feet. After Thompson missed her birdie putt, Vu poured in hers to win the hole and tie the match going to 18.
It was the second of three matches to make it all the way to 18. And this one had the most going on. In front of a massive gallery and with a crucial point on the line, Maguire, the star of the 2021 Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio, missed the green short with her approach. She then promptly chipped in for birdie from a tight lie 20 yards below the hole.
Thompson had the best chance to tie. She went for the par-5 green in two from 236 yards but missed just right. The lie was incredibly tough, and she was six paces from the hole. Most fans expected her to chip it close.
But Lexi, like all of us, is human and the ball went from six yards from the hole to 30. Thompson then needed to hole the resulting pitch, which she almost did. But the ball stayed inches away.
“It was a bad lie,” Thompson said of the first shot. “I didn’t hit a good chip, but it was pretty much impossible.”
That left it up to Vu again. This time, from 30 feet, she was unable to deliver.
The chip-in from Maguire guaranteed Suzann Pettersen’s team a session win in fourball. It was only a matter of how large the afternoon margin would be. The answer was 3-1, which put the total for day one at 5-3 in favor of the Americans.
While fans may criticize Thompson, the day as a whole was hers. She and Megan Khang went out first in the morning foursomes session and knocked off the strong Swedish pairing of Maja Stark and Linn Grant. And without Thompson’s grit in the afternoon, the match would have ended much sooner.
Her ball-striking has always been her strength, and even though the results have been less than stellar this season, her recent hard work is showing.
“You’ll notice that her swing is really balanced now,” said Thompson’s coach Joe Hallett. “She has worked on a more old-school setup that allows her to work the ball in both directions.”
The new setup – more Mickey Wright and Annika Sorenstam than anything seen in a modern golf magazine – allows Thompson to turn her hips more freely giving the hands room to control the clubface, not just on full shots but pitches and sand shots.
“My ball-striking has been really good,” Thompson said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work and It continues to move in the right direction.”
“All the matches were close all day long,” U.S. Captain Stacy Lewis said. “We were a hole-in-one and a chip-in away from it being 6-2, so there was some really good golf out there today.”