It was golf at its best – and also its worst. We had sisters winning together, rookies shining and some big putts dropping. Oh, and Scotland being shown off in all its splendour in the sunshine at glorious Gleneagles. But day one of the 16th Solheim Cup was tarnished by slow play. The top fourball match took five hours and 11 minutes for 16 holes. Golf can’t go on like this and, on this evidence, the officials in charge of the ladies’ game need to start asserting some much-needed authority.
From Catriona Matthew’s perspective, it was a satisfactory day’s work – it would have been better but for the Americans holing long birdie putts at the 18th in the final two games – by the Europeans as they emerged with a 4½-3½ lead after the opening salvos on the PGA Centenary Course.
Her faith in the rookies in the home team was vindicated. Celine Boutier was in a winning partnership with Georgia Hall in the morning foursomes and Bronte Law helped deliver a half with Carlota Ciganda. Sent out again in the afternoon fourballs with the same partner, Law, a feisty individual, repeated the feat.
Left out in the morning, Anne Van Dam also shone in the second session. Alongside Suzann Pettersen, she birdied the sixth, seventh and ninth to set up another European success. Matthew and Juli Inkster, her US counterpart, are right. They are only rookies in name these days in this event.
At times, the golf wasn’t great. It certainly didn’t match some of the fireworks we saw in the match two years ago in Des Moines. Nerves played a part in the morning and it can be difficult to find a rhythm in foursomes. After 13 successive days of rain in the build-up to the biennial event, the course is also playing tough.
There was excitement, though, especially at the end. In a ding-dong battle, Law and Ciganda had gone from two down with four to play to one up playing the last only for Lexi Thompson to deny them at the death as she coaxed in a left-to-right birdie putt. Law and Ciganda had also gone the whole hog earlier in the day. The Spaniard holed key birdie putts at the 17th in both matches and, in truth, they had nothing to be disappointed about whatsoever.
“It was really a grind this afternoon,” admitted Law, who had earlier been handed the honour of hitting Europe’s opening shot and handled the responsibility like a seasoned pro rather than a 24-year-old getting her first taste of this event. “They holed a good putt at the 18th, but the fact we came up with a half after being two down with four to play shows we never gave up.”
The other half point secured by Inkster’s side late in the day was definitely disappointing from a European perspective. Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz, after all, had been coasting to victory when they stood four up with six to play. It was a real kick in the guts, therefore, when Brittany Altomare holed an even longer putt than Thompson’s 15 minutes earlier to see that one finish all square as well. Hull’s putt from closer to win it hit the hole but was too pacey to drop. You felt her pain.
From looking as though a three-point overnight lead was on the cards, the Europeans had to settle for the slenderest margin. The US definitely felt they’d gained the momentum, if not the lead. It is too early, though, to make any predictions about how this transatlantic tussle is going to materialise.
Matthew, it must be said, is heading into the final two days with the odd headache. Jodi Ewart Shadoff had a morning to forget alongside Caroline Masson as they suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Korda sisters – Jessica and Nelly. They were making history as the first sisters to play for the US and they made it a morning to remember by putting the first point on the board.
“It was a lot of fun. It was awesome,” said Nelly. Birdies at the opening two holes set the tone. Despite having a double-bogey and three bogeys, the Kordas won 6&4, with Europe’s performance being summed up when they three-putted from four feet at the seventh.
Swedish duo Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Headwell were also left with tails between their legs after being hammered 7&5 by Ally McDonald, not only a rookie but also a late replacement for the injured Stacy Lewis, and Angel Yin. That equalled the biggest fourball margin, set by Pat Hurst and Rosie Jones at Muirfield Village in 1998 – the year Yin was born.
The positives outweighed the negatives, though, for the home captain. Law doesn’t looked finished in terms of her contribution. Far from it, in fact. The same goes for the big-hitting Van Dam. She revelled alongside her “idol” Pettersen. The Norwegian, a bold wildcard pick by Matthew, also did her bit, notably when holing a monster birdie putt early on in the top afternoon match against Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas.
“To be honest, I was so relaxed,” said Van Dam. “I was standing on the first tee and Suzann said to me before we walked in, ‘just enjoy this experience’. And that’s what I did. Her putt at the fourth got me goosebumps. I thought we did great as a team.” Pettersen, who is playing in her ninth Solheim Cup, described her partner as a “rock star”.
Boutier hit the right notes, too, on her debut. Playing alongside Georgia Hall, the Frenchwoman holed a brilliant birdie putt from the back edge at the 11th as Europe took control and then clinched the point by holding her nerve to convert a par putt at the 17th. “I feel like my heart is about to explode,” she admitted afterwards. “But I’m super happy and excited. Actually I felt more nervous at the end than at the beginning, but it was pretty cool to be able to experience the first tee.”
As was the case for the Ryder Cup in 2014, it was a marvellous scene as the morning matches teed off in the sunshine with Glen Devon and the Ochil Hills as a stunning backdrop. Handed the honour, Morgan Pressel fared better with the opening blow than Webb Simpson in the men’s match five years ago.
For the next 11 or so hours, we saw good and bad. We’ll take more of the good over the next two days. Alas, that slow-play issue isn’t going to be nipped in the bud overnight. At the same time, though, those officials are letting the game down by not taking action when it is clear for all to see that action is required.