Solheim Cup: Europe lead but opening day shrouded by controversy

Europe ended the opening day holding a 5.5-2.5 lead, but the Solheim Cup was once again shrouded in controversy in the 17th edition at the Inverness Club in Toledo.

Nelly Korda and Madelene Sagstrom during the foursomes on day one of the Solheim Cup. Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.

Swede Madelene Sagstrom was left in tears in Ohio despite Catriona Matthew’s side emerging with a healthy advantage in their defence of the trophy.

In an event that has witnessed its fair share of unwelcome heated debates over the years, Sagstrom picked up opponent Nelly Korda’s ball close to the hole after the American had almost holed an eagle putt at the 13th and handed it to her.

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According to the rules official with that match, Sagstrom had infringed the rules, having deemed that it was overhanging the hole and, therefore, she should have waited for 10 seconds before intervening.

Leona Maguire, right, celebrates with Mel Reid after their brilliant win over the Korda sisters - Nelly and Jessica - in the opening session of the 17th Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio. Picture: Tristan Jones.

The decision left the American duo one up and, as the incident was widely discussed but defended as being “clear cut” by a senior referee, they held onto that advantage to put the first afternoon point on the board.

“It sucks right now as it feels I let my team down,” said an emotional Sagstrom afterwards. “I wasn’t following the rules for leaving the ball for 10 seconds.

“I believe in the integrity and honour of the game of golf, and I would never pick up a up putt that had a chance of going in. Personally, I don’t agree with the decision of the ball being on the edge.”

Korda, the world No 1, said the situation had been “very unfortunate”, adding: “You don’t want to win hole like that. We honestly had no say in it. It was all up to the rules committee. It feels weird obviously.”

Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren bump fists during their win over Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst on the opening morning at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Picture: Tristan Jones.

After an enthralling morning’s play that saw all four matches go the distance, the visitors emerged with a 3.5-0.5 lead over Pat Hurst’s Americans.

It was Europe’s second-best start in the biennial event, bettered only by a clean sweep at Loch Lomond in 2000

“Obviously delighted,” said Matthew, who played in the match nine times, is now bidding to become the first European captain to record back-to-back wins.

Her charges for this task had been touted by some as the strongest group collectively to fly the European flag. They wasted no time showing why.

After the Americans had led in three of the matches at one point, the session was shaping up to be shared before a strong finish from Europe silenced the crowd, with hardly any visiting spectators in attendance at this edition due to ongoing Covid-19 travelling restrictions to the US.

Anna Nordqvist, the AIG Women’s Open champion, joined forces with Matilda Castren, the first Finnish player to compete on this stage, to deliver the point Matthew had been looking for in the opening foursome.

Two up early on then one down at both the turn and with six holes to play against Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst, the Europeans delivered a decisive burst by winning three holes in a row on the back nine.

Time and time again on the back nine, rookie Castren rolled in putts that mattered, as did Nordqvist, who was cheered on by her Scottish husband, Kevin McAlpine, on the last to secure victory.

“I'm really proud of Matilda to go out there as a rookie and be fearless,” said the Swede, who is playing in her seventh match against the Americans. “She putted really well today and kept us in it.”

Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier had been retained by Matthew after winning three out of three at Gleneagles. They kept that unbeaten record intact, but only after winning the last two holes to secure a half point against Ally Ewing and Megan Khang.

“We're quite happy with that,” admitted Hall, the 2018 Women’s Open champion, having rolled in a 15-foot downhill birdie putt at the 17th to keep the match alive.

The big shock in the session was delivered by Leona Maguire, Ireland’s first Solheim Cup representative, and Mel Reid as they took down the much-heralded Korda sisters - Nelly and Jessica.

The Kordas had contributed seven of the 13.5 points secured by the US in Perthshire, but, as they mis-fired on this occasion, Maguire played like a seasoned veteran with a perfect partner at her side.

“I think everybody had written us off today, and we just sort of took that in our stride and wanted to be as relentless and fearless as possible, and I feel like we did that,” said a smiling Maguire afterwards.

In the bottom match, Charley Hull and Emily Kristine Pedersen were two down before winning three of the last four holes with birdies to beat Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare.

“It makes you want to win more,” said Hull of all the cheers on the course being for the US players.

Before the controversial afternoon match concluded, Nordqvist and Castren had delivered their second point of the day with a 4&3 win over Thompson and rookie Mina Harigae.

“Great day for both of us,” said Nordqvist, who has Scot Paul Cormack on her bag, while Castren commented: “I had a lot of fun today and two points is more than I could have asked for.”

Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas then hung on for a last-hole win over Popov and Carlota Ciganda, but, making it a day to remember on her debut, Maguire shone again, this time alongside, Hall as they beat Altomare and Yealimi Noh in another tight tussle to round off a productive day for Matthew’s side.

First-day results (European names first)

Foursomes

Matilda Castren/Anna Nordqvist bt Austin Ernst/Danielle Kang 1 hole

Celine Boutier/Georgia Hall halved with with Ally Ewing/Megan Khang

Leona Maguire/Mel Reid bt Nelly Korda/Jessica Korda 1 hole

Charley Hull/Emily K. Pedersen bt Brittany Altomare/Lexi Thompson 1 hole

Fourballs

Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Madelene Sagstrom lost to Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing 1 hole

Carlota Ciganda and Sophia Popov lost to Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas 1 hole

Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren bt Lexi Thompson and Mina Harigae 4&3

Georgia Hall and Leona Maguire bt Yealimi Noh and Brittany Altomare 1 hole

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