Add “Captain Fantastic” to Catriona Matthew’s “Supermum” tag. The Solheim Cup is back in Europe’s hands thanks to the boldest decision of her life. Suzann Pettersen, handed what some reckoned was a controversial wildcard by Matthew, clinched a dramatic 14½-13½ victory for the home team in the 16th edition on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles.
With three games out on the course as a nail-biting final day drew to a conclusion in glorious sunshine in Perthshire, the Americans needed just half a point to retain the trophy and a full one to make it three wins in a row under Juli Inkster’s captaincy in the biennial event. Europe, though, had other ideas.
Playing in the anchor match, Swede Anna Nordqvist did exactly what Matthew had asked, delivering a crucial point against Morgan Pressel, one of the renowned fighters in the US team. That left it down to Pettersen and Bronte Law in their matches against Ally McDonald and Marina Alex respectively. And, boy, did they deliver.
Law, one of Matthew’s rookies, could easily have crumbled after she left her third in a bunker at the 15th. The English player is made of gritty stuff, though. She got up and down there to salvage a half then rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the next to get her nose in front. A great two-putt from long range at the par-3 17th sealed a 2&1 success.
Up on the 18th green, Pettersen was lining up a six-foot birdie putt after seeing Alex shave the right edge with a 15-footer that would have guaranteed a tie for the Americans. In truth, Matthew could not have had anyone better standing there. It all came down to nerves. In it went. If her legs had been a bit younger, Matthew would have been the first to hug the Norwegian as the Europeans ran on to the green to celebrate.
What a finish. What a last-day performance from both teams. It was golf at its best from start to finish. Unlike the previous two days, slow play didn’t spoil the spectacle, though Carlota Ciganda and Danielle Kang were put on the clock at one point.
Ciganda came from one down with three to play to win that match. Kang came here to make the Europeans “cry”, but she was the one to end up in tears. Ciganda had topped the battle to qualify for the home side and was up to the task when it mattered most. “It’s been a tough match,” admitted the Spaniard. “I wasn’t very comfortable right there on the course. I tried to fight every shot. Catriona has been a great captain all week.”
Despite being three up at the turn, Caroline Hedwall lost to Nelly Korda. That win saw Korda become just the third US rookie to earn three-and-a-half points in the event. “It’s been amazing,” she admitted. “To play alongside my sister alternate shot, and then to come out and secure a point today, it’s what I really wanted to do.” Sister Jessica also won her match against Caroline Masson. It was a profitable week for them, but this, of course, is all about the team result.
While Pettersen grabbed the headlines and Law also played a huge part in the tide turning right at the death, Europe’s success would not have been possible without a massive contribution over the three days from Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier. They gelled brilliantly to record wins in both foursome sessions. They also produced a superb fightback to deliver a precious point in Saturday’s fourballs. But for that, Europe would have trailed heading into the singles and would never have managed to come out on top from that position.
How fitting that Hall and Boutier capped their week with last-day successes against Lexi Thompson and Annie Park respectively. Thompson, the world No 3, was reported to have suffered a “full back spasm” during her warm-up and, at one point in the round, she asked her caddie to tee the ball up. She may not have been firing on all cylinders, but that didn’t detract from Hall getting her job done. “Pretty special. Four out of four,” said the major winner of her week’s work. “I played 33 holes yesterday. I was pretty tired, but you go on adrenaline as well. Lexi’s absolutely an amazing player, so I had to kind of be switched on from the start. I’m very happy to have the win.”
As for Boutier, wow! Quite a few Scottish fans had probably never heard of her before this week, but they know her now, that’s for sure. As had been the case on the opening two days, she holed the putts that mattered. In doing so, she effectively wore down Annie Park.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m so happy to be able to bring another point to the team and very excited about the round today. I have never really experienced something like that. But it’s something you have to really embrace.”
Boutier’s point had put Europe 11-9 ahead, but it then became 12-11 in favour of the Americans following wins for Brittany Altomare, Angel Yin and the aforementioned Nelly Korda. When Charley Hull then lost the last and had to settle for a half against Megan Khang, it wasn’t looking great for Europe. Even more so when Anne Van Dam went down to Lizette Salas in another tussle that went the distance.
At that point, Inkster could have been forgiven for starting to think about a winning captain’s speech, but the twist in the tale that followed will be talked about for a long, long time.
It was vintage Pettersen as she kept her nerve to match her opponent’s birdie at the 16th. She then used her experience from eight previous appearances to ensure she was the first to hit approaches at the last and what a beauty she produced.
As the former world No 2 stood over the putt, she didn’t know that it was to win it. It probably wouldn’t have mattered, though, because she is made of stern stuff, as is Law.
Their heroics helped make it three wins out of three for Europe on Scottish soil after previous victories at Dalmahoy in 1992 and Loch Lomond in 2000.
They lifted Matthew on their shoulders to celebrate this success and quite right, too.