Euro thrash! Team USA faces big early deficit at Solheim Cup, despite controversial ruling
Toledo, Ohio — With music blaring and the crowd caffeinated, the first tee ball was struck before 8 a.m. And yet, it took until 5:39 p.m. Saturday for Team USA to put an American flag on the scoreboard — and even that didn't come without controversy.
Team Europe dominated the first day of the Solheim Cup, the biggest event in women's golf, surging to a 5½-2½ lead on Saturday at historic Inverness Club. The only matches Team USA won came in best ball — easily the most dramatic being the 1-up victory by Nelly Korda, world No. 1 and Olympic gold medalist, and Ally Ewing, over Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Madelene Sagstrom.
Despite every match being tight, United States only managed a half-point in the morning alternate-shot matches, to Europe's 3½ points.
This ties the greatest deficit for any team after the first day of the Solheim Cup. The United States held 5½-2½ leads in 1998 and 2017, and Europe did in 2000, and each went on to win easily all three years.
"It happens," Team USA captain Pat Hurst said. "It didn't go our way this morning."
In some ways, mostly the lopsided score, Day 1 was reminiscent of the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, where the American men, heavily favored like these American women, shockingly trailed 6½-1½ after the opening sessions. The Day 1 drama that week was Hal Sutton pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, not the best of friends those days. At Inverness, the drama came from a much lesser-known walking rules official. There's one with every group, but you almost never notice them. Unless…
Korda and Ewing trailed by two after two holes, but rallied to square the match through 12. Then, at the par-5 13th hole, Korda just barely missed a 15-footer for eagle, dropping to her knees as the ball missed a whisker to the right of the hole. That's when Sagstrom walked over and picked the ball up, conceding the birdie.
The problem, according to the walking rules official: Europe didn't wait the full 10 seconds Korda is allotted to see if the ball would actually drop. Going by the rules of match play, the previous stroke of Korda's, the eagle putt in this case, was ruled good. That put Team USA one hole up, and they held on the rest of the way, halving the final five holes to take the match.
"We didn't even have a say, honestly," Korda said. "It was definitely awkward.
"You don't want to win a hole like that."
Said Ewing: "That doesn't take away from the good golf that we played."
The rules official, who called it on her own as they instructed to do if they see something out of the ordinary, was immediately met with pushback from Madsen and Sagstrom, and Europe captain Catriona Matthew. The rules official called for a second opinion, based on video review, and the review ruled the ball was slightly hanging over the lip, upholding the decision in accordance with Rule 13.3b.
Later in the afternoon, Matthew and Hurst were seen debating the ruling, animatedly. Interestingly, during a rules meeting Friday, players were warned about that very specific situation.
Both captains called it an "unfortunate" situation. They didn't seem to agree on the final ruling, but both accepted it, and said it's time to move on.
"We just gotta get on with it," said Matthew, who said she was shown a "fuzzy" replay after the incident, and thought it was inconclusive. "You hate to see things decided by a ruling.
"We're not going to question that one bit."
On Sagstrom, Matthew said, "She's got nothing to feel bad about." The captain's confidence was reinforced by Sunday morning's pairings, which feature Sagstrom out first, with Georgia Hall.
That dramatic match, followed by unofficial USA captain and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, was the only one of the day that ended with fist-bumps and not hugs between opponents.
For Nelly Korda, the win was a bounce back from the morning loss with sister, Jessica. It was Nelly's first loss in Solheim Cup play, after going 3-0-1 at Gleneagles in Scotland in her Solheim debut two years ago. Jessica, also 3-0-1 in 2019, sat out the afternoon session.
Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho gave the Americans their second win of the day, with Salas stiffing her approach on the 18th hole and rolling in the 4-foot birdie putt to ice it. She let out a big fist pump.
"My legs are still shaking," Salas said, just off the 18th green.
Like Korda and Ewing, Salas and Kupcho trailed by two holes early, but Kupcho chipped in at the eighth and the duo had it all square through 13 when Kupcho rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt to take their first lead since the third hole. Carlota Ciganda and Sophia Popov squared it at 16 with a tight approach shot for birdie. Ciganda missed a short birdie putt at 17 that would've given Europe the late lead.
As was the theme Saturday, the match went to 18 — seven of the eight matches went to the short par-4 18th hole, where the Americans gave up possible points in three morning matches.
"It could've went either way," Hurst said. "We're leaving on a good note tonight."
The lone match that ended early was Europe's blowout win by Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren, 4 and 3, over Lexi Thompson and Mina Harigae in the afternoon.
Nordqvist was 2-0 on the day, and now is 14-9-2 in her seven Solheim Cup appearances. Thompson, the newly minted Rocket Mortgage spokesperson, is 5-6-6 in her fifth Solheim Cup, and has never won a match when Cristie Kerr wasn't her partner. Thompson's iron game was off most of the afternoon, featuring several one-armed follow-throughs, followed by looks of frustration.
Alternate-shot matches kick off Day 2 on Sunday morning, following again by best ball in the afternoon, with singles set for Monday.
Europe arrived in Toledo with almost none of its own fans because of COVID-19 travel restrictions — the gallery was almost entirely decked out in red, white and blue, and in the tens of thousands, an impressive gathering despite going up against a slate of college football games (Ohio State played Thursday) — and as the nearly universally perceived underdogs. Europe's average world ranking is 43.8, to 25.8 for the Americans.
But the only number that matters now is 8½ — that being the points Europe, as the defending champion, needs to retain the Solheim Cup, out of 20 remaining.
Day 1 results
MORNING ALTERNATE SHOT
► Anna Nordqvist-Matilda Castren (EUR) d. Danielle Kang-Austin Ernst (USA), 1-up
► Ally Ewing-Megan Khang (USA) halved with Celine Boutier-Georgia Hall (EUR)
► Mel Reid-Leona Maguire (EUR) d. Nelly Korda-Jessica Korda (USA), 1-up
► Charley Hull-Emily Pedersen (EUR) d. Lexi Thompson-Brittany Altomare (USA), 1-up
AFTERNOON BEST BALL
► Nelly Korda-Ally Ewing (USA) d. Nanna Koerstz Madsen-Madelene Sagstrom (EUR), 1-up
► Jennifer Kupcho-Lizette Salas (USA) d. Carlota Ciganda-Sophia Popov (EUR), 1-up
► Anna Nordqvist-Matilda Castren (EUR) d. Lexi Thompson-Mina Harigae (USA), 4 and 3
► Georgia Hall-Leona Maguire (EUR) d. Yealimi Noh-Brittany Altomare (USA), 1-up
Day 2 schedule
MORNING ALTERNATE SHOT
► 7:15: Georgia Hall-Madelene Sagstrom (EUR) vs. Danielle Kang-Austin Ernst (USA)
► 7:27: Charley Hull-Emily K. Pedersen (EUR) vs. Lexi Thompson-Brittany Altomare (USA)
► 7:39: Mel Reid-Leona Maguire (EUR) vs. Nelly Korda-Ally Ewing (USA)
► 7:51: Anna Nordqvist-Matilda Castren (EUR) vs. Lizette Salas-Jennifer Kupcho (USA)
Note: Afternoon best-ball pairings will be announced around noon Sunday
► When: Saturday-Monday
► Where: Inverness Club, Toledo
► TV: Sunday — 7 a.m.-noon, GC; 12-1:30, NBC; 1:30-5:30, GC. Monday — Noon-6, GC
► After Day 1: Europe leads, 5½-2½
► All-time series: USA leads, 10-6
► Defending champion: Europe
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