So you're saying there's a chance: Team USA trims deficit entering Solheim Cup singles matches

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Toledo, Ohio — On Labor Day weekend in the heart of blue-collar country, the Americans put in an honest day's work. And, as a result, they've now set up this Solheim Cup for a potentially thrilling finish at historic Inverness Club, where tens of thousands of red-white-and-blue-clad fans were proud and really darn loud from sunup to sundown on a glorious late-summer Sunday in northwest Ohio.

Team USA cut down a massive three-point deficit at the start of Day 2 into a much more manageable two-point hole, 9-7, by the end of it, and are poised to possibly stage the event's biggest comeback. No team had ever come back from three points down after Day 1 to win the Solheim Cup, but teams have come back from two points down after Day 2 — including Team USA in 1996, 2002 and 2015, the last one a comeback from down four entering singles, long Team USA's strength.

Team USA's Jennifer Kupcho celebrates a victory on the 17th hole.

"We're Team USA and we need to play Team USA golf," said Lizette Salas, who's 2-0-1 this weekend, all 2½ points coming with Jennifer Kupcho by her side. "We're some of the best players in the world.

"These girls don't need any pep talks."

But they had plenty of pep in their step, and pep from the stands, starting from the first tee before 8 a.m., when a jam-packed grandstand roared at the arrival of the Americans. For the afternoon matches, the fans there were even louder, perhaps because they were more lubricated. An hour south of Detroit, "Don't Stop Believin'" blared from the speakers on the first tee in the afternoon, American player Ally Ewing even signing a few bars, followed by "Livin' on a Prayer," after the Americans prayers, apparently, already had been answered. There was even dancing on the tee, from Juli Inkster, who captained the last three United States squads to a pair of victories, and from 94-year-old Shirley Spork, the Detroit native who in the 1950s was one of 13 founders of the LPGA.

Fans cheered before, after and, yes, during the Americans' shots on the opening tee box — which, brilliantly, is a shared tee box for the 10th hole this week, setting up a horseshoe amphitheater.

The galleries were itching to pop.

And Team USA's play made it happen right to the end, the day capped by a dramatic final match between Team USA's Salas and Kupcho, who chipped in at No. 17 to take a 1-up lead, and Team Europe's undefeated duo of Leona Maguire and Mel Reid, who hit her approach on 18 to 18 inches to secure a huge halve in the match.

Despite a slow start to the morning — at one point early, Europe led in all four matches, threatening to turn Monday's final-day vibe into something more reminiscent of a funeral procession — the Americans surged, winning three of the four alternate-shot matches, after losing three of those four Saturday.

Lexi Thompson, 0-2 on Day 1, punctuated the morning flourish with a 35-foot putt at the 17th hole to win her match, along with Brittany Altomare, 2-and-1, over Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen.

"We knew the Americans were going to come back fighting at us," said Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew, whose team needs five points to retain the Solheim Cup as the defending champion, while Team USA needs 7½ to win it.

This place, after all, has a history of comebacks. Bob Tway trailed by four shots entering the final round of the 1986 PGA Championship, and won when he holed a bunker shot on the 18th. Seven years later, Paul Azinger came from a shot back entering the final round, made four birdies in his last seven holes to get into a playoff, and then beat Greg Norman. (Norman also lost to Tway.)

Interestingly, on a course built by a Scottish legend, Donald Ross, Americans have dominated, winning all but one of the major tournaments staged here (four PGAs, two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens, one U.S. Amateur, one U.S. Junior Amateur).

Team USA fans enjoy Day 2 of the Solheim Cup.

And Team USA entered the week as the heavy favorites, not only based on average world ranking, but also the fact Team Europe would essentially have to go it alone, with no fans because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Twelve singles matches close the Solheim Cup, starting just after noon Monday.

This was supposed to be the Korda show, after the sisters dominated two years ago at Gleneagles, but world No. 1 Nelly is 1-2, including a 5-and-4 pummeling with Ewing by Reid and Maguire in the morning. In that match, which Korda, no doubt feeling significant pressure this week, looked totally out of sorts. She sat for the first time in the afternoon in what actually wasn't a grueling decision for Team USA captain Pat Hurst.

"I need my girls for the singles," she said. "That's where they shine, and I needed them rested up for that."

Jessica Korda was back out Sunday afternoon, for the first time since Saturday morning, and played a thriller with Megan Khang — Korda nearly holed a bunker shot at No. 8 and won the hole, Khang chipped in on No. 9 to win the hole — but lost on the 18th hole, 1-up, in another stellar match that featured seven lead changes, with no team up more than one hole. Jessica Korda is 0-2.

Maguire, as it stands, will be the only one of the 24 players to play in all five sessions — and is 3-0-1.

In that spectacular final match, Kupcho, whom Salas called the "MVP," made back-to-back birdies at Nos. 10 and 11 to go 2-up. They lost that lead on 15, then Kupcho brought the crowd back to life with the chip-in at 17 when it looked like Team USA might lose that hole. Kupcho, a Solheim Cup rookie, also birdied the short par-4 16th, chipping to a foot, only to watch Maguire make a 12-footer to halve that hole.

But Reid took the full point away when her wedge from about 120 at 18 just cleared the front left bunker, got a kick to the right and settled next to the pin, inside 2 feet.

"Those girls were relentless," Reid, who played through a crick in her neck, said of her American counterparts in the afternoon.

Team USA, meanwhile, was paced in the afternoon by Team USA's two other rookies, Mina Harigae and Yealimi Noh, who took down Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov, 3-and-1, to, for a brief moment, tie the Solheim Cup for the first time since it was 0-0. Hurst sat out all her rookies in the opening session Saturday, and then had so much faith in two of them Sunday afternoon, she sent them out first.

Harigae and Noh stormed to a three-hole lead through nine holes, then lost Nos. 10, 12 and 13 to square it.

Harigae's hot putter carried the duo down the stretch.

"Us being rookies," said Noh, "we were ready to come out here and win the match."

Said Harigae: "When we lost the lead, all I thought of was, hey, we're just back to square one. We have six holes left. Let's go."

And, such is the theme of this holiday weekend.

Another great American comeback.

Team Europe's Leona Maguire reacts on the 16th hole.

Day 2 results

MORNING ALTERNATE SHOT

► Austin Ernst-Danielle Kang (USA) d. Georgia Hall-Madelene Sagstrom (EUR), 1-up

► Brittany Altomare-Lexi Thompson (USA) d. Charley Hull-Emily Pedersen (EUR), 2 and 1

► Leona Maguire-Mel Reid (EUR) d. Ally Ewing-Nelly Korda (USA), 5 and 4

► Lizette Salas-Jennifer Kupcho (USA) d. Anna Nordqvist-Matilda Castren (EUR), 3 and 1

AFTERNOON BEST BALL

► Mina Harigae-Yealimi Noh (USA) d. Celine Boutier-Sophia Popov (EUR), 2-up

► Carlota Ciganda-Nanna Koerstz Madsen (EUR) d. Megan Khang-Jessica Korda (USA), 1-up

► Jennifer Kupcho-Lizette Salas (USA) halved with Leona Maguire-Mel Reid (EUR)

► Charley Hull-Emily Pedersen (EUR) d. Austin Ernst-Danielle Kang (USA), 4 and 2

Day 3 schedule

SINGLES

12:05: Anna Nordqvist (EUR) vs. Lexi Thompson (USA)

12:15: Madelene Sagstrom (EUR) vs. Ally Ewing (USA)

12:25: Leona Maguire (EUR) vs. Jennifer Kupcho (USA)

12:35: Georgia Hall (EUR) vs. Nelly Korda (USA)

12:45: Celine Boutier (EUR) vs. Mina Harigae (USA)

12:55: Nanna Koerstz Madsen (EUR) vs. Austin Ernst (USA)

1:05: Matilda Castren (EUR) vs. Lizette Salas (USA) 

1:15: Carlota Ciganda (EUR) vs. Brittany Altomare (USA)

1:25: Sophia Popov (EUR) vs. Megan Khang (USA)

1:35: Mel Reid (EUR) vs. Yealimi Noh (USA)

1:45: Charley Hull (EUR) vs. Jessica Korda (USA)

1:55: Emily Pedersen (EUR) vs. Danielle Kang (USA)

Solheim Cup

► When: Saturday-Monday

► Where: Inverness Club, Toledo

► TV: Monday — Noon-6, Golf Channel

► After Day 2: Europe leads, 9-7

► All-time series: USA leads, 10-6

► Defending champion: Europe

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984