Fan-less Team Europe leans on each other, sticks together in defending Solheim Cup

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Toledo, Ohio — Some ears perked up last week when Mel Reid suggested not just that this was a talented European team, but the most talented. Like, ever.

Well, in the end, the play certainly backed up the talk, with Team Europe defeating Team USA, 15-13, in the 17th playing of Solheim Cup, at Inverness Club. Europe stormed to a big lead in the opening session Saturday morning and never trailed at any point over the three days, capping the biennial showcase with another dominant performance Monday in the singles sessions that typically favor the Americans.

Europe now has won two consecutive Solheim Cups for just the second time, and now has won four of the last six, after losing eight of the first 11. In many ways, the upward trajectory has mirrored the Ryder Cup, where the United States long dominated, with Europe taking control the last two decades.

Team Europe celebrates winning the Solheim Cup.

Also like so often is the case for the Ryder Cup, the Americans entered the week with the star power, and exited with a star-power outage.

"I'm kind of lost for words, actually," Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew said moments after Matilda Castren made the clinching putt, a par save at the 18th to win her match against Lizette Salas, 1-up.

Castren, of Finland, was 3-1 on the week, and only became eligible for the Solheim Cup after winning a Ladies European Tour tournament in her homeland on an exemption in July. Team Europe requires players to have LET membership to be eligible, and Castren, despite winning in June on the LPGA Tour, wasn't an LET member, and LET Q-School doesn't start until January.

She ended up with the second-best record of the week.

The biggest game on the course the last three days in northwest Ohio belonged to Ireland's Leona Maguire, who has yet to win on the LPGA Tour — she was second to Nelly Korda at the Meijer LPGA Classic outside Grand Rapids this year — and has yet to lose in the Solheim Cup.

Making her debut, she was the only one of the 24 players to play all five sessions. She finished 4-0-1, with an exclamation point at the end, routing Team USA's Jennifer Kupcho, 5 and 4, in a battle of two players who had two of the most decorated amateur careers in recent history. 

"I've given it my absolute all this week," Maguire said. "I couldn't have given it anything more."

Maguire eagled the par-5 second and was off to the races. She made three birdies and never lost a hole.

The only match Maguire didn't win was perhaps the most riveting match of the week — playing with Reid on Sunday afternoon, she halved with Kupcho and Salas. Maguire and Kupcho matched impressive birdies at 16, Kupcho chipped in for birdie at 17, and Reid hit it tight for birdie on 18.

It was dubbed a crucial half-point salvage for Europe, which led, 9-7 entering Monday, instead of 8.5-7.5 had they lost that match.

But it technically didn't end up mattering, with Europe finally getting to celebrate as a team when Denmark's Emily Kristine Pedersen made birdie at the 18th to beat Danielle Kang, 1-up — the galleries rather muted compared to six hours earlier, when a raucous crowd of more than 3,000 greeted the golfers on the opening tee, with thousands more standing several deep all the way down the first hole.

Team Europe, captained by Matthew for the second time in a row, was practically without fans in Toledo, because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. In a typical year for a Solheim Cup staged in the United States, more than 10,000 Europe fans would be in attendance. But this year, the players had to supply their own, "Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!" chants and the "So Good! So Good! So Good!" from "Sweet Caroline" on the 18th green Monday night. No matter. In fact, it might've actually helped with team-bonding. The Americans had all the fans in their corner; the Europeans only had each other all week.

"The fact that we're all just secluded here among all the Americans kind of brings us closer together, because wehae to stick with each other and play for each other," France's Celine Boutier said.

"I think that's kind of helped us a little bit in that way.

"It's been such an amazing week."

This marks just the second time Team Europe has won on U.S. soil. Europe won, 18-10, in 2013 in Colorado.

Team USA's Madelene Sagstrom prepares to play her shot on the 13th hole.

Bouncing back

It was a day of redemption for Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom, who beat Ally Ewing, 3 and 2, for her first point of the week

She was 0-2 entering the session, one of those losses sticking out most. In a Saturday afternoon match with Nanna Koerstz Madsen against Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing, Sagstrom was the subject of a controversial ruling that proved massive.

After Korda had barely missed a putt on the high side of the hole, Sagstrom picked it up, conceding the next putt and a halve of the hole. But a rules official determined the ball was overhanging the cup and that Sagstrom didn't give Kelly the 10 seconds she's allotted to see if it fell. 

The result made the Korda putt good, and a hole win for Korda and Ewing, who went on to win 1-up.

Matthew sent Sagstrom out early Monday, which Sagstrom saw as a vote of confidence.

"Just showing that she believes in me, showing that the team has got my back," Sagstrom said. "I'm really happy to be on the winning side."

Both captains dubbed the Saturday ruling "unfortunate," but neither disputed the ruling.

Two-time Msaters champion Bubba Watson watches the singles matches.

Seeing green

Lexi Thompson hasn't won on the LPGA Tour since 2019. Perhaps this week will be the springboard she needs to find victory lane again.

Thompson, long one of the top American golfers, was 1-2-1 on the week, halving her singles match with Sweden's Anna Nordqvist. Thompson's putter came alive this week, most notably on a long putt on the 17th hole to win a Sunday match with Brittany Altomare against Charley Hull and Pedersen.

"I've put in so much time on the putting green and just put in so much work overall on my game," Thompson said. "So it's great to see it pay off, especially on the greens. I'm just going to continue to work on it and hopefully continue to see it improve."

On the LPGA Tour this season, Thompson is 145th in putting average (31.08) and 112th in putts per green in regulation (1.84).

Thompson and Nordqvist were first out Monday, their second time meeting in singles — and just like the first, in 2017, they halved.

Theirs was one of 16 matches that went all 18 holes, out of 28 total.

Chips & divots

►Next up to host the Solheim Cup is Spain, in 2023.

The tournament then will switch to even years starting in 2024, to get off the same rotation as the men's Ryder Cup — which was pushed to odds years when the 2020 tournament was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 Ryder Cup is later this month in Wisconsin.

The 2024 Solheim Cup will be held in the United States, but a host course has not yet been announced.

Shifting to even years will bring the Solheim Cup back to its original rotation, having started in 1990. It moved to odd years when the Ryder Cup moved to even, after the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed until 2002 because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

►The Korda sisters, Nelly and Jessica, bounced back in the singles session, each winning a match — after they had just one win between them coming into Monday's action. Jessica turned the tide in her favor at the short, par-4 11th hole, where she drove the ball to about a foot for a conceded eagle.

►An interesting story line in the match between Pedersen and Kang, whose caddie, Olly Brett, is Pederson's boyfriend. "I get to tease him a little bit more tonight," Pedersen said.

►Team Europe's bags had the Loch Ness Monster on the bottom, a hat tip to the Scottish folklore while playing at a historic course designed by a Scottish legend, Donald Ross.

►Matthew became the first Team Europe captain to win the Solheim Cup twice. She joins two American captains who did it, Juli Inkster and Judy Rankin.

►Attendance for the week was estimated at 130,000.

Team USA Fans during the singles matches.

Solheim Cup

DAY 3 RESULTS

Anna Nordqvist (EUR) halved with Lexi Thompson (USA)

Madelene Sagstrom (EUR) d. Ally Ewing (USA), 3 and 2

Leona Maguire (EUR) d. Jennifer Kupcho (USA), 5 and 4

Nelly Korda (USA) d. Georgia Hall (EUR), 1-up

Celine Boutier (EUR) d. Mina Harigae (USA), 5 and 4

Nanna Koerstz Madsen (EUR) halved with Austin Ernst (USA)

Matilda Castren (EUR) d. Lizette Salas (USA), 1-up

Brittany Altomare (USA) d. Carlota Ciganda (EUR), 2 and 1

Megan Khang (USA) d. Sophia Popov (EUR), 3 and 2

Yealimi Noh (USA) d. Mel Reid (EUR), 1-up

Jessica Korda (USA) d. Charley Hull, 3 and 1

​​​​​​​►Emily Pedersen (EUR) vs. Danielle Kang (USA), 1-up

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984