Solheim Cup Highlights Team Golf's Brilliance And Pitfalls
Europe secures a tie and retains the Cup to cap off a dramatic, bizarre week in Spain offering cautionary reminders for Rome's Ryder Cup participants.
Shanks, cranks and thanks.
Another team event, another Cup weekend delivering a bit of everything from hosel rockets to smiles induced by stunning performances. The Solheim Cup served up an absurd Hollywood ending, sensational shotmaking, the inevitable Cup-pressure induced gaffes, and several breakout performances. We saw Captain’s being Captain’s. A venue totally ill-suited for the competition. And a new low in television coverage from the people who had already lowered the bar.
Spain’s first-ever Solheim Cup still delivered a page turner, a head turner and, with a Ryder Cup upon us, a valuable precursor to prep us for a week in Rome when the male version of a USA vs. Europe circus maximus commences Friday.
The feel good story from the Solheim: home country hero Carlota Ciganda overcoming a 15th hole shank to birdie the 16th and 17th holes, thus preventing Nelly Korda from guiding America to a road victory and securing the point necessary for Europe to retain the Cup.
The 2023 edition took place at a hilltop resort named Finca Cortesin, loosely translated in Spanish as “you’ll probably need a cortisone shot if you try to walk this place.”
The strange venue choice produced the first-ever 14-14 tie in 18 playings of the biennial matches.
According to Ryan Lavner’s game story, this was not the first time Ciganda has battled mid-round shanks. Still, she couldn’t believe they reared up Sunday while facing world No. 3 Korda. But Ciganda recovered in mere minutes and wrapped up the tie with an epic shot at the 17th. Bedlam ensued when she made the birdie putt, even with another match coming to the par 3 tee where a teammate was trying to claw back a half point to gain Europe the outright victory.
Such a short-sighted display by Team USA would have—oh you know it—prompted ugly American’s cries and headlines throughout the union. But let’s not make that the defining moment of the contest when there are the usual unsung heroes to celebrate.
Benched until Saturday afternoon’s four-ball session, European Captain’s pick Caroline Hedwall fell three down to America’s Ally Ewing. She then inexplicably made birdies on her next four holes to win the match and an enormous point for a European team that had opened these matches 0-4.
“She was the hero,” said Europe’s Captain, Suzann Pettersen said. “That’s why I picked her.”
Ah how prescient.
There’s some first rate “it-was-all-in-the-gut” Captain credit-taking! That’s a staple of Cup matches, particularly since Hedwall might not have played until Sunday if not for the rules. Until then she appeared to be a mistaken choice before the amazing birdie run.
“It was something in me,” Hedwall said. “I never give up, and I showed that today.”
And your Captain knew it all along!
Ireland’s Leona Maguire continued her remarkable match play career, easily beating Rose Zhang Sunday and finishing the week with three points, one shy of Ciganda.
On the U.S. side, Lexi Thompson secured three points despite a Friday afternoon shank and questions about her deployment in key spots.
Megan Khang, playing her third Solheim Cup, led the USA in points earned with 3.5, while rookies Allisen Corpuz and Cheyenne Knight each delivered 2.5 points.
But no one will be remembered more than Ciganda. She managed the absurd pressure of being the only Spaniard playing before, Kings, Queens and boisterous galleries who delivered remarkable energy despite the hill climbing, three-shuttle bus debacle that even had longtime Norman Vincent Peale-types wondering how else the Ladies European Tour could have mishandled the event. And those questions started long before Sunday’s decorum breakdown and with most of the people on site having no inkling what the television feed coming out of Spain looked like (in part because hospitality tents had trouble getting the telecast on screens.)
For as glorious and clutch as the golf was, the Sunday conclusion felt a little less satisfying given the rush of humanity onto the 17th green to celebrate…a tie. As winners of the 2021 edition, Europe retained the Cup but celebrated like they won it outright along with the Stanley Cup, Jules Rimet Trophy and Claret Jug.
As the euphoria spilled onto the green, Thompson and Emily Kristine Pedersen waited for the trampled surface to clear. The scene was as unfortunate as the 1999 Ryder Cup celebration and as equally unintended to cause harm. The “But Brookline” crowd, with the horrors of that day tattooed on their rumps and still unable to let it go 24 years later, have so far been quiet about the unsportsmanlike scene Sunday.
Their consistency of inconsistency may be tested in just hours when a young and hungry European squad stands a solid chance of winning back the Ryder Cup on home soil. What could go wrong?
Not that the Americans had a great week in the Class Department. Evidence of longtime disconnection from ever getting questioned about a bad shot surfaced after Friday afternoon’s four-ball. Lexi Thompson shanked a wedge from what looked like a tricky lie. Her ball was visible in the clumpy Bermudagrass rough at Finca Cortesin’s 18th. The shanked shot rolled down a hill as a camera person fled to not interfere with the outcome as the match.
“I don’t need to comment on that,” Thompson said before doing just that, suggesting a “bad lie,” and that “I didn’t hit a good chip,” before calling the shot “pretty much impossible.”
Thompson sounded like Bobby Jones compared to what was said next.