ANDALUCIA, Spain — It was billed as a close one and so it has become. With only the 12 singles matches to play over the plentiful hills and dales of the Finca Cortesin course, the eventual destination of the Solheim Cup is anyone’s guess. Tied on eight points apiece, the American and European teams really do have all to play for to settle a struggle that has morphed from a U.S. rout into a closely-fought battle that could go either way. All of which is in sharp contrast to 1998, 2000 and 2017, the three occasions when one side (both have done so) established an almost unassailable five-point advantage.
Indeed the early 4-0 lead established by the visitors Friday morning has gradually been eroded and finally eliminated by a 3-1 “victory” for the Europeans in the Saturday afternoon fourballs. There is much then to look forward to, a theme both captains were keen to embrace at the end of a long day in the Spanish sunshine.
“I am out of words but we have to remember we are not there yet,” said a still excited European captain, Suzann Pettersen. “There are 12 points up for grabs tomorrow. Now we must put it into fifth gear and keep going. The last match this afternoon (a 2&1 victory for Carlota Ciganda and Linn Grant over Danielle Kang and world No. 2, Lilia Vu) was unbelievable. The desire, the passion, the putts.
“It keeps happening every time,” she continued. “Linn is born for this and Carlota brings her A game to Spain. Incredible. Now we have to get the singles lineup right. We went woman power today in the afternoon and it paid off. Look where it started. The way our team has pulled back from a rough Friday morning has been impressive. We’ve had three great sessions in a row. We gave them a head start, but now we’re even and have great momentum.”
As for Stacy Lewis, the American skipper was putting a brave face on the seemingly inexorable slide her players have endured since their heady beginning. Her faith in analytics when it comes to her pairings remains unbowed.
“We’re in a good spot,” she insisted. “We would like to have won a few more points today. But the girls played really good. The Europeans were just a shot or two better here and there. The stats have been so beneficial this week. We just have to keep believing in what we are working on. We have to trust that going into the singles. Yes, momentum goes to Europe. But I like our momentum too. It’s all a perspective thing. Internally, I’m really happy with how everyone played and the position we are in. My message tomorrow will be: go take care of your point.”
As an aside, the on-going mystery that has been the health status and actual whereabouts of Charley Hull since a not-so pretty outing in the opening foursomes on Friday morning took another turn. Finally showing face, the 28-year-old Englishwoman made a triumphant comeback to the proceedings by joining the redoubtable Leona Maguire in a rousing 4&3 fourball win over Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing. Finally revealing the source and extent of the rumored injury her captain has been consistently denying while leaving one of her star players on the sidelines, Hull told all.
“I sprained my neck earlier in the week, sort of facet sprain, and it still hurts a little bit,” she said. “I actually picked up my bag last week and that kind of started it. Then I done it from sleeping on the plane over here as well. So, yeah, it’s been pretty sore. It’s probably about 70, 80 percent now and hopefully it’s good for tomorrow. I kind of had to change my swing a little bit to kind of account for it. But it’s gotten a lot better. I felt like playing with Leona today. It was great fun. She’s always in the game and making it better, so it was great.”
In conclusion, let’s go “all Stacy Lewis” for a few paragraph of statistics that may or may not live up to their close relationship with lies and not actually mean anything at all. Then again, they just might. Be your own judge.
After roaring off to that now almost-forgotten 4-0 lead Friday morning, the U.S. team has won only three of the 12 matches since. If ownership of momentum is to be what we see in our crystal ball, then it is firmly in the hands of the home team, no matter what Lewis says.
“Sometimes you just need a little bit of talking to, so then you know where to go and you get back to square one and then you start over,” said Emily Kristine Pedersen, who alongside Madelene Sagstrom was an approximate 10-under par in seeing off Rose Zhang and Andrea Lee Saturday afternoon. “That’s what we did. I’m so proud of everyone on the team for picking ourselves up, picking each other up. At no stage has there been a down mood. There’s been no disbelief from the team, even after the first matches.”
On another hand, heading into the 12 singles matches, history offers only indistinct hints as to what may occur on the final day. While European teams have lost in head-to-head play at only one of the last six Solheim Cups, two of those matches ended 6-6 and, in total, the Old World holds only a slender one-point edge, 36 1/2 – 35 1/2, over the course of those 72 singles encounters. It could hardly be closer.
So we must look elsewhere for omens. Here’s one. Since the turn of the century, the team entering the singles with any kind of advantage has always gone on to claim the trophy. So America it is then. Or is it? Maybe. Maybe not, given the fact that 12 of the 16 matches – three in each series of play- contested over the last two days have gone to the 17th green or beyond. It really is that tight between two clearly evenly matched teams.
If we go even deeper, and even more contemporary, three members of the American team — Megan Khang, Allisen Corpuz and Cheyenne Knight — will enter the upcoming singles unbeaten over the last two days. That figure is matched by three Europeans who have yet to taste defeat: the relatively lightly-used pair of Gemma Dryburgh and Madelene Sagstrom, as well as the home heroine, Ciganda.
The Spaniard is joint top-scorer for the European team so far alongside Grant, having achieved victory in each of her three outings. By way of comparison, only Khang and Corpuz on the U.S. side have so far garnered more than two points. Both have two wins and a half from three outings.
Still, perhaps the most significant factor over the final 18 holes will be how much fuel each player has left in her tank over a course whose steeply-sloping reputation for heart-stopping energy-sapping is well-earned. Lewis lived up to her pre-match promise and sent none of her players out in all four of the pairs matches. Pettersen rode her strongest horses harder; Leona Maguire. Emily Kristine Pedersen and Linn Grant are all destined to tee up five times.
All of which tells us only one thing for sure. If 2023 follows the pattern set by the most recent Solheim Cups, the final day is definitely going to be fascinating to watch.
If only that was easier to do so without the aid of a Sherpa guide, strong ropes and crampons. Which, sadly, is only a slight exaggeration.