Europe seeking a historic three-in-a-row at Finca Cortesin

Mark McGowan

Matilda Castren and Madelene Sagstrom in 2021 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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The top male professionals from both sides of the Atlantic had locked horns 28 times – first as Britain and Ireland versus the United States, and then as Europe – before the top female players had their opportunity.

Thanks in no small measure to Norwegian American golf club manufacturer and PING founder Karsten Solheim, for whom the event was named, the Solheim Cup was born and held its inaugural staging in 1990.

Initially featuring just eight players on each side, with one set of foursome matches, one set of fourball matches and eight singles matches, the maiden event was a one-sided affair at Florida’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club as the USA swept all three sessions and ran out comprehensive winners.

But it didn’t take long for Europe to get their first taste of victory. In 1992, at Dalmahoy Golf Club in Scotland, the now 10-strong European side reversed the early trend to run out 11.5 – 6.5 winners, although the US side’s preparations were marred by the sudden passing of captain Kathy Whitworth’s mother on the day they arrived in Scotland.

The next three stagings all went the United States’ way and, in truth, none were particularly close, but in 2000, at Loch Lomand, Europe struck another blow and crucially so. Much like the Ryder Cup had been going prior to European involvement, the Solheim Cup’s early one-sided nature meant that interest remained low and the European win in 2020 was like a defibrillator shock to an event that was in cardiac arrest.

They’d trade the next two, before another three US wins in succession in 2005, 2007 and 2009, but despite another hat-trick of Cup wins for the dominant power, the event’s prestige had grown.

At Killeen Castle, in 2011, Europe won their fourth title and though the win at Loch Lomand in ’90 may have taken the event off life support, the 2011 staging was the one that guaranteed it was here to stay. Tied 8-8 going into the singles, Europe would take 2.5 points from the final three matches on course – each of which went the distance – to take a two-point win.

Since then, they’ve taken a first victory on US soil in 2013, and four of the last five have gone right to the wire.

There was the incredible US comeback in 2015 to prevent a first three-in-a-row for Europe. Trailing 10-6 going into the Sunday singles, the US would win the final five matches to take a 14.5-13.5 win. It was a particularly sweet win for the Americans given the controversial incident in the penultimate fourball match the prior evening when, with the match all square, Suzann Pettersen and Charly Hull watched Allison Lee miss a putt to win the hole and then walked off to the next tee without conceding the tap-in putt for a halve.

When Lee, assuming that their exit meant the putt was conceded, scooped the ball up, Pettersen claimed the hole. It was a poor sporting gesture and though her team captain Annika Sorenstam asked her to relent, she refused and they went on to win the match 2UP. Though she’d tearfully apologies the next day, the damage was done and, fueled by anger and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, the Americans rallied to stage the biggest comeback in the event’s history.

Pettersen wouldn’t feature again as a player until 2019, when, having missed the best part of two years after giving birth, she was handed a wildcard pick for Gleneagles. In the third-to-last singles match, she’d end up being the final match on course and all square on 18 with the sides locked at 13.5 apiece.

What would follow would be one of sports’ all-time great mic-drop moments as she’d sink a birdie putt to win the hole and immediately announce her retirement on-air in the ensuing moments.

But now she’s back and leading Europe at the team captain as they seek to make history with a first ever three-in-a-row. Not that any fuel needs to be added to a flame that has grown steadily over the past two decades, but defeating Pettersen and denying Europe a three-in-a-row will be a burning desire for Stacy Lewis and her side.

And, on paper at least, it’s near-impossible to separate the sides.

In Lilia Vu, Nelly Korda and Allisen Corpuz, the USA have numbers two, three and nine in the Rolex World Rankings. Europe have Celine Boutier, Charley Hull and Linn Grant at five, eight and 15.

Add to that Megan Khang at 14 and Georgia Hall and Leona Maguire at 17 and 18, and there are nine of the top-20 ranked players in the game in action; five of them on the European side.

Maguire, of course, went undefeated at Inverness and was the only player from both sides to play in all five matches, uncharacteristically showing real emotion as she thrust dagger after dagger into her American opponents.

Six of the US side are major winners, with Vu the reigning Chevron Championship and AIG Women’s Open title holder and Corpuz the U.S. Women’s Open champion. Europe have reigning Evian Championship winner Boutier, former Women’s Open champion Hall, and a team featuring a blend of youth and experience that will be the beneficiaries of home advantage and vocal home support.

Throw into the mix US phenom Rose Zhang, the experience of Madeleine Sagstrom and Lexi Thompson who are both making their sixth appearances, and a supporting cast all of whom have won multiple times around the world and this promises to be a Solheim Cup for the ages.

When it gets underway with the first foursomes session at 08.10 am Irish time on Friday morning, you’re not going to want to miss it.

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