In 17 previous editions, there’d never been a tie in the Solheim Cup. Twice, the contest was decided by the minimum, the most recent being when current European captain Suzann Pettersen holed a 10-footer for birdie in the final match at Gleneagles to win the cup back after the United States had won the previous two.
Ever since Lexi Thompson got the 2023 staging underway in Thursday’s opening foursomes, we’ve been taken on a rollercoaster ride, swinging this way and that, with more twists than a Chubby Checker tribute night, only to come out with a tie.
Technically, victory for nobody, but in reality, as defending champions, it’s effectively victory for Europe as the Solheim Cup remains on European soil.
Fittingly, it was the home nation’s Carlotta Ciganda who would seal the crucial point that secured at least a tie. The fiery Spaniard completed a memorable week by winning all four matches, and the manner of her Cup-retaining victory over Nelly Korda epitomised the passion and flair she’d displayed for all three days.
Having taken an early 3UP lead, Ciganda suffered a mid-round wobble as world number three Korda returned fire with back-to-back wins either side of the turn, and then squared things with a par on 15 after Ciganda found trouble.
Earlier in the day, Leona Maguire, sent out in match number two, put Rose Zhang to the sword in yet another incredible Solheim Cup performance to secure Europe’s first full point, but when Georgia Hall missed a short putt on 17 to lose a 1UP lead, the bookmakers were making the USA strong favourites for overall victory.
In the lead out match, Megan Khang took down Linn Grant 1UP, and Danielle Kang was superb in her 4&2 win over Charley Hull. Anna Nordqvist, after losing all three of her previous matches, came up trumps with a 2&1 win over Jennifer Kupcho, and Hall and Gemma Dryburgh secured half-points against Andrea Lee and Cheyenne Knight respectively.
Angel Yin took down Celine Boutier, but in what – prior to the Ciganda/Korda match at least – was the pivotal encounter, Caroline Hedwall, who’d sat all three of the opening sessions as she struggled with her game in the lead up, trailed Ally Ewing by three after 12.
Hedwall, who has previously shown that the Solheim Cup is where she brings her very best when going 5-0-0 in a losing effort in Germany in 2015, showed exactly why she’d been given a pick, winning five of the last six holes to turn the tide and put Europe back in the driving seat.
With Lexi Thompson well ahead of Emily Pedersen in the final match, world number two Lilia Vu comfortably beat Madelene Sagstrom and Maja Stark, one of Europe’s breakout stars, taking down US Open champ Allisen Corpuz, it was left to Ciganda and Korda to dictate whether the cup would remain in European hands or if the United States would get their first win since 2017.
Korda hit an approach close on 16, but Ciganda, playing second, piled on the pressure by hitting a 9-iron to three feet and Korda wilted, pushing her birdie putt and then watching on as Ciganda, nerveless, holed hers.
If the approach to 16 was an incredible shot under pressure, the approach to 17 was arguably better, right at the flag and again, leaving herself three feet for birdie. When Korda was unable to hole her chip from the fringe, the stage was set for the Spaniard to cement her heroine status and, as she had all week, she duly delivered.
The Europeans stormed the green in wild celebration, even though the Thompson v Pedersen match was still alive behind and the potential for an overall European win still held a glimmer of hope, but to Thompson’s credit, after the commotion had died down, she’d hole a 10-footer for par on 17 to close out the match and deny European hopes of a third consecutive outright victory, but though the history books mark it down as a draw, the champagne that followed suggests otherwise.
“I went to Carlotta on 16,” Pettersen said in the aftermath, “and I said “is this the way you want it? “In your home country, in front of your own fans, and it’s in your hands.” And she said “absolutely.” And she delivered.”
Controversy has abounded in recent years, most notably in 2015 and then again in 2021, but the 2023 event was played in fantastic spirits, and the 24 players involved delivered golf of the highest order, under the most extreme pressure, and did it in the most sporting fashion.
With each of the last three Solheim Cups and four of the last five going right down to the wire, it is quickly becoming the most hotly contested team event in top-tier golf and, with the event switching to even years from 2024 onwards, the great news is that we’ve only got 12 months to wait for another one.