Although more than half of the members of the victorious 2011 European Solheim Cup team will not be playing in Parker this week, the 12-woman squad representing the entire continent of Europe in 2013 will undoubtedly be tapping into the electric momentum produced on the final day of competition two years ago in Ireland.
The Europeans started the week at Killeen Castle in County Meath as the underdogs on paper but a strong team effort and gutsy individual performances helped the squad reclaim the Cup on home soil. Tied 8-8 entering Sunday’s singles play, the European team played flawless golf in the midst of torrential downpour and wind to steal a 15-13 victory and regain control of the Solheim Cup for the first time since 2003 and the fourth time overall in the event’s 12-year history.
“It was a very important Solheim Cup in general because it just kind of showed the competitiveness of each side,” said European team veteran Suzann Pettersen, who is making her seventh straight Solheim Cup appearance. “I think two years ago, we finally proved that we can be strong as a team and as strong as we are as individuals and come out with a shot to win on Sunday.”
The U.S. and European teams ended Friday morning’s foursome matches tied 2-2, but the Alison Nicholas-led European team took command early in the afternoon four-ball matches and finished the day with a 4 ½ to 3 ½ lead, though the difference could have been much greater if not for a late U.S. surge.
Europe increased the lead to 7-5 after the Saturday morning foursomes matches and once again took control early in the afternoon four-ball matches, but the U.S. team then launched a formidable comeback beginning with Solheim Cup rookies Stacy Lewis and Ryann O’Toole’s 2&1 victory over Christel Boeljon and Sandra Gal. in the final match of the day, Brittany Lincicome and Paula Creamer defeated Maria Hjorth and Azahara Munoz 3&1 to pull the U.S. even with Europe at 8-8.
“I don’t think it was a big surprise,” said Pettersen. “If you ask all the players, we always know it is always so close on a Sunday. I mean it’s like two or three points either side. American’s have always been really good at getting those points and flipping it to their side and their victories. You can look at the final number and think it was a walk in the park but it usually comes down to certain matches.”
Pettersen, who was playing in her sixth Solheim Cup in 2011, has seen in all in terms of the unpredictability that comes in the heat of competition at the biennial event.
Come Sunday, most expected the U.S. team to dominate the singles matches as they historically have, but early on it seemed the day might belong to Europe following two unforeseen events. The first involved the final match of the day, when Cristie Kerr conceded her match with Karen Stupples due to a wrist injury, giving Europe the first point of the day. The second involved the first match of the day where Scotland’s Catriona Matthew trounced Paula Creamer, who was previously unbeaten in singles play, 6&5.
“I think it’s important for all of us to see that we could actually flip it during the most intense surroundings,” said Pettersen. “It was a long day on Sunday. We had so many delays and it was tough to get ahead. But we had Catriona Mattew who teed up first and crushed Paula which kind of set the tone for the rest of us coming in behind her.”
The focus then shifted to the weather, with three separate delays totaling nearly two hours hampering play. Amidst the delays, it appeared that the U.S. team might overcome the early adversity to gain control of the day- and a ninth Solheim Cup. But Pettersen then stole the spotlight with three consecutive birdies to close out Michelle Wie with a 1 up victory and the momentum swung to team Europe.
Solheim Cup rookie Caroline Hedwall battled back from two down on the 16th hole against fellow rookie Ryann O’Toole to squeeze out a half point, setting up Azahara Munoz who was walking to the 18th tee with a 1 up lead over Angela Stanford, to clinch the 15th and final point for team Europe.
“What a great comeback the players produced that last half hour at Killeen Castle,” said 2011 European Captain Alison Nicholas. “It was immense. Just sheer guts and determination and belief. I had been trying to work with them on that for two years and they just pulled through.
“It was just fantastic for the players and to see them celebrate that victory. It was a huge momentum swing. We hadn’t won it for quite some time and that was one of my goals, to win it back. Obviously, it was an immense occasion and I won’t forget it for the rest of my life.”
While the Europeans were able to celebrate one of the most hard-fought Solheim Cup victories in the event’s history, they know it’s now time to look forward to defending the Cup. They will try to become the first European team to win on U.S. soil at Colorado Golf Club this week.
“Obviously it’s very difficult, we’ve never won in America and that’s something we want to change,” said Nicholas. “But it’s always tough because we all know how tough the Americans are and how the fans operate over there. I’m sure that won’t detract from what the girls want to do because I know they’ll play hard too.”
The European squad will only return five players from the victorious 2011 team and will welcome six rookies this year including 17-year old and England native Charley Hull.
“Obviously the two sides are going to play a bit different from 2011,” said Nicholas. “They’ve got a bit of changing of the guard going on at the U.S camp and particularly Europe I’d have to say. I think everyone is excited. I think the Europeans winning in Ireland perhaps gives them a little momentum and they want to continue that in Colorado.”
Pettersen said the win in Ireland not only kept the Europeans competitive in the rivalry but also sparked a competitive spirit in women’s golf across the continent. She thinks the new group of players could potentially be the show-stoppers this year in Parker.
“I think it’s really important for women in Europe, especially the Ladies European Tour,” said Pettersen. “You looked at our Solheim and you’d think that was probably the ultimate script for a final scenario. I’m looking forward to Denver. We will have a very new young team which I think is good. I think it’s time for the young players to rise.”
Topics: Solheim Cup