WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The awesome thing about the Solheim Cup is that one moment it has the silliness of a sorority party and the next the grimness of a root canal. The mood swings brought on by team match play is unlike anything else in golf. That wide range of emotions was on full display Friday at Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
On a brilliant and buoyant day, in which the enthusiasm of the crowds matched the quality of the play, both the United States and Europe took the fans on the roller coaster ride of the highs and lows that come with team match play. In the end, Europe did what it had to do in the morning and the United States took care of business in the afternoon in a record-setting way.
Europe had a 2½ to 1½ lead after the morning foursomes session but in the ultimate mood shift of the day, play concluded with the scoreboard awash in a sea of red as the United States blew through the afternoon four-ball matches, sweeping a session for the first time in 15 Solheim Cups to take a 5½ to 2½ lead, matching the largest first-day margin.
The stars for the Americans were Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang, the only two players to score two points. In all, 10 of the 12 Yanks tallied points while six players were shut out for Europe. The U.S. side may also have found a new power pairing in Salas and LPGA rookie, 18-year-old Angel Yin, who simply crushes the ball. They won their four-ball match 6 and 5.
Europe, which lost Suzann Pettersen to injury before the competition began, is searching for someone to step up and be a leader of Friday by playing two matches and winning them.
In foursomes, there is the relentless pressure of knowing that any errant shot you hit will be played not by you but by your partner, creating some truly cringe-worthy moments. And certainly, there were frayed nerves on full display at times Friday, but there were also a ton of big shots and clutch putts.
Three of the foursomes matches made it to the 18th green and the fourth ended on No. 17 as the fans certainly got there money’s worth in not only the quality but the quantity of play. Time and again, the dramatic momentum shifts of match play unfolded with shocking suddenness. The mood was set from the beginning and just built as the day unfolded.
In the first match out, Lexi Thompson drove the 306-yard first hole and Cristie Kerr walked in the eagle putt. In Match No. 2, Kang, playing her first Solheim Cup, embraced the moment and encouraged the crowd to cheer WHILE she was driving. That came after her partner, Salas, engaged in a playful salsa dance with one of their opponents, Carlotta Ciganda.
“I absolutely love this,” Kang said. “It’s the most exciting tournament I’ve ever played in. Everybody kept telling me how amazing it’s going to be, and I kept waiting for that moment and the [first] tee shot. I was, like, I want to hear this roar. I want to hear everyone keep chanting. I love it.”
Gerina Piller, who when asked Thursday how she planned to play the drivable first hole replied: “I didn’t come here to lay up” – drove OVER the green on Friday.
And, oh my, how quickly match play can change. Stacy Lewis and Piller were 2up with six holes to play against Karine Icher and Catriona Matthew, a match in which they never trailed before losing Nos. 13, 14 and 16 as Europe won 1up.
Charley Hull and Mel Reid led from the fifth hole on and were 2up with two to play when Thompson made a huge putt to win No. 17 and Kerr rolled in a 12-footer on No. 18 to halve the match. That’s the way the day went as Iowan golf fans – and those that came from far and wide – there is a significant contingent from Europe here – got a taste of what virtually every player says is the most exciting event they ever play in.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” Thompson said about the Solheim Cup. “I loved the first tee shot,” she said about driving No. 1. “She stiffed it,” Kerr added.
The afternoon was a different story. Europe never had the lead in any of the four better-ball matches. Like that, the momentum rushed from Europe to the Yanks. But if there is one lesson from Friday it’s how quickly things can change in this format. And the best thing is that we still have two more days to go.