GLENEAGLES, Perthshire, Scotland | The Solheim Cup didn’t so much begin Friday at Gleneagles as it burst into bloom. On a glorious Scottish day when the sun emerged from its week-long hiding place, the 16th edition of one of golf’s most intense events roared out of the starting gate, a cacophony of sight and sound carrying along some extremely exciting golf.
Not only were the large bleachers surrounding No. 1 tee packed for the morning foursomes, but spectators also lined the first fairway from tee to green. Players emerged from a tunnel shrouded in smoke into a cauldron of noise, lost in a sea of music, swept away by waves of singing and chanting.
This was a day felt deep in your bones, no one feeling it more than U.S. captain Juli Inkster who danced, smiled and shouted encouragement to her team. At one point, she gathered assistants Nancy Lopez, Pat Hurst and Wendy Ward and helper Stacy Lewis in a group hug, one of the many ways Inkster instills a sense of solidarity into her side.
For Europe, captain Catriona Matthew, as Scottish as haggis and a kilt, was greeted by a deafening roar from the overwhelmingly pro-Europe crowd. While Matthew and Inkster differ in personality – Inkster the dancing queen and Catriona the ice princess – what they share is a burning desire to compete, and win.
When the roars finally faded into the chill of a Scottish sunset, Europe had won the first of the three days 4½-3½, the Americans keeping it that close with two late rallies to earn halves in the afternoon session.
The first shot of the competition was hit by Morgan Pressel in her alternate-shot match with Marina Alex against Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law. The first point went to the United States when Jessica and Nelly Korda defeated Caroline Masson and Jodi Ewart Shadoff 6 and 4.
“It was a lot of fun,” Nelly said about playing with her sister, the first time that has ever happened in the Solheim Cup. “I think the whole group had a lot of fun. Our caddies are really good friends, too. So it was really light out there.”
Certainly, winning five of the first seven holes helps make things fun and light. Any questions about whether pairing sisters was a good idea were answered quickly and definitively.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Jessica said when asked if there was a comfort level playing with Nelly. “If I hit a bad shot, she's like, ‘It's fine; I got this.’ The same thing, if she hits a bad shot, ‘It's fine; I've got this.’, There's no disappointment either way. I think that's just really comforting, especially in this format.”
Pressel and Alex halved their match with Ciganda and Law while Europe got its first victory when Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier defeated Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare 2 and 1. The final morning match was a 2-and-1 victory by Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz over Megan Khang and Annie Park making the score 2½-1½ for Europe going into the afternoon’s four-ball matches.
“There's nothing like Solheim,” Munoz said after she and Hull put up the point that gave Europe its first lead. “It's so cool, such a good experience, hearing all the ‘Go Europe,’ ‘Ole, Ole, Ole.’ It's my fourth -- both of our fourth -- but it still gets your blood running. It's such a good experience.”
Inkster sent both Kordas out again in fourballs but split them as Nelly was paired with Altomare against Hull and Munoz while Jessica was with Thompson against Ciganda and Law. Suzann Pettersen and Anne van Dam tangled with Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas while Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall took on Ally McDonald and Angel Yin.
Yin and McDonald were dominant in the afternoon, winning four of the first five holes in a 7-and-5 victory over Nordqvist and Hedwall that tied the Solheim Cup record for the biggest margin of victory in a four-ball match.
“I mostly slept until 10:30,” said Yin, sounding very much like the 20-year-old she is. “I woke up and I got to the course, I saw a lot of red. It motivated me, like, I'm really excited to go out, maybe get a point, well get a point -- not maybe, get a point for Team USA.”
McDonald didn’t even know she was on the team until Tuesday morning when it was decided that Lewis’s back wouldn’t let her play.
“It means a lot,” she said about winning the match. “Just being the player when Juli called me, to step in and replace Stacy if need be. I knew it could go either way when I got here, but I was able to go in, and first match out, to get a point for the U.S., means a lot.”
Pettersen, who was a controversial captain’s pick having barely played the last two seasons while on maternity leave, shared her vast Solheim Cup experience with rookie van Dam as they defeated Kang and Salas 4 and 2, taking control by winning three of four holes beginning on No. 4.
Hull and Munoz saw Nelly Korda and Altomare rally from 4-down to halve that match while Jessica Korda and Thompson birdied the 18th hole when Lexi rolled in a 15-footer to halve with Ciganda and Law in the best match of the day as only two holes were halved.
There was nothing unlucky about this Friday the 13th. The players, the fans and even nature had their best game face on, and it made for a sensational day of golf. And the best news is that there are still two more days of the Solheim Cup.