The sights were familiar, well-remembered by every golf fan from Gleneagles two years ago: a victorious Captain Catriona Matthew hoisted aloft by her beloved Team Europe on the 18th green, chants of "Olé, Olé, Olé” ringing out in cacophonous celebration, and the Euros lifting the trophy overhead, once again having defeated Team USA.
But this victory was different for many reasons. For starters, it’s just the second time in history that Team Europe has won the Cup on American soil—the only other time coming in 2013 at Colorado Golf Club. Also, the Euros led wire-to-wire never relinquishing their edge over the United States, looking unflappable in the face of the home team advantage. And, instead of a veteran being the hero as was the case with Suzann Pettersen in Scotland, it was a rookie that led the way for the blue and yellow and it was also a rookie that drained the final putt, sealing the deal and returning the Cup to Europe.
If anyone leaves Toledo, Ohio better off than when they came, it’s Ireland’s Leona Maguire. The 26-year-old was on a tear at Inverness, playing all five matches with a 4-0-1 record, far and away the MVP for the Euros. Call it beginner’s luck but the Irishwoman knew she was on the verge of something huge having played so solidly up to this point.
“I've given it my absolute all this week,” said Maguire after her 5&4 victory over Jennifer Kupcho, a match that many expected to have a lot more fire. “I couldn't have given it anything more. I couldn't have asked for a better week. I’ve been having a great year since June, since MEDIHEAL. I just tried to carry that through. Dermot has been a tremendous help to me. He’s been my caddie since MEDIHEAL, and he was a huge part of this week, keeping me calm, keeping me focused, hitting the right shots at the right moments. I had two phenomenal partners in Mel (Reid) and Georgia (Hall), as well, that just let me do my thing.”
Matilda Castren is another player who’s had a career-defining week and has effectively solidified her place in Solheim Cup history. She buried her par putt on the final green to secure the retention of the Cup for Team Europe beating American stalwart Lizette Salas 1-up. Having experienced so much heartache early in her professional career, it seemed unlikely that Castren would ever get an opportunity like this one, but as is becoming the norm for the Finn, she rose to the occasion when it mattered the most.
“I knew it was important,” said Castren. “I knew we needed that. I didn't know exactly what it meant because I knew there were still matches on the course, but I knew we needed to make that putt. We read the putts really well and I've been rolling the ball really well all week. I figured, just trust it and trust the line and make a good stroke, and they just went in. It's been amazing. It's a dream come true for me. It's just been an amazing experience, and to win my match today, this is all I could have asked for.”
However, it wasn’t just the rookies that made the difference for Team Europe. The grittiest half point of the day came from seven-time Solheim Cupper Anna Nordqvist—the reigning AIG Women’s Open champion—after she and Lexi Thompson waged a battle of the most epic proportions in the first match of Monday singles. The two traded punches all day, ultimately finishing in a tie after matching near-misses for birdie on the 18th. It says a lot about a captain’s faith in a player’s ability when they’re sent out first on the final day and that fact wasn’t lost on Nordqvist but rather something in which she relished.
“It's a huge honor,” Nordqvist said. “I live for these moments, hitting first tee shots and being the first match, and it was a great honor to be put out first. Lexi is a tough competitor, but so am I. I feel like we fed off each other's game and both played great, same as in 2017. I think we're both happy with a halve. I thought it was a fair outcome. But overall, it's been a great week. We've had good team chemistry. We've had a few European fans out here, and those meant a lot. All the family at home have been amazing. But we had to lean on each other this week, and I'm really proud of everyone for believing in themselves and for pulling through.”
Captain Matthew—now the only European captain ever to win back-to-back Solheims—echoes the sentiment, thoroughly impressed with her squad’s ability.
“Two years ago at Gleneagles in Scotland was fantastic, but this time in America we were up against it,” Matthew said. “The Americans were a fantastic team this year. They played hard. We just perhaps holed a few more putts and we’re lucky we came out on top. I think we were a team of 12. They all contributed. One person doesn't win it, we needed all 12 of them, so just congratulations to the whole team.”
But there was one moment in particular that really sums up the week, perfectly encapsulating the effect that an event like the Solheim Cup has on golf in its entirety. Shortly after the results were finalized, TV cameras captured Jessica Korda congratulating Sophia Popov on the European triumph, the two friends hugging as they walked back towards the celebration, a visual that’s as striking as it is memorable.
We often tend to question the health of women’s golf, wondering if this part of the game is successfully keeping up with its male counterpart. This past week in Toledo, not only have we seen a fandom that absolutely idolizes this part of the sport, and not only have we found a new albeit unlikely advocate for the women’s game in Bubba Watson, we’ve seen a seemingly unquenchable thirst for more—more great golf, more talented players, more women’s golf.
That quiet moment shared between two of the biggest names in the sport tells us that the future of the women’s game is in good hands, that those at the peak of it truly understand the significant role that they play in its future, and that we have little to worry about in terms of its longevity if this star-studded generation has anything to say about it. Matches and points and trophy aside, this year’s Solheim Cup’s exhilarating team performances, record-breaking fan attendance, and an impeccable showcase of talent all point to invaluable growth of the game over the last few days, making women’s golf the real winner at Inverness.