ANDALUCIA, Spain – Ties aren’t often worth watching. Nil-nil soccer games are like watching paint dry. But the atmosphere on the first tee on Sunday at the Solheim Cup demonstrated just how much these matches meant to the participants and fans. It was as if everyone understood the excitement, the tension and the magic that was to come over the course of the next six hours.
It was in that environment where stars shone, and careers were potentially defined.
In the end, Captain Suzann Pettersen, who went with her gut all week, looked like a genius. That hadn’t been the case for many of the matches, or even in the weeks leading up to this Solheim Cup. Some looked askance at her captain’s picks as late as Friday afternoon.
Emily Kristine Pedersen, who raised a few eyebrows when Pettersen called her name as a pick, entered with the week with four missed cuts on the LPGA Tour this year and zero top 10s. Her month before heading to Spain included a tie for 27th in Northern Ireland, a T59 in Portland,and a tie for 31st at the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G, a week where she shot a 78 on the weekend.
But even Pedersen seemed hot when you looked at Caroline Hedwall. The 34-year-old Swede’s last three starts on the Ladies European Tour going back to August 10th were T66, T71 and T39. Throw in the fact that Pettersen looked like she might be hiding Hedwall, sitting her all day on Friday and only putting her out in fourballs on Saturday, and it was easy to question what was going on in the captain’s head. Why did she choose Pederson and Hedwall? Gemma Dryburgh and Madelene Sagstrom were givens. But the others left plenty of questions.
Her team answered all of them and more.
For starters, Pedersen went out in all five matches, one of the three European players to do so. She went 2-1-1 before Sunday and logged only the second hole-in-one in Solheim Cup history, a moment that fired up every player on her team and every fan rooting for the European side.
But Hedwall proved to the biggest surprise of all. She and Anna Nordqvist fell to Cheyenne Knight and Angel Yin on Saturday afternoon, the only loss for the European squad in the final fourball session. Then she was 2-over and 3-down through 12 holes to Ally Ewing in singles. Sure, she was great in the team room and was a solid cheerleader in the early sessions, but with the leaderboard favoring the Americans late in the back nine on Sunday, Europe needed points and needed them badly.
That’s when Hedwall flipped a switch. On the par-4 13th, she drained a lengthy birdie to cut into Ewing’s lead. Still, no one paid much attention. Being 2-down with five to play will get you ignored quickly. But Pettersen still believed. She made a quick trip out to buck up her picks.
Dryburgh battled Knight to a tie with a crucial half point going to each side. And Pedersen was staying within striking distance of Lexi Thompson in the last match of the day. That left it up to Hedwall. Someone needed to turn things around, and no one had more high-end match-play experience than the Swede.
“It was something in me,” Hedwall said. “I never give up, and I showed that today.”
Another birdie at 14 moved Hedwall to only 1-down with four holes to play.
Caroline Hedwall has given herself a great look on the 18th green 👀 pic.twitter.com/GPjjwJv23W— LPGA (@LPGA) September 24, 2023
Then at the par-4 16th she hit her approach shot pin high to 18 feet from the hole. It was makeable but not one you would expect to fall, especially from the player who hadn’t really made a significant putt all week.
With the crowds in the hospitality area cheering and then falling into an eerie silence, Hedwall hit the left-to-right breaker with the perfect speed. When it found the hole, she let out of a cathartic scream, raising her arms to the sky to encourage the crowd to get even louder.
Another 9-footer for birdie on 17 completed the most improbable turnaround of these matches. In the span of an hour, Hedwall went from afterthought to hero. The full point she won when Ewing conceded 18 put the Europeans in command. The U.S. would have to flip one of the matches left on the course to regain the Cup.
Even though Thompson holed a 9-footer for par on 17 to beat Pedersen 2 and 1 and ensure a 14-14 tie, the Solheim Cup had already been decided. On the strength of Caroline Hedwall and the gut instincts of Suzann Pettersen, Europe retained, earning their third consecutive Solheim Cup for the first time in history.
“I'm just so proud of myself and, wow, that was awesome,” Hedwall said. “Suzann talked to me this morning. She said just focus on you and that's what I've been doing all day. All I wanted to do was to get my point on the board. I'm just really proud that I could turn my match around.”