ANDALUCIA, Spain – Good golf is a given. But great golf, which is what you had on Saturday at the Solheim Cup from both sides, is always a treat.
Of course when you get 24 of the best players from the United States and Europe going against each other in match play, the margins are always razor thin. Anything can tip the balance to one side or the other. Momentum, confidence, history and camaraderie all play important roles.
For Charley Hull and Leona Maguire, those intangibles have an outsized influence. That was on full display in the final fourball session when European Captain Suzann Pettersen, who has gone with her gut in setting pairings all week, put the two together against the strong American duo of Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing.
Little in the stats said that was a good call. Hull played Friday morning and appeared to struggle a bit, having suffered an injury.
“I sprained my neck early in the week, sort of facet sprain,” Hull said. “It still hurts a little bit, but it's gotten a lot better.”
Then there was Maguire, who lost one match and won another on Friday but who said she “struggled” on the back nine on Saturday morning, falling to Lexi Thompson and Megan Khang in foursomes.
How Maguire and Hull would fare against Korda, who was an easy winner earlier in the day, and Ewing, one of the hottest putters on the American team, was anyone’s guess.
“Nelly and Ally are great players,” Maguire said. “We knew that from the last time around. I have huge respect for both of them, so we knew we had to bring our A games this afternoon.”
So, what did Pettersen see that no one else did?
For starters, history.
Maguire is still getting compliments on her 2021 Solheim Cup performance in Ohio where she was the only player to go undefeated in five matches. That Sunday in Toledo when she took down Jennifer Kupcho in singles was Maguire’s coronation. She won on Tour four months later and then won again this year. No one questions that she was the unspoken MVP of the last winning European team.
Hull is no slouch, either. She has a decade worth of Solheim experience, starting in 2013 when she was 17, and made history as part of the first European team to win on American soil. She’s played in every Solheim Cup since with an 11-5-3 record prior to this week. Now, she is trying to pen another chapter into the history books as Europe has never won three consecutive Solheim Cups.
Turns out Pettersen’s instincts were right. On the strength of seven birdies from Maguire in 15 holes and another by Hull on the par-4 7th hole, the Europeans beat the Americans 4 and 3 to put the first point of the afternoon on the board for the home team.
“It was good,” Hull said. “I felt like playing with Leona today, it was great fun. She's kind of just always in the game and making it better, so it was great.”
The two enjoy each other’s company. They almost played in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational together, but schedules didn’t work out.
“I said to Suzann, ‘I needed someone with energy for this afternoon, and Charley has lots of it,’” Maguire said. “We had a lot of fun, lots of chats, lots of good times with the caddies, and so it was just a really enjoyable walk out there.”
It also didn’t hurt to play well.
When Maguire hit her tee shot on the par-3 12th, Captain Suzann Pettersen said, “Get close!” It did, nestling 3 feet below the hole. Maguire made that putt, her fifth birdie of the day, and the Europeans went 4 up with six holes to play. Seeing a lot of blue on the scoreboard seemed to lift the spirits of her entire team.
It didn’t stop there. On 13, Ewing made a 10-footer for birdie to add some pressure. But Maguire came in right behind her with a 9-footer to keep the lead at 4 up. She did the same on 14. After Ewing holed an 8-footer for birdie, Maguire, who was much closer, responded with a birdie of her own and headed to the 15th tee dormie 4.
On 15, Hull came through with a perfect approach to 15 feet. She nestled the putt up to an inch to close out the match.
Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, three players will play all five matches in Spain, all of them Europeans. They are Suzann Pettersen’s captain’s pick, Emily Kristine Pedersen, Solheim Cup rookie Linn Grant and the Irishwoman Maguire, who looked just as fresh at sundown on Saturday as she did before the first shots were struck.
“Suzann gave us a job to do and we've done it,” Maguire said immediately after the win, the first of three for the European squad on Saturday afternoon. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow. There’s so much fight in this team. We’ve never given up on each other.”