Suzann Pettersen, regarded by most as a risky wildcard pick by captain Catriona Matthew, delivered the most dramatic Solheim Cup victory possible for Europe by holing the final putt of a fluctuating weekend’s play at Gleneagles.
The 37-year-old, who has played just four events in nearly a year since returning to play after the birth of her son, made a birdie putt of six feet at the 18th to win the last available point on the board and allow Europe to pip the Americans 14 ½ to 13 ½, winning the biennial contest for the first time since 2013.
A day of almost suffocating tension with heroics and disasters all over the PGA Centenary Course suitably came down to the very last stroke of the contest, and to a player who many thought in need of redemption for her actions in not conceding a small putt in a fourball match in the Solheim in Germany four years ago. The infuriated Americans rallied the next day from a four-point deficit to win that contest.
But the wheel came full circle for Suzann, who after all that had happened over the afternoon was left with a putt on the 18th to finish the contest – miss and the US would retain the cup in a drawn match, make it and her friend Matthew would regain the cup on home soil.
She made it, and her one-up win over Marina Alex was the third of three essential wins if Europe were to prevail – Anna Nordqvist and Bronte Law producing the others just as Juli Inkster seemed assured of her third successive win as US captain.
If Pettersen was a risk, it was certainly one worth making and Matthew was proved right by her long-time friend’s performance in the crunch and over the entire weekend.
These afternoons in the international team golf matches are always dramatic in some sense, but nothing in recent memory could prepare us for what happened in glorious weather at Gleneagles, an epic battle that came down to the final shot.
The teams started level at 8-8 and after four hours of play at 3.30 pm it was still too tight to call, with perfect symmetry on the scoreboard – the US up in four matches, Europe up in four, and four all-square.
Results started to flow in – first Europe’s lead-off Carlota Ciganda nipped the point from Danielle Kang when the ever-fist-pumping American visited both the bunkers on the right of the 18th green, after what had been a nip-and-tuck battle where the lead changed four times.
Nelly Korda completed a handsome comeback from three-down to Caroline Hedwall to win two-up and complete a magnificent rookie debut for the 21-year-old, but Georgia Hall wore down a reportedly ailing Lexi Thompson 2 and 1 while Celine Boutier came from behind to win over Annie Park, the Frenchwoman by far the best of Europe’s rookies on the weekend.
Three of the first singles had gone to Europe, but there wasn’t the tsunami to follow that Matthew must have hoped for. Angel Yin always had the upper hand on Azahara Munoz despite the Spaniard’s rally from four down on the back nine, and Brittany Altomare, a fiend on the greens all weekend, putted Jodi Ewart Shadoff off the course to the only landslide of the afternoon, 5 &4.
Jessica Korda, helped by a chip-in for birdie three at 13 – won 3 and 2 over Caroline Masson, who seemed unable to buy a putt all day, and the Americans had another point in the bank with the Korda sisters appearing like they would be the trump card for Inkster.
Yet it was still too close to call, and when Anne Van Dam got to all-square against Lizette Salas on 16 – a favoured hole for the home team all week – Europe had the crucial half-point they needed to get to a winning 14 and a half if everything finished as it was sitting down the order.
However within seconds Pettersen relinquished her one-up advantage over Marina Alex four games back, and then the young Dutchwoman plugged her tee shot at the short 17th to go one-down. She was unable to make her power advantage count up the last.
In the match ahead, a potentially crucial counter for Europe had been lost when Charley Hull – who missed a ten footer to close it out the game on 17 – made a dreadful hash of two attempts to escape the hollow to the left of the final green.
Meghan Khang accepted a gift half-point, and Salas’ full point against Van Dam meant the US needed just a half from the three games out on the course to retain.
Nordqvist took care of the bottom match for Europe, taking a three-up lead by the 7th and never really being challenged by Morgan Pressel. But that left Pettersen and rookie Law needing to win their tight matches for Europe to steal the cup from under Inkster and the USA’s nose.
The battling, gum-chewing Law delivered for Matthew, a 20-foot birdie putt at 16 taking her ahead of Ally McDonald at a crucial stage of another fluctuating contest, followed by the rookie American’s bunkered tee shot at 17 and bogey.
On the last, Marina Alex had a chance for birdie to retain the cup from 12 feet but missed on the low side.
That left Pettersen to complete the most dramatic victory in any of these international team matches in memory.