Solheim Cup: A triumph, in more ways than one

Catriona Matthew

It all led to that moment.

The moment when Suzann Pettersen, Catriona Matthew's much maligned, eyebrow-raising captain's pick, won the 2019 Solheim Cup with the final putt of the match.

Seldom has this sleepy, centuries-old Perthshire valley witnessed such drama.

Needing to hole a slippery ten-footer on the 18th - a ticklish birdie putt that broke from left-to-right - the nerveless Norwegian duly converted, salvaging the half-point Europe needed for victory by the narrowest of margins.

Had she missed, the match would have finished 14-14 and the USA would have retained the trophy.

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But she didn't, it didn't, and they didn't.

The ball went down, the cheers went up and the cup was won, right here in the cradle of the game.

Glory in the Glen. What a spectacle.

Solheim Cup Europe Celebrate

As captain, Catriona Matthew - from just an hour and a half 'down the road' in North Berwick - was the architect of a victory for the ages but, humble to the last, the Scot was quick to pay tribute to her players.

"It's a dream come true," she said. "These twelve players, they played their hearts out. We knew it was going to be close today, but to come down to that last putt and for Suzann to hole it? It was a fantastic team performance. They all contributed a lot. We never would have won it if it wasn't all of us."

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Match-winner Pettersen agreed. "It doesn't get any better," was the Norwegian's beaming assessment.

And yet it could all have been so different, such are the sensitive scales on which success and failure balance.

Solheim Cup Crowd

Tied at eights points apiece coming into the final day, the two teams were as evenly matched as could be. Nothing, not even a blade of the PGA Centenary Course's immaculately primed fairways, could separate them.

The stage was set for the ultimate Sunday matinee. And yet not even the most imaginative mind could have dreamt up a script better than what followed.

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On a day of ebbs and flows, Carlota Ciganda, playing in her fifth match in three days, recovered from one-down after 15 to beat Danielle Kang at the 18th in the first match out.

Nelly Korda than capped a memorable debut in the match by turning a three-hole deficit into a 2-up win over Swede Caroline Hedwall.

Georgia Hall Lexi Thompson

Georgia Hall claimed the scalp of Lexi Thompson in the third match out. She, too, had trailed early in their head-to-head but, with the world No.3 visibly inhibited by a back injury, the English ace turned the screw to win 2&1 and restore Europe's narrow advantage.

Four wins from four matches. A perfect haul from Hall.

Celine Boutier, the French captain's pick playing in her first Solheim Cup, capped on her 100% record with an impressive 2&1 takedown of Annie Park. Suddenly, it was 11-10.

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The worst possible time for the tide to turn.

Brittany Altomare and Angel Yin levelled things up yet again, beating Jodi Ewart Shadoff and a visibly tiring Azahara Munoz respectively.

When Jessica Korda beat Caroline Masson 3&2, the US edged ahead. 12-11. Two points from keeping the cup.

Charley Hull Solheim Cup

Charley Hull looked certain to even things up when she took a one-hole advantage to the 18th but the English ace went side-to-side-to-side on the 18th green to hand her opponent, Megan Khang, a potentially decisive half-point.

Lizette Salas defeated debutant Anne van Dam at the last to leave the US needing just half a point from one of the three remaining matches to retain the cup

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One of those went when Anna Nordqvist put an abject Morgan Pressel to the sword in the bottom match, 4&3 the score, USA, 13.5; Europe, 12.5. Two matches left both all square.

Suddenly, a glimmer of hope for Europe. Bronte Law birdied the 16th to move one ahead of Ally McDonald with two to play. 

Playing in the group ahead, Suzann Pettersen went to the 18th tee, apparently oblivious to the fact that she needed to win the 18th hole against Merina Alex. Nothing less would suffice.

Suzann Pettersen

Moments after Law closed out a 2&1 win over McDonald, Pettersen stood over her birdie putt. Alex had missed one of her own and so could do no better than par.

This was it. This moment. All or nothing.

'All' it was, sparking scenes of wild jubilation.

To Pettersen, the glory. To Matthew, the trophy. To Scotland, the plaudits.

"It's just been a great week," noted the skipper - perhaps the country's most underrated and underappreciated sportsperson of the last half-century - in characteristically understated fashion. 

Away from the cameras, Matthew's counterpart Juli Inkster embraced and congratulated the European players on their win as her captaincy of the US side ended with a first defeat in three reigns.

"The sun's going to come up tomorrow," she smiled with typical class and grace.

Solheim Cup Crowd

And it will.

Everything will return to normal over the coming days, weeks and months. Pettersen will settle into a new life as a full-time mum, having announced her retirement from the game in the moments that followed her heroics. Matthew will look towards seniors golf, having turned fifty last month.

The players on both sides will go back to playing for themselves until next they are brought together. Debates about slow play will continue to rage. The Solheim Cup's furnishings and infrastructure will pack up and roll out from Gleneagles.

All good things, right?

But that moment, the one to which all this led, will endure. In photographs, in words, in videos, and in memories.

This was sport at its best. 

A triumph, in more ways than one.

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