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A Sensational Solheim

The 15th edition of the Solheim Cup was held this weekend at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Des Moines, Iowa and produced another spectacular show of golf in the biennial tete a tete between Europe and the United States.

The European team was captained by Annika Sorenstam while the Americans were led for the second time by fellow legend, Julie Inkster.

Two years ago the U.S. team made a miraculous finish on Sunday when they overcame a 4 point deficit to shock the Europeans by a single point. It was the first American victory since 2009 and they would be the prohibitive favorites on paper in 2017.

The European team would be without their best and most decorated player, Suzann Pettersen who had to withdraw on Wednesday because of a slipped disc. Her replacement was 47-year old Scot, Catriona Matthew who had been slated to be one of Sorenstam’s vice-captains, but who instead would be playing in her 9th Solheim Cup.

Just as well they don’t play these matches on paper.

The U.S. team led the morning foursome’s (alternate shot) matches off with their strongest pairing of World #2 Lexi Thompson and 19-time LPGA Tour winner, Cristie Kerr. They were matched against the young English duo of Charlie Hull and Mel Reid. The high powered Americans had to make birdies on the last two holes to salvage a tie in a match that the Europeans let slip away.

The second match pitted Americans Lizette Salas and Solheim rookie, Danielle Kang against Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and Germany’s Caroline Mason. In a back and forth nail-biter the U.S. team were 1-up winners by making a clutch par on the 18th hole.

Swede, Ana Nordqvist and Englishwoman, Georgia Hall were 3 and 1 winners over Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst in the third match. The fiery 31-year old Creamer was not part of the original 12 player team but was Inkster’s pick to replace Jessica Korda who withdrew with a forearm injury. Creamer has a sterling 14-8-5 record in the Cup but has struggled with her game in the last 3 years.

France’s Karine Icher and Matthew made a startling comeback from 3 down in the morning’s final match to beat U.S. stars Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller 1-up on the last hole giving the Europeans a 2 ½ to 1 ½ point lead after the opening session.

The afternoon fourball matches would tell a different story altogether as the Americans asserted their dominance. With birdies on 8 of the 13 holes they played, American rookie, Angel Yin teamed with Salas to rout Denmark’s Emily Pedersen and Ciganda 6 & 5.

Michelle Wie was paired with the redoubtable Kang, to lead the matches for the U.S. and they obliged by wining 2 & 1 over Madelene Sagstrom from Sweden and England’s, Jodi Ewart Shadoff.

That whitewash was followed by another as the “Brittany” team; Lincicome and Lang bested Masson and England’s Florentyna Parker, 3 & 2.

In the day’s final match Lewis and Piller were given the chance to (the only team on the day for either side to play together twice on Friday) atone for their upset defeat in the morning against Hull and Hall. And redemption was theirs as they won a hard fought contest 2 & 1, giving the U.S. team a commanding 5 ½ to 2 ½ point lead after the opening day.

The first two matches of Saturday’s foursomes were a continuation of Friday afternoon’s decimation by the Americans. Kerr and Thompson bested Ewart Shadoff and Masson 5 & 3 and Creamer and Ernst won by the same score over Reid and Pedersen. With her victory Kerr, became the winningest American player in Solheim history with 19 points.

Europe staved off the losing avalanche when Nordqvist and Hall beat Lewis and Piller 2 & 1 and then Matthew and Icher prevailed over Wie and Kang. This still left the U.S. with a 7 ½ to 4 ½ lead heading the afternoon’s fourball matches.

But the Americans would play their best golf beginning with the Lincicome and Lang tandem who sot an amazing 12-under par as they beat Reid and Ciganda 2 up. That Reid and Ciganda shot 10-under and lost two down speaks to the subliminal level of play for both teams.

Nordqvist and Ewart Shadoff gave the Europeans a glimmer of hope with a 4 & 2 win over Salas and Yin but Creamer and Ernst (they were 8-under through 17 holes) prevailed over Icher and Sagstrom 2 & 1.

Thomson and Kerr completed the unbelievable play for the home team combining to be 13-under for the 16 holes they contested beating Matthew and Hall 4 & 2. The 4 U.S. pairings in Saturday’s four afternoon matches were a cummulative 39-under par for the 65 holes played. It was golf being played at the very highest level and may be the best collective golf in a format like this, that we have ever seen.

The Americans took a 10 ½ to 6 ½ point lead into Sunday’s singles, which now seemed like a formality but the Europeans would surely not go quietly.

The first match on Sunday pitted each side’s best players against each other and Thompson and Nordqvist gave the 2017 Solheim Cup another epic encounter. Nordqvist had a 4 up lead at the turn before Thompson played the next 8 holes in 8-under to have a one up lead on the final hole before Nordqvist birdied the 18th hole to finish the match all square.

Successive wins by Kerr (who further increased her all time U.S. points record to 21) over Reid and Creamer over Hall left them one point away from securing the Cup. Europe rallied to win the next two matches with Masson a 4 & 2 winner over Wie and Matthew (whose 3-1-0 record was the best for the Europeans) outlasting Lewis 1 up.

When 18-year old Yin sank a 4 foot par putt on her final hole to tie Icher, and Salas edged out Ewart Shadoff 1 up the Americans had retained the Cup. Ciganda beat Lincicome 4 & 3 and Hull beat Lang 1 up while Piller was 4 & 2 winner over Parker. Sagstrom beat Ernst 3 & 2 while Kang would win the final match over Pedersen 3 & 1.

The Americans won by a final score of 16 ½ to 11 ½ and claimed the Cup for the 10th time, but the European team was gallant and only a fraction short in the brilliance department. There really were no losers.

The 2017 Solheim Cup will be remembered for everything that is wonderful about golf. The quality of play from both teams was other-worldly and the grace and sportsmanship displayed by all the participants will make these three days an enduring classic.