PARKER, Colo. – It took a Swedish Viking to finally plant Europe’s flag in American soil in the Solheim Cup.
Caroline Hedwall’s magnificent 9-iron to 4 feet at the 18th hole won her match with Michelle Wie and gave the Euros the point they needed to retain the cup on their way to winning the matches outright. The record 18-10 rout marked the first time the Euros won a Solheim Cup staged in the United States since the biennial matches were launched in 1990.
European captain Liselotte Neumann called Hedwall one of her “Swedish Vikings,” and Hedwall played the role marvelously, pillaging and plundering points like no player in the history of these matches. She won every match she played, becoming the first player to go 5-0 in a Solheim Cup.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hedwall said. “I’m still shaking. It’s unbelievable.”
Europe’s eight-point victory was the largest margin in the history of the matches.
“We really got our butts kicked this week,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon said. “Hats off to Europe.”
Neumann said she took the captain’s job because it offered the challenge of making history, but nobody could have seen this week coming, not with the Europeans bringing their youngest team ever to America, not with half of Neumann’s 12-woman roster made up of Solheim Cup rookies.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of all of them,” Neumann said. “It was a total team effort.”
The Europeans didn’t just win the Solheim Cup on Sunday, they transformed it.
They injected a jolt of intensity into these matches winning for the first time on American soil and winning consecutive cups.
“They’re a great team,” American Stacy Lewis said. “They’re getting better every year, and they’re making this what it should be. So, it’s good for the event. We saw a lot of good, close matches this week. But we’ll be fired up and ready to go the next time.”
Going to Ireland two years ago, the Solheim Cup seemed in danger of becoming irrelevant with the Americans having won the cup three consecutive times in routs. The outcome felt as if it was becoming predictable. It’s anything but that now, with nobody foreseeing a European team dominated by Solheim Cup rookies being able to so thoroughly rout the Americans.
“This is fantastic for European golf,” said Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, a European assistant captain. “The Solheim Cup now is really becoming very significant.”
Neumann’s team may well be remembered as the women’s equivalent of Europe’s 1987 Ryder Cup team. That was the first Euro team to win the Ryder Cup on American soil. The nucleus of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam would change the nature of the Ryder Cup with Europe’s emergence as a force in the competition.
As glorious as Sunday was for the Europeans, it was inglorious for the Americans.
With the ascendance of the Asians in women’s golf, the Americans have been steadily pushed aside on some of golf’s most important stages. When Stacy Lewis won the Women’s British Open two weeks ago, it ended the longest American drought in the history of women’s major championships, a run of 10 consecutive majors without an American winning.
Americans have been sliding in the Rolex world rankings, with Lewis now the only American left in the top 10.
Still, even with the Asians ascending to seize so many of the game’s biggest prizes, the Americans still had the Solheim Cup. They still had this one week to revel in one of golf’s brightest spotlights, and then the Europeans took that, too. They broke the Americans’ iron-fisted hold on the Solheim Cup in Ireland.
Yet even with that loss, the Americans clung to their one last stronghold, their perfect Solheim Cup record on American soil.
Now that’s gone, too.
“I think we’ve all learned a lot from this, and we’ll be OK,” Lewis said.
That loss in Ireland, Lewis said, was the motivation that pushed her game to new levels, that pushed her to become the first American in nearly two decades to win Rolex Player of the Year last year, to become the Rolex world No. 1 earlier this year.
Fans of American women’s golf can only hope this loss pushes the American contingent to new levels.
They’ll have to reach a new heights to keep up with Europe in the Solheim Cup now.
The Euros' improbable rout was really set up Saturday afternoon, when Neumann sent out eight players in fourballs, five of them Solheim Cup rookies and the other three with no more than one Solheim Cup under their belts coming into this season.
Those unheralded players swept the Americans, 4-0, to give Europe a commanding 10 ½ to 5 ½ lead going into Sunday.
“I want to give Lotta all the credit for having the guts to actually pick all the rookies, to pick youngsters, to pick Charley Hull,” said Suzann Pettersen, the heart and soul of this European team.
Hull, just 17 years old, the youngest player to compete in the Solheim Cup, took down Paula Creamer, 5 and 4, to win Europe’s first point in singles Sunday. Spaniard Carlota Ciganda, playing her first Solheim Cup, was 3-0.
“I don’t even think we can call them rookies,” Pettersen said.
Europe can call them the best Solheim Cup team in the history of European women’s golf.