ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Does the comeback ever happen without the controversy? It’s a key question that can never truly be answered although the two episodes forever will be linked.
Both the U.S. and Europe woke up early Sunday to complete three fourball matches at the Solheim Cup with the plan of moving quietly on to singles matches. That itinerary quickly came to a crashing halt.
Suzann Pettersen found herself smack in the middle of a nasty controversy that seemingly provided a huge spark to the Americans, resulting in one of the most interesting days in the history of women’s golf.
In the end, the U.S. staged a Brookline-type Ryder Cup effort by erasing a 10-6 deficit to win, 14½ to 13½, at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club. The Americans won 8½ of 12 singles points to record the biggest comeback in Solheim Cup history.
To think, four years ago, on the eve of Sunday singles in Ireland, many of the headlines screamed that the biennial matches were bordering on irrelevant. Europe staged a great comeback to win those matches, then dominated the Americans on U.S. soil two years ago to hand the red, white and blue a second consecutive defeat.
With a crucial point up for grabs in the morning, Pettersen and Charley Hull were all square with Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome on the 17th hole. Lee missed an 8-footer for birdie to win the hole then scooped up the ball that was 18 inches past the hole. Pettersen contends that Lee’s putt wasn’t conceded and the Americans lost the hole, and ultimately, the match.
Social media went berserk. Pettersen didn’t back down. It was ugly.
“It was very clear from Charley and me that we wanted to see the putt at the time of play,” Pettersen said. “With Alison being kind of the only one left of the two on the hole, that was clearly a putt we wanted to see.”
U.S. captain Juli Inkster was miffed.
“It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned,” Inkster said. “It’s just not right. It puts a damper on the whole thing.”
Lee, a 20-year-old Solheim Cup rookie, was caught in the crossfire and, although she did break a rule, she believes the whole situation was avoidable and insists she heard someone tell her the putt was conceded.
“Obviously I was really flustered,” she said. “I had a lot of different emotions going through my body. I was really disappointed, also, because I really wanted to make that point. Not because of what Suzann did, but because I thought Brittany (Lincicome) and I had played so well.”
Long-time European Solheim Cup stalwart Laura Davies, in Germany commentating for British television, did not mince words regarding her former teammate.
“She’s been very unsporting,” Davies said about Pettersen. “We’ve got the point, but they’ve got the moral high ground.
“She’s let herself down and certainly let her team down. I’m so glad I’m not on that team this time.”
Then, the Americans went on a tear that the previous 13 versions of the Solheim Cup have never seen.
When Anna Nordqvist beat Stacy Lewis, Europe had collected 13½ points and only needed another half point to retain the cup. Americans Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer each comfortably led their respective matches on the back nine.
Only the Gerina Piller-Caroline Masson match and the Angela Stanford-Suzann Pettersen match hung in the balance.
Piller made bogey on the 17th hole and took a 1-up advantage to the final hole. Masson, playing in her native Germany, hit her approach to 10 feet. Piller’s approach slid right of the green and into nasty, gnarly rough. Piller’s chip shot landed just inside Masson’s ball. Masson missed the birdie putt, Piller drained the par putt to earn a full point for the U.S. and the Solheim Cup still was up for grabs. If Masson makes her birdie, Europe retains.
“If I don’t make this, we lose,” Piller said. “As much as you practice it at home or as a kid, it’s just not the same, obviously. I just can’t believe I made that putt.”
Added Morgan Pressel: "Watching Gerina make that putt – the most clutch putt I've ever seen in my life on 18 – just sent shock waves, I think, through our whole team and also to Team Europe."
Next up? Stanford vs. Pettersen: The ultimate test for the golf gods.
This was already a touchy match. There’s the aforementioned Pettersen controversy for starters. For Stanford, she’s struggled to play well in the Solheim Cup during her entire career and had a 3-13-3 record. She hadn’t won in her previous nine matches.
Stanford raced out to a 3-up lead, but she coughed it all up and the match was all square with three holes remaining. Stanford birdied 16 and 17 and closed out Pettersen, 2 and 1.
“At some point you think it’s bound to happen, right,” Stanford asked about her winless streak. “People kept telling me numbers, but it’s bound to happen. But it’s all because of these ladies. I kept thinking if they’ll just keep me in it, if they’ll just give me another chance and they did. Very happy to help today.”
Kerr ended her match with Charley Hull because of a ridiculous nine-hole stretch where she made eight birdies. Wie did the same against Caroline Hedwall and made eight birdies in 14 holes.
Creamer, the much-maligned captain’s pick, was the only American left on course, and it was only a matter of time before she ended her match against Sandra Gal. With the myriad stories of the day, it’s still fitting that it came down to Creamer to end the Solheim Cup.
The cup veteran had struggled with her game all summer and was battling confidence issues. But Inkster, Creamer’s longtime idol, picked Creamer for the team and even put her out first on Friday in foursomes with Pressel. They won that point. And Creamer sealed the deal for the Americans by winning the final match.
“I’m ready for people to stop asking me about a captain’s pick,” Creamer quipped. “I had my job. I had my role as much as we all did.”
In Pettersen, the Americans found motivation in a place they never expected to find. Whether it came from the desire to protect their innocent rookie (Lee), the craving to send Europe’s best player (Pettersen) home with her head down, the hunger to win the cup for the first time since 2009 or the sheer willingness to please Inkster, the Americans made history.
“Juli deserved this today and that’s all I can say,” Stanford said about her affable leader. “She is a class act. She deserved it.”
Said Inkster: “I think they were ready to go, but I also think (the Pettersen controversy) maybe just lit the fire a little bit more. I think in their bellies they wanted to just maybe do just a little bit more. And that little bit more got us the Solheim.”
Moments later, Inkster was pure Inkster. Funny, endearing, to the point.
“I’m over it,” she said. “We got the cup.”