DUNSANY, Ireland – Call it a Gaelic classic.
In a marvelous tale of wonder and woe Sunday in the shadow of Killeen Castle, the Europeans didn’t just win the Solheim Cup. They transformed it.
With speculation that this biennial competition was on the verge of irrelevance when the week arrived, Europe changed everything.
Suddenly, the Solheim Cup matters more than it ever has.
The Europeans, who had lost the last three competitions, transformed the event with a comeback as thrilling as any you’ll see in this sport.
Yes, the Americans lost, but they gallantly battled to overcome early setbacks so emotional that their two toughest stars were in tears with the day barely under way. The Americans lost, but golf always wins on days like this, in unforgettable battles of skill, wit and will.
Europe won 15-13, but it was closer than that, maddeningly and wondrously closer.
“I’ve been in agony all day,” European captain Alison Nicholas said.
U.S. captain Rosie Jones was in agony at the end, but she also appreciated what she was seeing.
“It probably was the best Solheim Cup ever,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team. I couldn’t be prouder of the European team. They fought hard all day. It was unbelievable.”
Europe’s Laura Davies has played in every Solheim Cup since it began in 1990, and she couldn’t remember a better one.
“This was the most exciting one by far,” she said.
With the competition tied late and narrowing down to the final three matches, the Americans looked a lock to win their fourth consecutive Solheim Cup. The Euros didn’t lead in a single remaining match, but then Suzann Pettersen, Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz stepped into Solheim history. They led the charge that improbably gave Europe its fourth win in the 12-match history of the event.
“Europe just played better than us in the last 35 minutes,” Jones said. “They just took it away, stripped it.”
The Americans found themselves in a hole early when Cristie Kerr broke down and cried on the driving range with the realization that she was too hurt to play. The highest-ranked American in the world, scheduled to play the anchor singles match, couldn’t go when her ailing right wrist worsened.
“I’m devastated that I couldn’t play,” Kerr said in a statement issued by the U.S. team. “I tried my best, but I couldn’t hold the golf club.”
Kerr doesn’t know how she hurt her wrist, but it began bothering her shortly after her arrival in Ireland. She played through the pain all week but could no longer do so come Sunday morning. She conceded her match to Karen Stupples to give the Euros their first singles point on a day that began in an 8-8 tie.
The American outlook worsened when Solheim Cup bulldog, Paula Creamer, got thrashed, 6 and 5, by Catriona Matthew in the leadoff singles. It was a stinging blow given Creamer’s perfect record in singles (3-0) and what she means to the team. Creamer left in tears.
Still, even after the opening loss, the Americans fought and scratched with Morgan Pressel knocking off Anna Nordqvist, 2 and 1, with Hall of Famer Juli Inkster stealing a late halve with Laura Davies, with Brittany Lang and Christina Kim winning in routs and rookie Vicky Hurst also winning.
The Americans dug themselves out of holes late in matches all week, and it appeared they were going to keep the theme going to the end.
With the United States and Europe at 12 ½ points each, the outcome was down to a final three matches over the final three holes. The Euros didn’t have a lead in any of them.
That’s when this Solheim Cup turned into the best ever.
That’s when Pettersen turned around her match with Michelle Wie.
One down at the 16th tee, Pettersen rallied with three closing birdies. She stuffed a 5-iron to 15 feet for her first, stuck a gap wedge to 4 feet for her second and closed out Wie with a dagger at the last, a gap wedge to 8 feet for her final birdie.
“I seemed to be able to dig it out, but I seem to get older every time it happens,” Pettersen said. “I think I have more gray hair than when this started today.”
Then there was Munoz, all square with Angela Stanford stepping to the 17th tee. That’s where Munoz hit the shot of her young life, an 8-iron to 4 feet for a birdie that put her 1 up.
Assured of at least a half point going to the 18th, Munoz wouldn’t need to finish out, not with Hedwall taking care of business in front of her.
Two down with two holes to play to rookie Ryann O’Toole, Hedwall won the 17th when O’Toole found trouble in fescue and made bogey. At the 18th, Hedwall sealed the deal, carving a 7-iron to 5 feet. With O’Toole in trouble in thick rough behind the green, Hedwall didn’t need to putt. After O’Toole chopped out short, failing to reach the green, then failing to hole a chip for par, Hedwall secured a vital halve with a conceded birdie.
“I put pressure on Ryann, and she couldn’t handle it this time,” Hedwall said.
The half-point was all the Europeans needed to win. They took the singles 7-5, marking their first victory in that format since 2003.
“We proved them wrong; we can win singles,” Pettersen said.
They also proved that the Solheim Cup matters.