Fueled by a controversial call — which many deemed unsportsmanlike — in one of the remaining four-ball matches Sunday morning, Team USA won nine of the 12 singles matches and overcame the largest deficit (four points) in Solheim Cup history and defeated Team Europe 14.5-13.5 at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Germany.
Let’s first take a look at the drama that occurred on the 17th hole in the four-ball match between Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull vs. Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome. The match was all square with two holes to play. Lee stepped up to a 12-footer for birdie to win the hole and just barely missed. She picked up the ball from a foot and a half, thinking she had heard it was conceded.
Hull seemed to indicate so much as she started walking off the green to the 18th tee, but Pettersen stopped and protested, telling an official that they had not given Lee the putt. Which meant the Europeans won the hole to go 1-up heading into 18. A par was good enough for the Europeans to win the final hole to beat Lee and Lincicome 2-up and notch the 10th point for Team Europe.
However, Hull and Lee were both in tears as the issue was from the previous hole was discussed around the green. (It appears that Hull felt so badly, which caused her to get emotional — now that’s saying something.)
According to the AP, U.S. captain Juli Inkster was overhead saying, “If that’s the way they want to play, let’s go.” Stacy Lewis chimed in, “Let’s use this to motivate ourselves,” before leading some of her teammates in a chant of “Class! Style! USA!”
Interesting enough, 12-time Solheim Cup player Dame Laura Davies was appalled by her former teammate’s actions. When asked for her reaction by Sky Sports, she said: “I’m disgusted. We have got our best player, Charley Hull, who has just won a point and she is in floods of tears. That tells you the wrong thing was done.
“How Suzann can justify that I will never, ever know. We are all fierce competitors but ultimately it’s unfair. We have to play week in, week out together and you do not do something like that to a fellow pro.
“Poor old Alison Lee must think ‘I hope I never play a Solheim Cup again’. She has had food poisoning and now she has been wronged by one of the most senior players in golf and [who] used to be one of the most respected players.
“I know [Pettersen] is angry and justifying everything, but she has let herself down and she has certainly let her team down. I am so glad I am not on that team this time.
“If they win they are going to think ‘Why did we do that?’ or ‘why did Suzann do that?'”
Strong words coming from one of the most respected women in the game, not to mention a longtime member of the European team.
Added Inkster: “There’s no way they could ever justify that. I don’t care what you say, you just don’t do that to your peers. I don’t know if my team needed to be fired up anymore, but they were real fired up.”
Watch the incident below:
Despite the unfortunate ruckus, it proved to be just what the Americans needed to win back the Cup for the first time since 2009. Team USA used the incident to light a fire under them and rallied to an unprecedented comeback in the singles matches, where they took the 8.5 points needed to defeat Europe.
“You know what, I was on them all week,” said Inkster. “You’ve got to play with heart. You’ve got to play with fire in your belly. Never give up. I saw my team out there today, it didn’t look good early, they hung in there, a lot of 2-downs came to evens, and then plus 1.”
The Americans got off to a slow start, with lots of blue on the scoreboard early in the singles matches, but the momentum turned in the middle of the day. Cristie Kerr was 3-down to Hull on the fourth hole when Kerr made nine birdies in her next 11 holes en route to a 3&2 victory.
Michelle Wie, who had gone largely underutilized in the team matches, caught on fire early in her match against Caroline Hedwall. The 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champ drained five birdies in the first six holes to storm to an early lead. Wie proved to be dominant throughout her match and closed Hedwell, who you may remember as the 2013 European Solheim Cup star, 6&4, giving the Americans a much-needed point late in the day as the second to last group.
For Wie, she can only hope this serves as a launching point for the remainder of what’s been a largely forgettable and often injury plagued season. Sunday’s dominating victory also served as redemption for what had been a disappointing week to that point with Wie going winless in two team matches heading into Sunday’s singles.
Lee got some redemption, playing in the fifth singles match against Gwladys Nocera. As the only rookie on either team this week, she played like a veteran on Sunday afternoon, rallying from a 2-down deficit early before rattling off three straight birdies on nos. 5-7 and never looked back. Lee won three more holes on the back nine, including the 17th, after Nocera knocked her approach in the water. Lee won 3&1. Afterward, she said the victory helped soothe the heartache from the morning’s controversy.
“Yes, of course,” said Lee. “I really felt like we had that match, and I was sure we had that point for our team. And losing that match and seeing all the girls surrounding me and giving me a lot of support and showing me that they had my back, it felt great. And I think it really did motivate us all to play well in the afternoon and fire back.”
A big momentum changer for the Americans came in the sixth singles match between Gerina Piller and Caroline Masson. Piller was 2-up with three holes to play, but then made a mess of her lead, making a par on the 16th to halve and then bogeying the 17th to trim her lead to just one heading into the 18th with the entire Solheim Cup on the line. If she halved the match, the Europeans would retain the Cup. Masson put pressure on Piller by hitting her hybrid to 10 feet on the 18th. After Piller dumped her 154-yard second shot into the front of the greenside bunker, leaving her with a nearly impossible up-and-down, things looked grim for the Americans. However, Piller managed to knock it to 10 feet, while Masson’s birdie attempt ran past the right edge of the hole. Piller holed the biggest putt of her career. Her teammates stormed the green in celebration, knowing that they needed three more points to win the Cup and the Americans led in the remaining matches on the course.
“It’s pretty surreal. I should have made a par on the last hole and shut it out early, but those things happen,” said Piller. And it’s nerves. It’s the Solheim Cup. And to make that putt, obviously that was — I looked up and saw there were 13 and a half, and if I missed it, that was it. And so it was huge for me to make that putt.”
In what was dubbed as the “grudge match” with Suzann Pettersen vs. Angela Stanford, it was only fitting that the Cup largely came down to this duel with the most vitriol involved. Stanford stormed to an early 3-up lead through six holes, but Pettersen made a comeback and tied things up at the 14th. Stanford, who had not earned a single point in her last nine Solheim Cup matches, fought back with back-to-back birdies on the 15 and 16 — she ended up beating Pettersen 2&1, which kept the American’s hopes of the biggest come-from-behind victory alive. The point from Stanford tied the Americans and Europeans at 13.5 points each overall.
“That’s awesome,” said Stanford. “It’s so fitting for this group. This is probably the closest knit group we’ve ever been a part of. We never stopped believing. It’s been a long road for me personally. And I tried to be the best teammate this week. And they picked me up and I just fought for them.”
It was fitting that Paula Creamer, who was a captain’s pick and the weakest player on paper heading into the matches, clinched the winning point. Playing in the final match of the day, Creamer beat Sandra Gal with ease. Creamer and Gal were all square through five holes before Creamer poured in three straight birdies on nos. 6-8 to take a 3-up lead. She never looked back, holing two more birdies on the back nine to put away Gal 4&3.
“I just wanted to go play some good golf, not only for our country and for our team,” Creamer said, “but for myself. I just wanted to go out and prove a lot of things.”
Well, we saw the good, bad and the ugly on Sunday at the Solheim Cup, but perhaps the display of poor sportsmanship was just what the Americans needed to light a fire under them and rally to the greatest comeback in the history of the biennial matches. And hey, haven’t you heard? Karma’s a bitch.
However, Inkster, for one, is ready to move on from the controversy after she hoisted the Cup with her victorious team.
“I’m over it,” she said. “We got the Cup.”