The sights were well-known, in the memory of every Gleaneagles golf fan two years ago: a victorious captain Catriona Matthew, the one of her beloved Team Europe on 18th and the Euros that lifted the trophy over their heads after the Team USA again had defeated.
But this victory was different for many reasons. First of all, it is only the second time in history that Team Europe has won the Cup on American soil – the only other time that it was held at the Colorado Golf Club in 2013. The Euros, too, ran wire-to-wire, never giving up their lead over the United States and looking unshakable given the home advantage. And instead of being a veteran of the hero, as was the case with Suzann Pettersen in Scotland, it was a rookie who led the way for the blues and yellows, and it was also a rookie who emptied the final putt, the deal sealed and the game returned the trophy to Europe.
If anyone leaves Toledo, Ohio who is better off than they came, it is Leona Maguire of Ireland. The 26-year-old was moved with tears in Inverness and played all five games with a 4-0-1 record, by far the MVP for the European Championship. Call it beginner’s luck, but the Irish girl knew she was on the verge of something big after playing so solidly up to that point.
“I’ve been giving my absolute all week,” said Maguire after her 5 & 4 win over Jennifer Kupcho, a match many had expected more of. “I couldn’t have given him anything more. I couldn’t have wished for a better week. I’ve had a great year since June, since MEDIHEAL. I just tried to pull this off. Dermot has helped me a lot. He’s been my caddy since MEDIHEAL, and he was a big part of this week, kept me calm, focused, hit the right shots at the right moment. I also had two phenomenal partners in Mel (Reid) and Georgia (Hall) who just let me do my thing. “
Matilda Castren is another player who has had a career-defining week and has effectively cemented her place in the history of the Solheim Cup. She buried her par putt on the final green to secure the trophy for Team Europe by defeating American Lizette Salas 1-up. After experiencing so much heartache early in her professional career, it seemed unlikely that Castren would ever get such an opportunity, but as it is becoming the norm for the Finns, she has risen to the situation where it mattered most.
“I knew it was important,” said Castren. “I knew we needed that. I wasn’t sure what it meant because I knew there were still matches on the court, but I knew we had to do that putt. We read the putts very well and I rolled the ball very well all week. I figured to myself, just trust it and trust the line and take a good shot and they just walked in. It was amazing. For me a dream has come true. It was just an amazing experience and to win my match today was all I could ask for. “
However, it wasn’t just the rookies who made the difference for Team Europe. The toughest half point of the day came from seven-time Solheim Cupper Anna Nordqvist – reigning AIG Women’s Open winner – after she and Lexi Thompson fought a battle of the most epic proportions in the first match of the Monday individual. The two traded blows all day and eventually ended in a tie after they ended up in a draw on the 18th. It says a lot about a captain’s confidence in a player’s skills being sent first on the final day, and that fact was Nordqvist not escaped, but something she enjoyed.
“It’s a great honor,” said Nordqvist. “I live for these moments, take the first tee and be the first match, and it was a great honor to be kicked out first. Lexi is a tough competitor, but so am I. I feel like we’re sick of each other and we both played great, just like in 2017. I think we’re both happy with a half. I thought it was a fair result. But overall it was a great week. We had good team chemistry. We had some European fans out here and they meant a lot. The whole family back home was amazing. But we had to lean against each other this week and I’m really proud of everyone who believes in themselves and who prevailed. “
Captain Matthew – now the only European captain to ever win consecutive Solheims – affirms that sentiment and is thoroughly impressed with the skills of their squad.
“Two years ago at Gleneagles in Scotland was fantastic but this time in America we were against it,” said Matthew. “The Americans were a fantastic team this year. You played hard. We may only have punched a few more putts and we’re lucky to be ahead. I think we were a team of 12. They all did their part. One person doesn’t win, we needed all 12, so just congratulations to the whole team. “
But above all there was one moment that really sums up the week and perfectly sums up the effect that an event like the Solheim Cup has on golf as a whole. Shortly after the results were established, television cameras captured Jessica Korda, who congratulated Sophia Popov on her European triumph.
We often tend to question the health of women’s golf and wonder if this part of the game can successfully compete with its male counterpart. Not only have we seen a fandom in Toledo last week that absolutely idolizes that part of the sport, and not only have we found a new, albeit unlikely, advocate for women’s football at Bubba Watson, we also have a seemingly insatiable thirst for more – more great golf, more talented players, more women’s golf.
This quiet moment shared by two of the sport’s biggest names tells us that the future of women’s football is in good hands, that those at its peak truly understand the significant role they play in their future, and that we do When it comes to its longevity, there’s little to worry about if this star-studded generation has anything to say about it. Games and points and trophies aside, the heady team performances of this year’s Solheim Cup, record-breaking audience numbers and an impeccable showcase of talent all point to the priceless growth of the game in recent days, making women’s golf the real winner in Inverness.