It was a red, white and blue day in West Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday. In a singles session that featured tight battles across the scoreboard, Team USA won five matches and kept the Solheim Cup on U.S. soil with a 16.5 to 11.5 victory over Team Europe. The five-point victory margin is the USA’s largest win since 1996, and it also forever links USA Captain Juli Inkster’s name with the great Judy Rankin as the only women for either side to lead two victorious Solheim Cup Teams.
“I’m just proud of my team,” said Inkster, who previously led the USA to victory in Germany in 2015. “The Europeans fought hard today. They made it really close. I really haven’t been nervous all week. But today I was a little bit nervous. So it’s just an honor to captain this team and I’m really proud of the girls.”
“We just got outplayed, there’s no doubt about it,” said European Captain Annika Sorenstam. “I’m so proud how hard they fought. And it’s not easy coming out here on a Sunday with the team so far behind. But I’m proud of them. They’re out there fighting every single match, every single point. What can I say? Just congratulate the U.S.A. because they played some awesome golf.”
The winning putt came courtesy of California native Lizette Salas, whose 4-foot par putt at No. 18 gave her a 1-up win over Jodi Ewart Shadoff and secured the 14.5 points necessary for the USA to win the Cup. Just earlier, USA rookie Angel Yin halved her match with Karine Icher to ensure that the USA would reach at least 14 points and retain the Cup.
“This is what I work for all year,” said Salas, a three-time Solheim Cup veteran. “Today’s probably the best golf I’ve played all year. To do that in front of my home crowd and to wear the red, white and blue is such an honor. The fact that I made the last putt to secure it is undescribable. I’m still shaking, and just glad I got it done for Team USA.”
Without a doubt, the match of the day, and perhaps one of the finest matches in Solheim Cup history, was the opening battle between World No. 2 Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist. Coming into the week, there was doubt around Nordqvist’s availability after being sidelined for much for July and August with mononucleosis. The five-time European Team member put those fears to bed early on Sunday, birdieing two of the first four holes and quickly building a 4-up lead through nine holes over Thompson, who was struggling with her putter.
At the turn, Thompson received a pep talk from USA Captain Juli Inkster and Assistant Captain Nancy Lopez. The mantra they shared? “Keep your head up.” Those words sparked a fire in the 22-year-old Floridian, who played holes 10-16 at a remarkable 8-under par, including a hole-out eagle from 112 yards at No. 11 and a 25-footer at No. 15 to square the match. She took her first lead at No. 16 with a 12-foot birdie and had a par putt at No. 17 to win the match, but her 5-footer just missed to the right.
“I don’t really know what was going on my first few holes. But I just tried to stay in it,” said Thompson, who finishes 2-0-2 for the USA. “I had nothing to lose going into that back nine and just went for every pin. And hearing the crowds cheer for me definitely helped in between holes as well.”
And as was only appropriate in such a hard-fought match, it all came down to the 18th hole. Thompson stuck her approach from 174 yards to 15 feet and looked in a prime position to clinch victory. But Nordqvist still had life, one-upping Thompson and sticking her ball to 2 feet. Thompson’s putt to win the match just didn’t fall, and the match that defined sportsmanship and a never-give-up attitude ended all square.
“It’s been a great week,” said Nordqvist, who led Europe with an undefeated 3-0-1 record. “It’s been great to be here. There have been so many fans. I had a lot of family here and just very happy. Happy with my game. Pretty exhausted right now, not going to lie. But I feel like we played our hearts out. It’s been a pleasure to play under Annika, and just watched her grow through these last 18 months, it’s been a pleasure to watch.
Cristie Kerr led the USA in points, going 3-0-1 to earn 3.5 points and raise her all-time points tally to 21. That 21-point total is the most by any U.S. player in Solheim Cup history. Catriona Matthew earned 3 points for Europe and has now earned 22 points in her European Team career. Matthew is now third on the all-time points list and Kerr is fourth, behind Laura Davies (25) and Sorenstam (24). Kerr and Matthew also moved up the all-time match victories list, with both players now at 18 career match wins, behind only the 22 apiece for Davies and Sorenstam.
“You play for the person in front of you, you play for the person behind you,” said Kerr. “And it is not about your individual records. It’s for the team. And I mean, it’s amazing how hard you can pull for each other when you have that mentality.”
(Photo by Getty Images.)