Debutant Leona Maguire starred as Europe retained the Solheim Cup with a hard-fought 15-13 victory over the United States in Ohio.
Maguire won her singles match on Sunday to complete an unbeaten week in which she collected four and a half points from her five matches – a record for a rookie – and set the tone for a thrilling final day.
Fellow rookie, Matilda Castren, holed a nerveless eight-foot putt to win her match on the 18th green and claim Europe’s 14th point – the one that meant they would at least retain the Solheim Cup – before Emily Pedersen made sure of the victory by winning the last match on the 18th.
“It’s just crazy, crazy,” said Castren. “I can’t believe I made that putt.”
It sparked an outpouring of joy among the Europeans, who were considered rank outsiders in the build-up, having won just once previously in the US, but have now won four of the past six editions of the biennial event.
Chants of “Beany we love you” reverberated around Inverness Golf Club as the small but loud visiting contingent lauded Catriona Matthew, with the Scot the first European captain to win the competition twice after the memorable win at Gleneagles in 2019.
“It’s just unbelievable. My team have been so fantastic all week,” Matthew, 52, told Sky Sports.
“I’m so proud of them. We knew it was going to be tough with just a handful of European fans. It was a great start and then got a little dodgy.
“It was nerve-wracking. We got three and a half [points] out of the first four and then the tide was turning.”
Maguire’s eye-catching show
Matthew was a veteran player in Europe’s only previous win on American soil in Colorado in 2013 but this time around their success was underpinned by a debutant in the shape of Maguire, the first Irishwoman to play in the event.
The 26-year-old announced herself in fine style on the 17th staging of the tournament, winning three and a half points from the four matches she contested on the opening two days.
And she claimed the first point in Monday’s 12 singles matches with an emphatic 5&4 win over previously unbeaten US rookie Jennifer Kupcho, who had won two and a half points from three matches.
It reinforced the visitor’s already strong overnight position, moving Europe 10-7 ahead, and at one point they led in eight of the matches, ensuring that the estimated 75,000 home supporters had little to get excited about.
Maguire, the only player from either side to play in all five possible matches, become only the third player in Solheim Cup history to earn her team more than four points in a single competition.
“The goal was to get my point. I’ve given it my absolute all this week, I couldn’t have given anything more,” she said.
“I knew I was going to have to play some really good golf to beat her [Kupcho]. I got off to a great start; an eagle on two really set me up.
“I holed some really nice putts and kept my foot down all day. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the week was going to go this way. It has been an honour to represent Europe.”
A fraught finale
Madelene Sagstrom and Celine Boutier won their matches to edge Matthew’s side closer to the target of 14 points needed to retain the trophy as defending champions.
But American wins for world number one Nelly Korda, Brittany Altomare and Megan Khang threatened a dramatic turnaround.
It made for some uncomfortable viewing for European fans, with the hosts at one stage leading in five of the seven remaining matches out on the course.
But Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen played their part, earning halves in rollercoaster encounters with Lexi Thompson and Austin Ernst before Finland’s Castren held her nerve on the 18th to seal the crucial 14th point.
Pedersen then went three up with three to play against Danielle Kang in the final match, thus guaranteeing at least another half point that would give Europe the overall victory.
The Dane, who admitted she was keen “to join the celebrations”, promptly lost the 16th and 17th holes to send her match down the last, but then holed from eight feet before her team-mates charged on to the green.
United States captain Pat Hurst conceded the defeat stemmed from their poor start in Saturday’s opening foursomes matches – which they lost 3½-½ – a format which the Europeans have traditionally dominated.
“I think we got behind the eight-ball the very first foursomes,” she said.
“I was hoping to see a lot of red in the beginning [of the singles] just to kind of put it up on the board for everyone to see, but it is what it is.
“They played hard, they played with heart, and that’s what we were asking for.”