Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

The Big Team Events – Team Europe Win 2023 Solheim Cup

The Big Team Events - Team Europe Win 2023 Solheim Cup
(PA Images/Alamy)

It doesn’t take a lot to stoke the inner fires of 12 European and 12 American players every two years at the biennial Solheim Cup. And while those top-ranked women professionals from America and Europe spend most of the year facing each other on the LPGA Tour in stroke-play competition each week, there’s something about the team format that changes everything.

National Pride

It’s not because the male equivalent Ryder Cup has a deeper history in the game. It’s about what happens when an American flag is raised in Europe and when the flags of seven European nations belonging to participating players run up the poles at the opening ceremony.

It’s about bragging rights. History. National significance. Future growth in the game. And most of all, pride.

“The Solheim Cup has never been played in the southern part of continental Europe,” said Marta Figueras-Dotti, board chair of the Ladies European Tour, who helped bring the event to her Spanish homeland for the first time. “I think it was essential to show the world what Spain could offer in golf, and it was also key to help women’s golf grow in our country.”

Winning Records

While Team USA holds a 10-8 overall winning record over Europe since the Solheim Cup’s inaugural staging in 1990, Europe has hoisted the trophy in the last three events. Europe retained the 2023 Cup after a first-ever tie with a final score of 14-14 at Finca Cortesin Golf Club in Andalucía, Spain.

Blow by Blow

All week, the event featured nip-and-tuck scoring exchanges by each side. Team USA took an early 4-0 lead in the Friday Foursomes, but Europe fought back in the Friday Four-Ball afternoon matches with a 3-1 performance. Denmark’s Emily Pedersen supercharged that afternoon comeback for Europe when her 178-yard tee shot on No. 12 dropped in for an ace. By day’s end, Team USA led 5-3.

Riding momentum from Friday, Europe put two points on the board to tie Team USA 2-2 in the Saturday morning foursomes—the team-play format typically preferred by the Americans. When Europe added a 3-1 win in Saturday’s afternoon four-ball play, the score was level at 8-8 heading into Sunday’s singles.

“The four-ball format is difficult for Americans because Europeans have a lot more experience with it and know how to play it,” observed Patty Sheehan, captain of the 2002 and 2003 U.S. Solheim Cup teams.

American Megan Khang led off the Sunday singles in her match against Sweden’s Linn Grant, opening with a birdie on the first hole and winning 1 up on the 18th green.

“She definitely made me work for it,” said Khang, who finished 3-0-1 for the week.

Ireland’s Leona Maguire faced tough singles competition with LPGA rookie superstar Rose Zhang in their Sunday match. Zhang birdied the opening hole, but the 2021 Solheim Cup standout for Europe responded with two birdies. The lead wobbled back and forth until Maguire regained the lead on the seventh hole and never trailed, scoring the day’s first point for Europe with a 4 and 3 victory over Zhang.

“It was important to get blue on the board [for Europe] early,” said Maguire.

The scoreboard was a mixture of red and blue numbers throughout Sunday’s singles matches, guaranteeing a close final result.

“Europe got down early, but fought back,” said Annika Sorenstam, 2017 European Solheim Cup Captain. “It could have literally gone either way at the end, which was exciting.” 

And it did. Buoyed by energetic home-soil Spanish fans and with the overall team scores tied, Carlota Ciganda knew exactly what she needed to do in her match against American Nelly Korda. The Solheim Cup veteran took the lead on the second hole and held off Korda’s attempted rallies. When Korda’s four-foot birdie chance missed on the 16th hole, the gallery-packed grandstands shook when Ciganda answered with a birdie.

Europe’s only Spanish player capped off that match with another birdie on No. 17 to retain the Cup for Europe with a 2 and 1 victory, posting an undefeated 4-0-0 record for the event.

“It was magical in front of the home crowd, Carlota’s family and with the whole world watching,” said Figueras-Dotti. 

A tie finish and greater team parity may signal that a playoff system is needed for future competitions. The next event is set for 2024 in the United States, returning the Solheim Cup to even years played opposite the Ryder Cup.

“Losing the Cup in a tie will really motivate the Americans next year,” said Sheehan. “They’re going to be fired up.”

This was first published in Essential Golf – you can read the complete magazine here.