ST. LEON-ROT, Germany — The United States knew it would take an epic comeback on Sunday if they were going to bring The Solheim Cup back across the pond.
Having never come back from bigger than a two-point deficit heading into singles, the U.S. would need the largest comeback in history if it was going to end Europe’s reign of two straight victories in the Solheim Cup as they trailed 10-6.
Rally is exactly what Team USA did on Sunday by capturing nine of the 12 matches and earning a halve in the opening match to earn exactly the 8 ½ points needed to regain The Solheim Cup. U.S. Captain Juli Inkster said the final session came down to something she preached to her players all week.
“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.”
Things started off slowly for the Americans as there was a lot of blue on the scoreboard in the early holes, but the tide turned red in the middle of the day thanks to some hot play from Team USA.
Sitting 3-Down to Charley Hull on the fourth hole, Cristie Kerr made nine birdies in her next 11 holes en rourte to a 3&2 victory. Michelle Wie shot 30 on the front nine while capturing a 6&4 victory over Caroline Hedwall. In the last three matches of the day, the U.S. won by no less than Kerr’s 3&2 victory.
The Cup ended up coming down to two matches: Gerina Piller vs. Caroline Masson and Angela Stanford vs. Suzann Pettersen. Piller was 2 UP with two to play but Masson parred the 17th to cut the lead to one heading to 18. With Masson facing a 10-foot birdie putt, Piller had to get up and down from the thick rough in order to have a chance to win the match. Masson missed her birdie putt and Piller sank the biggest putt of her career and was swarmed by her teammates on the 18th green in celebration.
Stanford was all square with Pettersen through 14 but birdies on 15 and 16 gave her a 2 UP lead with two to play. Knowing that the U.S. couldn’t afford a split, Stanford clinched the victory with a par and halved hole on No. 17 for the 2&1 win.
There was a little extra motivation for the Americans in their comeback following some controversy early Sunday morning at the conclusion of the Saturday afternoon four-ball matches. Three matches had to finish on Sunday. The Americans won one of the first two and appeared to have a chance to gain at least another half point in the final four-ball match between Brittany Lincicome & Alison Lee and Suzann Pettersen and Hull. But with the match all square on the 17th, Lee missed a birdie putt that would have won the hole and when she picked up the 1 ½ footer that remained for par, the Europeans stated that they had not conceded the putt although Lee had thought she heard them do so. The Europeans were then granted the hole and went 1 UP into the 18th and went on to win the critical point.
Lee went out in the fifth singles match and got a bit of redemption herself with a 3&1 win over Gwladys Nocera. Lee, who was the only rookie on either team this week, played like a season-veteran in the afternoon after rallying from a 2-Down deficit early on and rattled off three consecutive birdies on Nos. 5-7 and never looked back. She won three more holes on the back nine including the 17th after Nocera hit her approach shot in the water. Lee said the win helped soothed 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.”
THE MOMENTUM CHANGER
When all was said and done, there was nothing bigger than what happened in the sixth singles match of Gerina Piller vs. Caroline Masson. Piller made a mess of a 2-UP lead with three holes to play, making par at the par-5 16th to halve and then bogeying the 17th to trim her lead to just one entering the 18th with the entire Solheim Cup on the line. The Europeans would retain the Cup with a halved point and Caroline Masson put the pressure on Piller by hitting her hybrid to 10 feet from the hole at the 18th. When Piller dumped her 154-yard second shot into the face of the front greenside bunker, leaving a nearly impossible up and down, the Americans looked finished. But Piller managed to put her chip to 10 feet past the hole. Masson’s birdie try raced past the right edge of the hole, setting up the putt of a lifetime. Piller buried it and the Americans raced onto the green, knowing that they needed just three points to close it out and led each of the last three matches remaining on the golf course.
“It’s pretty surreal. I should have made a par on the last hole and shut it out early, but those things happen. 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.” -Gerina Piller
Sunday served as simply of a reminder of just how good Michelle Wie can be when fully healthy. The 2014 U.S. Women’s Open winner was on fire early in her match with Caroline Hedwall, pouring in birdies on five of the first six holes to storm out to an early lead. Wie was simply dominant throughout her match Sunday with the 2013 European Solheim Cup star in Hedwall, closing out 6&4 to give the Americans a much needed point late in the day as the second to last group off. Wie’s golf was equally spectacular as the American’s comeback, pouring in birdies on 8 of 14 holes Sunday. 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.
THE GRUDGE MATCH
It was only fitting that the Solheim Cup largely came down to the match with the most vitriol involved – the dramatic Suzann Pettersen vs. Angela Stanford match on the heels of the biggest dispute in Solheim Cup history. Stanford’s 2&1 victory kept the American’s hopes of the biggest come-from-behind victory alive and served as redemption for the Texan who had not earned a single point in her last nine Solheim Cup matches. Stanford stormed out to a 3-UP lead through six holes, but in typical Pettersen fashion, she made a comeback and tied it up at the 14th. Stanford, who was 0-2 on the week, saved her best for when it mattered most with back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th holes. With Stanford dormie with two to play, both players hit their approach shots onto the back fringe of the green and failed to convert their birdies putts. Pettersen conceded Stanford’s par putt that was left a fraction short and the halved hole gave Stanford the 2&1 victory and pulled the American’s even at 13.5-13.5 overall.
“That’s awesome. 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.”-Angela Stanford
It seemed only fitting that Paula Creamer, the player who endured more scrutiny than any other coming in as a captain’s pick by Juli Inkster, got both the first and last point of the 2015 Solheim Cup. Playing in the last match of the day, Creamer easily beat Sandra Gal, who entered singles with a 2-0-1 record for the week. Creamer and Gal were all square through five holes, but Creamer poured in three consecutive birdies from the sixth through the eighth to take a 3-UP lead. She poured on two more birdies on the back nine to put away Gal 4&3 and gave the Americans their clinching point for the 14.5-13.5 victory. Creamer is now 4-2 in singles play for her career and her Sunday victory came as the ultimate redemption for a brutal Saturday morning loss in which her and Morgan Pressel lost a 4-UP lead with seven holes to play. It also serves as validation that Creamer was the correct pick for Captain Juli Inkster despite four consecutive missed cuts on Tour entering this week. This is the fourth time Creamer has been on a victories American team.
“It’s funny how it works out that way. Being in the anchor spot, you know there’s going to be some pressure put on you. Did I know it was going to be to win? I’ll take it, yes.” -Paula Creamer
NUMBERS TO KNOW
1 – The one-point difference, 14.5 – 13.5, is the narrowest margin in Solheim Cup history.
3.5 – Gerina Piller posted a 3-0-1 record for the week and was the star for the Americans throughout the week.
4 – The United States entered singles play with a four-point deficit, completing the largest comeback in Solheim Cup history.
4 – In Carlota Ciganda and Lexi Thompson’s match, both made birdie on the four of their first six holes and were still all square through six. Despite seven birdies a piece, the match was halved.
4 – This is the fourth time the Americans have entered singles play trailing and come-from-behind for victory. In a 2009 American win, the two teams were tied entering singles play. Europe has never had a come-from-behind victory during singles play.
7 – Cristie Kerr found herself down three to Charley Hull through four holes when she reeled off a birdie on eight of the next nine holes, including a streak of seven consecutive birdies from holes 7-13 to take control of the match.
8 – Gerina Piller poured it on Sunday with nine birdies through 16 holes of singles play when she closed out Caroline Masson 3&2.
10 – 10 feet separated Europe from putting their hands on their third consecutive Solheim Cup. Instead, Gerina Piller holed the 10 foot par putt at the 18th, winning her match and ensuring the Americans on the golf course could finish the job for the American contingent.