Suzann Pettersen leads charge
PARKER, Colo. -- Asked about it repeatedly this week, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen shrugged off the idea that she needed to take any added leadership role for Europe’s Solheim Cup team.
Even though it’s the first time in Solheim history England’s Laura Davies isn’t on the team? Nah, Pettersen said. After all, she pointed out, she wasn’t the oldest player on the squad; that’s 43-year-old Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
“I don’t really look at it any different than I used to,” said Pettersen, 32. “This is my seventh [Solheim team], and it’s by far the best part of my career to be part of these teams.”
Pettersen was selling herself short, though. The world’s No. 3-ranked player clearly is the leader among players for Europe, both emotionally and with her experience. Both came into play Friday as Pettersen won two matches at Colorado Golf Club, a big part of giving Europe a 5-3 lead after Day 1.
“This competition never gets old,” said Pettersen, who now has 16-1/2 career points in Solheim play, trailing only Davies (25) and Annika Sorenstam (24). “It brings out the best in you.”
Some folks may be surprised how the first day went. After all, the Americans appeared to be the stronger, more experienced team. But Europe, which is defending the Solheim Cup and also trying to win it on U.S. soil for the first time, knew that getting out to a good start was imperative. And the Euros did just that.
In the morning foursomes (alternate-shot) matches, Europe won 3-1, as Pettersen teamed with Spain’s Beatriz Recari for a 2 and 1 victory against Texans Angela Stanford and Brittany Lang.
Pettersen was in the second group out in the morning, and then the first group in the afternoon for four-ball. In that format, also known as best-ball, Pettersen once again showed her best.
She was playing with Carlota Ciganda, a 23-year-old Solheim rookie from Spain who didn’t play in the morning and for much of the afternoon might as well not have been. Pettersen was flat-out carrying the duo, as one might expect from a player who’s won 11 times on the LPGA Tour.
But because Pettersen was so steady, Ciganda was occasionally able to get it together, including on the oddest hole of the entire day, No. 15. There, Ciganda hit into the hazard, and it took rules officials an eternity to figure out where she should take her drop. As it turned out, it was later determined they made the wrong ruling.
The U.S. pair of Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson waited … and waited … and waited while the determination was made, with Lewis especially upset as she questioned the officials. Finally, a half-hour later, Ciganda had taken her drop and was ready to hit her third shot.
As poorly as Ciganda was playing, it seemed the least-likely scenario that she would be the one to halve the hole for Europe. But, rather astonishingly, she sank a long par putt from off the fringe, putting the pressure on Lewis or Thompson to try to get a birdie for the win. And neither could.
Hours later, captain Meg Mallon said the Americans were not happy with how long the ruling took, that it was wrong, and that it disrupted their momentum.
That pretty amazing scramble for par was about as much as Ciganda had in her for her first Solheim match. It still came down to Pettersen needing to sink about a 3-footer for par on No. 18 to secure the point for Europe, 1 up. And, of course, she did that.
Pettersen wasn’t the only European player to collect two points, though; so did Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, who is making her second Solheim appearance. She won in the morning’s first match out, with fellow Swede Anna Nordqvist.
And in the afternoon, Europe won with the “Sweet Caroline” pairing of Hedwall and Caroline Masson of Germany.
“It’s been a great day,” said Hedwall, a 24-year-old still looking for her first LPGA Tour victory. “We played really well.”
For the Americans, Michelle Wie helped provide a lift in the afternoon after not playing in the morning session. You’ll hear a lot of chatter about how “controversial” a captain’s pick Wie was, but that’s overstating the case. Mallon didn’t have a lot of compelling choices other than Wie, and the 23-year-old Hawaiian had proven to be a good Solheim Cup player in her two previous appearances.
She continued that Friday, teaming with Cristie Kerr for a 2 and 1 victory against Matthew and England’s 17-year-old Charley Hull. Among Wie’s big shots in the victory was a chip-in for birdie on No. 13. After barely missing a few putts before that, Wie was relieved.
“It was a huge momentum swing there,” Wie said. “I just needed one to [actually] go in. I love match play, I love Solheim, I love my country and I love Cristie Kerr. We needed that point, and it feels great.”
Kerr was disappointed in her morning match, a 2 and 1 loss with Paula Creamer to Spain’s Azahara Munoz and France’s Karine Icher. Kerr had never previously lost when paired with Creamer. She was happy to bounce back with Wie. They are now 3-1 when paired together.
“With altitude, and it’s a hilly course, I actually felt pretty good today,” said Kerr, 35. “It’s taken me three or four days to get used to [the altitude.] It’s tough. I’m going to sleep well tonight.”
Also getting a victory for the Americans in four-ball were Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome, who defeated Nordqvist and Italy’s Giulia Sergas 4 and 3. “Brittany Squared” are two of the more pleasant-tempered players on the tour.
“We’re so laid-back, easy-going -- cracking jokes and singing country songs out there on the fairway,” Lincicome said. “It was really light out there today.”
The “light” from the morning session for the Americans came from Morgan Pressel and Solheim rookie Jessica Korda, who provided the only U.S. point in foursomes with their 3 and 2 win over Matthew and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
The Americans said they weren’t flustered by trailing Friday, but it’s worth pointing out that the team that has led after Day 1 has won nine times in the event’s 12-competition history.
Pettersen, after her successful Friday, will be busy Saturday morning as she’ll team with Recari again in foursomes. Will she play five matches in this Solheim Cup?
Before the competition started, she said she was prepared to do that. And the way she played Friday, the Europeans might need her to go the distance.