The biggest event in ladies’ golf got underway on the morning of Friday 23 September. Day one of the Solheim Cup, taking place for the first time in Ireland, would be an enthralling affair, as the home European side looked to reclaim the trophy they have not held since 2003. Jack Nickalus’ course at the scenic Killeen Castle is the venue for this year’s tournament, with many famous faces in the world of ladies’ golf taking to the course in the contest of continents.
With the teams four the morning foursomes selected the previous evening, European captain and Solheim Cup veteran, Alison Nicholas had come under some criticism for perhaps not leading with her strongest players. Nonetheless the pairings which had been chosen included an intriguing mix of youth and experience, with both teams looking to discover their perfect formula for success in this, the 12th edition of the Solheim Cup.
The first match saw Europeans Maria Hjorth and Anna Nordqvist pitted against experienced participant Christie Kerr and Hawaiian prodigy Michelle Wie. The second match featured rising star Melissa Reid facing off against USA veteran Paula Creamer. Debutante and 2010 LPGA Rookie of the Year, Azahara Munoz, was the star of the third encounter, with a host of familiar faces in Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson tackling the USA’s Juli Inkster and Brittany Lang, in the final matchup of the morning.
With both sides looking to get off to the all-important good start and build momentum, the USA took the initiative in first two matches, with Europe slowly gaining the lead in the latter games. Despite some questionable driving from Wie in the first game, Europe could never get in front, and Wie and Kerr ran out eventual winners on the 17th hole, 2&1. As Melissa Reid and Karen Stupples tackled the Trojan task of beating Creamer and Britanny Lincicome in the second match, they were to find their task too tough to handle: despite leading by two holes for most of the session, they struggled in the last few holes and ultimately their round imploded on the last with a dreadful double bogey. This was a terrible early setback for the home side, who had displayed some excellent golf in their game, with the highlight being a sublime approach shot by Melissa Reid on the 12th.
Europe dominated the third game quite effectively, as Munoz and Catriona Matthew battled their way to 3-up, before closing out the game on the 16th, 3&2. The final game fluctuated between scores of all square and a narrow 1-up lead for Europe. The Scandinavian pair took the match on the final hole with a birdie on the par-4 18th.
At the interval of the day, both sides shared the points equally, 2 each: a good strong start from both teams, with neither getting a vital early upper hand.
Michelle Wie in the pre-match practice
As the wind picked up for the afternoon four-balls, the announcement came through, that Britons Reid and Laura Davies, the only player to have competed in every Solheim Cup to date, would be up first against Creamer and Morgan Pressel, who sank the winning putt in 2009’s Cup at Rich Harvest Farms. Davies received rapturous applause on the first tee; a true fan’s favourite among a loyal and respectful gallery. However this did not help the pair initially, as they found themselves 1 down at the turn and not looking very potent in attack. Creamer had an excellent round, posting 4 birdies in the front 9, but Davies and Reid fought back in what was quickly becoming the best match of the day. Under pressure, Reid levelled affairs with an astounding putt at the 10th, and the all-English pair battled hard to take the game all the way to the final hole. This match, which featured 4 of the top professionals in the LPGA, was decided in dramatic style by a monstrous birdie putt from Pressel. Reid had a chance to half the hole, but agonisingly lipped out, conceding the point.
Christina Kim and Ryann O’Toole took up arms for the USA in the second match and established a quick lead against Catriona Matthew and German first-timer Sandra Gal in the second session. They were pegged back by their European counterparts by the turn and the match became a close affair throughout. All participants played superbly in their attempt to keep their side going, but ultimately it was to be the first halved game of the tournament, as all competitors missed putts on the last hole.
Gustafson and rookie Caroline Hedwall made short work of a Lincicome and Vicky Hurst in the third game of the evening. Lincicome, perhaps feeling the effects of a tense earlier match played second fiddle to captain’s pick Hurst, who played well in the face of stiff opposition. Despite a senior performance from Hurst, Europe established a 2 shot lead early on and went on to win by an unassailable 5 shots.
In the final contest, Pettersen teamed up with Nordqvist against Wie and Kerr, who found themselves together for the second time today. Again, the precocious Wie looked off colour, contributing little in comparison to Christie Kerr. The Scandinavian pair amassed a solid lead of 3-up at the halfway point, only to see it effectively eroded by the Americans, who were finally starting to play as expected. However, they hung on to take the match by two holes.
At the end of day one, the mass of people who filled the galleries will be very happy with what they saw: top quality golf played by both sides, a diamond showing from Europe star Melissa Reid and a great start to the 12th Solheim Cup. Europe will be disappointed with the fact that they were up in all 4 four-balls at one stage and didn’t capitalise, but nonetheless will be pleased with a lead on day one. Europe lead 4.5 to 3.5 going into day two.
By Conor Bates