Europe takes lead over U.S. at Solheim Cup
Americans have never lost the tournament on home turf
One player threw up on the first hole. A top rules official allowed a European player to drop in the wrong spot at a critical juncture in the match. The top-ranked American lost both her matches. Michelle Wie, a disputed captain's pick, turned out to be a bright spot.
The Solheim Cup had just about everything Friday, including one big development for the Europeans.
They had the lead.
With a little help from a bad ruling, Europe took a step toward winning for the first time on the road. Suzann Pettersen and Caroline Hedwall won two matches, and Carlota Ciganda took advantage of the wrong drop by making a 15-foot par putt to halve the 15th hole after a ruling that took as long as a halftime show at the Super Bowl.
The ruling happened in the most pivotal fourballs match in the afternoon, amid American complaints that it stopped all momentum.
Stacy Lewis, the No. 2 player in the world, and rookie Lexi Thompson were poised to go 1-up against Pettersen and Ciganda, both of whom where in the hazard. Pure chaos followed for the next 30 minutes, so long that fans were chanting, "While we're young" from the grandstands.
Ciganda blocked her approach to the par 5 into an area marked a lateral water hazard. Lewis first was upset that the official used a laser to measure off the distance for Ciganda's drop under Rule 26-1-c, which she felt gave the Spaniard the yardage.
That wasn't the problem. After the measurement, LPGA official Brad Alexander was called in for a second opinion. Ciganda could have dropped on either side of the hazard, but Alexander incorrectly told her she go back on a line as far as she wanted. Ciganda went back 40 yards for a better look at the green and hit into 15 feet.
Thompson, just short of the green in two, hit a poor chip and missed her 18-foot birdie putt. Lewis missed her putt. And then Ciganda knocked in her putt for a par. One hole later, Thompson three-putted for par and Pettersen holed a 7-foot birdie for a 1-up lead, and Europe was on its way.
Alexander took the blame, though because it was an official ruling, it could not be overturned.
What really bugged U.S. captain Meg Mallon was how long it took.
It was the first of four matches. The Americans had momentum on its side in the second match, with Gerina Piller and Angela Stanford making a third straight birdie to cut their deficit to one hole. They waited in the fairway. The Americans were in control of the two matches behind them.
It looked as if the Americans might have a chance to dig out of a 3-1 deficit from morning foursomes and end the day in a tie.
"Obviously, I'm not happy about it," Mallon said. "The thing I'm most unhappy about is that it ... took about 25 minutes for this to happen. And from our perspective the momentum, which was coming in our favour at that point in time, obviously had stopped. ... People make mistakes in rulings. That's not my issue. We have four matches out there and we have officials with every group, and it shouldn't take that long for something like that to happen."
She still had to explain all this to her team, which left an hour earlier to regroup at the hotel.
Tough day all around
Lewis left on a bad note. She was seen arguing with the original official while demanding an explanation, at one point throwing her hands in the air.
"I was very frustrated by the situation," Lewis said. "I think there were a lot of things that went wrong within the ruling. You look at the length of time. It killed the momentum in our match and behind us."
It was a tough day for Lewis, coming off a Women's British Open title at St. Andrews, whose two losses dropped her Solheim Cup record to 1-5.
Lewis struggled with the pace of lightning fast greens on the front nine as she and Lizette Salas fell too far behind to catch up in morning foursomes. Lewis played with another rookie, Thompson, who twice squandered good birdie chances late in the fourballs.
"She was upset about the day, because actually she was starting to turn her game around as well at that time," Mallon said. "So that's my job to go back and get her refocused for tomorrow, which I'm sure she's already there. She's a very bright person and knows that it's in her best interests to play her best golf tomorrow."
Just be careful what Jessica Korda eats for breakfast.
Never mind that Korda, a 20-year-old rookie, and Morgan Pressel delivered the lone American point in morning foursomes. After what she called a "very scary" opening tee shot with all the nerves and cheering, Korda was eating a banana down the first fairway when she lost her breakfast — but not her game.
She walked over the side of the fairway and threw up, and word spread quickly across the expansive course, giving her teammates a moment of levity.
"After I got past the first hole, I was pretty OK," said Korda, whose 7-foot par putt to halve the 16th hole ended the match.
Still, the opening day belonged to Europe.
Pettersen, playing in her seventh Solheim Cup, drilled a fairway metal into 20 feet on the 16th hole that set up Beatriz Recari for the eagle putt to take charge in a foursomes match. In the afternoon, it was Pettersen's 7-foot birdie putt on the 16th — after Thompson three-putted for par — that gave Europe the lead.
Hedwall was part of what European captain Liselotte Neumann called her "Swedish Vikings" to lead off the warm, sunny opening session south of Denver. Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist finished the front nine with two birdies to build a 3-up lead, and they never let Lewis and Salas any closer.
The day was not a total loss for Mallon's squad.
She was scrutinized for taking Wie as a captain's pick. Wie's superb short game combined with Cristie Kerr making big putts early as they disposed of Catriona Matthew and 17-year-old Charley Hull, 2 and 1, in the final match. The Americans picked up another point in the afternoon behind Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome, with Lang holing a bunker shot on the 14th hole to give her side control of the match.
Europe also had the lead after the opening day two years ago in Ireland, and it went on to win the Solheim Cup. This is the largest lead it has had on Friday since 5-3 at Crooked Stick in 2005. The Americans came back to win, and still have never lost the cup on home soil.
That might be tested this week in Colorado.