Europe overcome controversial Nelly Korda ball to stake early lead at Solheim Cup

Defending champion Europe spent the run-up to the Solheim Cup doing what it could to feed the narrative that it came to Inverness as the underdog.

Irelands' Leona Maguire puts down clutch putts to silences pro-American crowd

Nelly Korda of Team USA reacts after missing a putt on the thirteenth hole during afternoon fourball in the 2021 Solheim Cup at Inverness Club. (Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

Defending champion Europe spent the run-up to the Solheim Cup doing what it could to feed the narrative that it came to Inverness as the underdog.

The Americans were deeper. Maybe more talented. And with travel from across the Atlantic restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Europeans knew support would be limited at best. That's if it existed at all.

None of it mattered. Not with a fearless rookie spending the morning going head-to-head with the top player in the world and the afternoon helping Europe seal its best-ever Day 1 in the 31-year history of the event.

Leona Maguire, the first Irish player to make the Solheim Cup, made a series of clutch putts during the alternate-shot session to help her and teammate Mel Reid edge world No. 1 and Olympic champion Nelly Korda and older sister Jessica 1 up.

The 26-year-old then worked with Georgia Hall to earn a 1-up win over Yealimi Noh and Brittany Altomare in four-ball as Europe took a 5 1/2-2 1/2 lead.

"Trying to stay as calm as possible," the even-keeled Maguire said. "Soak it all in. It's been good."

Really, really good

Europe rode a dominant performance in alternate shot — where it captured 3 1/2 of a possible four points — to tie the biggest lead after one day in the 17 editions of the Solheim Cup. The Americans went up by three after the opening matches in both 1998 and 2017 on their way to comfortable victories.

Despite playing in front of a decidedly pro-U.S. crowd, Europe hardly looked intimidated by the stakes or the stage, hanging tough on a taut day in which seven of the eight matches made it all the way to the 18th green.

"We didn't hear too many European cheers, all USA, but I'm quite adept at ignoring them now, so it's not too bad," Hall said. "We've just got a job to do."

A job Europe certainly looks like it's up for as it tries to win on U.S. soil for just the second time.

Controversial ruling 

Europe's advantage could potentially have been even bigger if not for an inadvertent rules violation by Madelene Sagstrom during her and teammate Nanna Koerstz Madsen's four-ball match against Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing.

The teams were all square at the par-5 13th when Korda sent a 20-foot eagle putt curling right to left toward the hole. It hung on the lip as Korda dropped to her knees in exasperation. Sagstrom walked over and picked Korda's ball up quickly to concede the tap-in birdie.

Took quickly, as it turned out.

Rules officials determined Sagstrom didn't wait the required 10 seconds before grabbing Korda's ball, making Korda's eagle putt good, a decision that put the Americans in front and opened the door for them to win 1 up.

"You don't want to win a hole like that," Korda said. "I got off the green, and we kind of were talking, and [the rules official] already came up to us and was like, `I'm calling it in, I want to check it out.' We didn't even have a say honestly."

Leona Maguire of Team Europe pumps her fist after making a putt on the eleventh hole. (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

Sagstrom allowed she violated the rule, though she questioned whether Korda's ball was as close to going in as the officials believed it was.

"I personally don't agree with the decision with the ball being on the edge," Sagstrom said. "But I didn't follow the 10-second rule, so it sucks right now because I feel like I let my team down."

It was one of the few wayward moments on a day that largely belonged to blue-and-white clad visitors.

Reid and Maguire were practically strangers when they arrived in northwest Ohio. They bonded over the course of three practice days and looked like they'd been together for years while they stared down the Korda sisters.

Nelly Korda, centre left, and Jessica Korda of Team USA look on as Leona Maguire of Team Europe walks on the tenth green. (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

The Kordas went unbeaten in foursomes at Gleneagles in 2019 but never seemed to get it going, even with former Masters champion Bubba Watson tagging along in their group as a volunteer assistant for U.S. captain Pat Hurst.

Reid and Maguire jumped in front when the Kordas made a mess of the par-4 fourth. It only got worse on the par-4 sixth when both Kordas saw their respective pitches onto the elevated green roll back down the hill into the rough.

The sisters managed just three birdies the entire round — two of which Reid and Maguire matched — and could only watch as Maguire calmly drilled a 3-footer on 18 to clinch the point for Europe.

Hosts left staggered

"We just couldn't get into a groove," Jessica Korda said. "It's just tough, but we came back and gave it our best. But Leona made everything coming in, and it's tough to kind of do anything when they make no mistakes."

There were few to go around by the Europeans. Matilda Castren and seven-time Solheim Cup veteran Anna Nordqvist dropped Mina Harigae and Lexi Thompson 4 and 3 in four-ball, the lone blowout of the day.

Lizette Salas salvaged a point for the U.S. in four-ball when she made a 7-foot birdie on the 18th to give her and Jennifer Kupcho a 1-up win over Carlota Ciganda and Sophia Popov.

Salas pumped her fist in celebration, one of the displays of emotion by the Americans. Then again, there wasn't much to cheer about as the Europeans put on a brilliant display that staggered the hosts.

"They're playing fine," Hurst said of her team. "It could have gone either way. I don't want them to be down on themselves."

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