With spirit of captain, Europe fights back at Solheim

With spirit of captain, Europe fights back at Solheim
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CASARES, Spain – Show no mercy.

That’s what European Solheim Cup captain Suzann Pettersen told the team – ironically – after they got boatraced in the opening session here at Finca Cortesin.

Show no mercy, she said, even after the Americans raced out to a perfect start for the first time in their history.

Show no mercy even after Europe’s much-hyped duo of Maja Stark and Linn Grant lost to start and then its anchor pairing shot a combined 7 over.

Show no mercy even after it appeared that Pettersen’s boastful talk about compiling the strongest European roster to date may have backfired, may have applied too much pressure onto a team trying to win three consecutive cups for the first time.

But Pettersen knew their triggers. She knew this was no longer the group of plucky underdogs fighting to protect the reputation of the Ladies European Tour. These are major champions, consistent LPGA winners, future world No. 1s. They’re prideful. Hungry. Unflappable.

“I don’t think we did an awful lot wrong this morning,” Leona Maguire said. “So just go out and fight in the afternoon and show what we’re capable of.”

And so, one by one late Friday afternoon, the Europeans climbed back into this Solheim Cup, with some of their most unlikely characters providing the dramatics.

Emily Pedersen, at No. 122 in the world the lowest-ranked player in the competition, made a hole-in-one on the 12th hole to spark a back-nine rally.

Pedersen hits second-ever Solheim Cup ace

Emily Kristine Pedersen lands her tee shot at the perfect spot on the 12th green for it to roll into the cup for the second hole-in-one in Solheim Cup history.

Gemma Dryburgh pitched in for birdie on the 16th hole to spoil superstar Rose Zhang’s cup debut.

Playing in front of her home fans, so amped-up that Pettersen joked she might need a leash, Carlota Ciganda steadied her nerves with an opening-hole birdie and then shot 4 under on a difficult afternoon when the wind gusted to 25 mph.

And then there was one of the key moments of the turnaround: After spinning her third shot off the front of the 18th green, Maguire chipped in for birdie, leaping into the air – if only slightly – in a rare display of emotion for the typically stoic Irishwoman.

“She’s made for that,” Pettersen said.

Europe won the afternoon best-ball, 3-1, after losing foursomes, 4-0.

Once the celebration died down, Maguire asked her captain, one of the most storied Solheim Cuppers in history, “How would you have done it?”

“Just the same,” Pettersen replied, as stone-cold as ever.

Maguire’s hole-out became even more significant with what happened next, when Lexi Thompson, greenside in two shots, stabbed at her ball in the thick Bermuda, ricocheting her chip off the slope and farther away from the green.

The ugly shot led to a disappointing par and prompted a few chuckles from the spectators.

Hearing them, American Megan Khang shot back: “Hey, that’s rude!”

But so was this European comeback.

The home team captured the fourball session, 3-1, and suddenly there’s no longer any concern about the Europeans facing their largest Day 1 deficit ever.

Instead, it’s 5-3 – and with 20 total points still to earn.

“You’ve just got to try to encourage them,” Pettersen said. “I told them: ‘There’s several ways to the top. Sometimes it doesn’t always go your way. Sometimes it works straight away. But when you get knocked over, you stand up, and you fight the next match.’”

The European team does still have a bit of history to erase, if it’s going to come all the way back to complete the three-peat: The U.S. team has never lost after holding the lead after any of the team sessions. Here, the Americans have been ahead from the start.

“We were probably a hole-in-one and a chip-in from being 6-2,” U.S. captain Stacy Lewis said. “I mean, it was a really good day for us.”

But now, at least, the European deficit is manageable. There’s still much to sort through. Caroline Hedwall will not have played in the first three sessions. Charley Hull, the world No. 10 and one of Europe’s best players, struggled mightily on Friday morning and has now been benched for two in a row. Georgia Hall and Leona Maguire each logged all 36 holes on a physically demanding track.

Those are all concerns to mull over tonight, of course. Right now, Pettersen was savoring an afternoon comeback, appreciating her team’s grit and looking ahead to three more sessions.

“We’re not even halfway there,” Pettersen said, “and we’re still right in it.”

The nightmare start all but forgotten.

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