Europe has a new hero in Leona Maguire. The world No. 43 thrived as she flew under the radar ahead of the biennial Solheim Cup clash between reigning champions and Team USA, and then the Irishwoman surge into the limelight.
The Americans — on home soil — were tipped to wrest the trophy back from a European team that triumphed at Gleneagles back in 2019. The home team boasted world No. 1 and Olympic champion Nelly Korda as the poster girl leading a burgeoning pool of American talent.
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But they failed to factor in a steely Maguire and her fellow rookie, Matilda Castren, who helped Europe to a famous 15-13 victory, with Maguire picking up a record 4.5 points from her five matches over three gruelling days at the Inverness Club.
Finland’s world No. 46 Castren was ice-cool as she recovered from a bunker to get up and down to secure the 1-up victory over American Lizette Salas for the point that ensured Europe would retain the trophy.
But Maguire would go home with the majority of the plaudits thanks to her admirable focus in front of a baying crowd, which sometimes overstepped the line in terms of golfing etiquette — roaring on the Americans and heckling the Europeans.
Maguire and her more experienced teammates managed to mostly zone out the noise and stay in the zone themselves, holding their nerve to get over the line in a competition they led from Day 1 but were pegged back briefly during Day 2’s foursome and fourball matches,
The Europeans needed five points from the 12 singles matches on Monday to reach the magic 14 and retain the trophy for only the second time.
Ireland’s Maguire — like Castren, the first woman from her country to play in the Solheim Cup — fittingly delivered Europe’s first point of the day with a simply astounding display in her dominant 5&4 victory over Jennifer Kupcho.
“Just so proud of getting 4.5 points on the board for Europe,” said Maguire, who became only the third player to earn 4.5 points or more in Solheim Cup history.
“I just tried to get off to a really good start and that eagle on the second — couldn’t have started any better than that. Made birdie on six, which is a hole I haven’t played well all week.
“I just wanted to put pressure on Jen from the get-go,” she added after sealing an early victory with a par at the 14th hole.
To a woman — almost — everyone delivered for Europe. Madelene Sagstrom, Maguire and Celine Boutier settled the nerves during the singles on Monday and Castren saw them home on a day of jangling nerves for some and steely determination from others.
Only Sophia Popov, the 2019 British Open champion, could not get on the board but thanks to Maguire, Team Europe had enough grit to take the trophy home.
Following on from five majors and a marvellous Tokyo Olympics competition in a packed 2021 schedule hindered by delays to events due to the coronavirus, the Solheim Cup has further proved how far the women’s game has come and is now a joy to watch.
Castren knew the stakes were high when she took a 1-up lead to the final hole against Salas, and she was elated after getting the job done.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” she said. “Right now I’m shaking. I was looking at the scoreboard, and I knew it was going to be an important putt. We read it perfectly and it went in. I’m just so happy now.”
This was an event well worth waiting for.