The 18th Solheim Cup is done and dusted, and for the first time in its history, both teams finished on 14 points. But the cup, owing to Europe’s victory in Ohio at Inverness Club two years ago, will remain on European soil. Tron, Randy and Neil ventured over to Finca Cortesin Golf Club along Spain’s Costa del Sol to take in the spectacle, their first time attending a European Solheim (after being in Ohio for the last one). What follows is a hodgepodge of thoughts, musings, and takeaways they’ve brought back across the pond with them…
Improbability (written by TC)
In an era when golf is being optimized, every statistic sliced and diced, youth and power emphasized, and probabilities quantified and requantified over the course of a round, a performance like the one we witnessed from Caroline Hedwall on Sunday afternoon was both miraculous and fleeting. The 34-year-old veteran was a surprise captain’s pick and a question mark in the eyes of many coming into the week. After a lean year in 2021 on the Ladies European Tour, Hedwall captured the season-ending Andalucia Open de Espana (played just up the road from Finca Cortesin) for her first victory since 2018, and then played solid, if unspectacular golf into 2023.
Fast forward to Finca Cortesin - consider that Hedwall arrived having carded just three rounds in the 60s in her previous 18 tournament rounds. Then consider that Hedwall sat the first three sessions. The pick from Pettersen felt curious when it was announced, and even more so through midday Saturday. Hedwall partnered with fellow Swede Anna Nordqvist in the fourball session on Saturday afternoon. After some good play from Hedwall on the front nine, they frittered away a 2 up lead through 10 holes and lost 2 down to the American duo of Cheyenne Knight and Angel Yin. Fast forwarding to Sunday, through the first twelve holes of Hedwall’s match against Ally Ewing on Sunday, it appeared to be more of the same. Going out in the middle of the session, Hedwall trailed early in the match and arrived to the 13th tee 3 down with 6 holes to play. Then the improbable happened.
Birdie on 13. Birdie on 14. Draining long birdie putts and doing so with emphatic reactions that catalyzed the crowd. Both Ewing and Hedwall parred the difficult 15th hole, though Hedwall nearly scared a birdie putt in there. 1 down with three to play and Randy and I turned to each other with that look that said “what if???” Then ‘what if’ happened on 16, in the midst of Georgia Hall and Gemma Dryburgh both coughing up leads and notching only half points. Hedwall drained a 15-foot birdie putt to pull that match to all square and catalyze the crowd in front of one of the biggest grandstands on the course. All around her things kept deteriorating, with Ciganda showing signs of crumbling after a shank on 15 and Angel Yin shutting the door on Celine Boutier to take the US to a 13-11 lead. Randy and I were struggling to contain ourselves, and not even as Euro fans, but rather as fans of golf and competition. What we were witnessing was breaking the probability models and a sign that crazy shit still happens.
Moving onward to the tucked pin on 17, Hedwall managed to stuff one to ten feet and then buried the putt. 1 up going into 18! “My gosh, this can’t possibly continue,” we thought. Both players hit great drives on the par five 18th, avoiding the bunker up the left and earning a look at the green in two. Ally Ewing put her second shot in the green-side bunker - not a bad place to be to the back pin. Hedwall, who’d put a charge into her drive and was significantly closer than Ewing, ripped a high draw over the huge swales short right of the green, landed on the front edge and rolled to the middle of the green, setting up an easy two-putt for birdie. Ewing, knowing she likely needed to hole the bunker shot to win the hole, caught a lot of ball and hit it over the green and it was over and Europe was squarely back in it, with 12 points on the board and Carlota and Maja Stark’s matches trending positively to get to at least 14.
For anyone to do what Hedwall did - going from 3 down to a 2 up victory in a six-hole stretch - would be improbable. For Caroline Hedwall to do so and the way she did it, without Ally Ewing completely collapsing, made it all the more remarkable. It was among the most improbable things I’ve ever seen in golf. It’s why they hit the shots, instead of the #databoys just simulating these things, as I sometimes feel they’d rather do. It all felt exceedingly rare, that in 2023 a captain would pick someone without the statistical profile, and then in the face of injuries on the team and surprises stuck to your guns and didn’t play her until Saturday afternoon to ensure she was rested for Sunday. Then, Hedwall went out and did what she did to pay off all that belief and trust.
There was something unquantifiable that Suzann saw inside her pick, that the models weren’t picking up, and often those hunches don’t work out and the eye test and emphasis on heart don’t pan out. But when it does, it’s magical.
The Aura of Suzann Pettersen (written by Randy)
Sunday night, during the euphoric Team Europe press conference, I donned my big-J journalist hat and asked Maja Stark if she could speak about the emotions of her week and the experience in general. Note: this was Maja’s first Solheim Cup. She’d gone 2-1-1 across four sessions and capped it by taking down current US Open champion Allisen Corpuz in a crucial singles match late Sunday to set the stage for Carlota Ciganda’s theatrics. She answered, saying:
“I've never had so much fun in my life, and I'm so happy to be able to win this for Suzann. I don't think there's anyone really in the world that I get that star struck over, but I'm still star struck, even after a week of hanging out. I can't believe it.
Then I just felt like -- I hoped the whole way that the pressure would make me better, and I think it did. It's such a nice feeling to actually hit those crucial shots at the end. And yeah, I'm just so happy, and I've had so much fun with the team. It's probably the best experience of my life.”
I love this answer. I mean, how can you not? What an incredible Solheim experience! But it was what she said specifically about her captain, Suzann Pettersen, that struck a chord in me.
All week I had marveled at Pettersen’s aura, for lack of a better word. Of any player, captain, vice captain, it was Pettersen, in my opinion, whose simple presence commanded my attention the most. Whose energy most consistently exerted a gravitational pull on my interest. She has that elusive, intangible ‘It’ factor in spades. A classic alpha personality, in the way psychologists define the term–e.g. strong sense of self, determination, a conviction in beliefs, ambition and desire to work hard, etc.
But it’s not simply possessing those attributes that results in the aura around Pettersen. Because let’s face it, every member of Team Europe and Team USA has ample amounts of determination, ambition, sense of self and hard work – or they wouldn’t be in Spain. It’s something in the mysterious alchemy of Pettersen’s blend of characteristics that sets her apart from everybody else, at least in my eyes. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if we even have the words or the ability to figure it out—but I’m certain it’s an aura. Maja Stark felt it this week, and it was exciting for me to be in the midst of it as well.
Killer In Training (written by TC)
I spent much of my time during the three days on-site following Linn Grant’s matches. Beyond the world-class swing and clear-cut physical strength, LG possesses a simmering, yet calm, intensity that you don’t often see in the sport. While this week was a mixed bag - not quite rising to the moment in the opening match with Maja and losing to the best golf of Megan Khang’s career, I’ll mostly remember the Saturday afternoon partnership with Carlota Ciganda in which Linn birdied the first five holes and looked like a boxer in total control of a bout, locked in, to the point of not hearing the closing bell. Carlota played beautifully and complemented Linn’s aggressiveness with brilliant iron play, and the two looked comfortable in each other’s company. More striking was the fact that I think Linn was speaking Spanish with Carlota. Instead of the two of them speaking English, Linn relied upon one of her secondary languages to speak her partner’s native tongue in the biggest event of her career to this point. A small gesture, but an alpha signal nonetheless.
The singles loss is going to burn Linn, to the point where I think it’ll be a massive source of fuel over the next 6-12 months in the lead-up to next year’s Solheim Cup in DC. And to be able to run it back with Suzann as her captain and as a mentor whom she wants to show growth and impress (see: Randy’s bit about Suzann’s unrelenting competitiveness and aura above.) I’m buying all the stock - she’s built different. The very things we so desperately want to see in Nelly, I see in spades in Linn.
The Yin and Yang of Wanting (written by Randy)
On Saturday afternoon, after Day 2’s fourball session came to a close, Angel Yin and her partner, Cheyenne Knight, stepped into the press center to discuss their 2up victory over the European side of Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall. It was an important point, the lone point the United States put on the board that afternoon, in a weekend full of important points considering where the contest would end.
There was Angel, always a character, up on the podium sporting big black sunglasses she had received moments earlier from, of all people, LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. And continuing with the homage to Colorado football coach Deion Sanders, she enthusiastically proclaimed, “We keep receipts!”
Let’s take a quick step back here and discuss a couple of things. This was not a combative Angel Yin in any sense of the imagination. This was one of the larger personalities in women’s golf putting on display her charisma, humor, and authenticity for everybody to see. It’s just who Angel is, never shying away from being herself. Wherever she goes, a whirlwind of energy, emotion and sound follows.
So back to the aforementioned Saturday afternoon press conference and the Deion Sanders hater-blockers. This was Angel in her element. Playful, funny, boisterous. Exuding humor, good energy, and laughs for all those in her vicinity. Her partner, Knight, was asked what it’s been like to foster team chemistry with Yin. To which Cheyenne said:
“It's been so much fun. Angel has such an infectious personality. I haven't spent a ton of time with her, but honestly, on the media day, we just had so much fun and we've been saying sayings, like, to each other and quoting Deion Sanders from Colorado football.”
On Sunday afternoon, Solheim Cup veteran, Danielle Kang, went out of her way to single out the impact Angel Yin had behind the scenes for Team USA this week, “Listen, when I'm old and gray one day and look back, I'm going to remember our team rooms where Megan and Angel and all these girls were hyping us up, and I wish you guys had a camera. I wish people could experience what I experienced last night and this week because it was unbelievable.”
Angel Yin belongs in events like the Solheim Cup. She’s great for her teammates. She’s great for the media, always looking for a quote. She’s great for the fans. Oh, and the 24-year-old has been pretty damn good for scoring points too, collecting five-and-a-half of them from nine career matches across three appearances in 2017, 2019 and 2023. Notice the gap in 2021 however. What happened two years ago? Well, as Angel related on Episode 736 of the NLU Podcast, she wanted the Solheim spot so badly that it ended up taking a toll on her body and overall well-being. Listen to it for yourself, or read, in her own words:
“Only people close to me in my life know this, but I can say it: It’s really important, but it’s not life-or-death for me, where it was like that before. I put so much importance on being able to wear red, white and blue and represent our country. I really got so sick afterward, I couldn’t even get out of bed. And then the experience afterward and what I heard afterwards – I think it was just too much for me to handle. My reality collapsed a little bit.”
Fast forward to the beginning of 2023 and Angel had done the hard work to get to a place where she could care a bit less. Or better put, care in a way that is more sustainable for her physical and mental well-being.
“This year, my mindset [was] more peaceful going in. It’s like, if I make it, I make it. If not, I have other goals I need to do.”
For Angel Yin, or hell, for anybody, to accomplish anything of significance begins with wanting something very badly. What her story, her candor can teach us though, is there’s a risk with going too far in that desire. She found that less can be more, and by learning that valuable lesson, ironically, the US team is poised to keep reaping more and more from her in years to come.
Patience Pays Off (Written by Neil)
I spent the majority of Sunday afternoon posted up above the front right bunker on number 15 at Finca Cortesin, a difficult par 4 that brought matches back from the hinterlands of the golf course. This spot allowed me to watch players strike a distant tee shot over a massive ravine and then hit long irons into an elevated green with trouble left and bunkers right.
I picked this spot thinking it would be the earliest hole the tournament could potentially end based on where things stood when I left the media center. The 15th also gave me the best chance to catch each match as they were either decided or developing into the final act of each drama. As I watched groups come through and constantly updated the leaderboard on my phone, I began to feel some FOMO with big moments happening on 16-18 that I was unable to see.
The 15th was difficult, so there weren’t many fireworks with nothing better than par winning the hole through the 6 matches I watched. Regardless, I stuck to my plan to wait on the penultimate match of Korda vs. Ciganda and follow this match to its conclusion. My patience paid off as I witnessed a shot that will stick with me for years to come: Carlota Ciganda’s shank from the middle of the fairway up into a tree about 40 yards short right of the green.
It was jarring to watch the golf ball streak off the club face from about 175 out. It looked like a poorly thrown frisbee that was way too low and veering right while also refusing to hit the ground. It elicited gasps and fore calls from the packed crowd lining the hill overlooking the 15th green. Ciganda went on to dump her 3rd shot in the front bunker, blasted it out to 20 feet but conceded the hole with Korda in for par after a classy up and down from just off the back of the green. This tied a match that Ciganda led all day and put Korda in the driver’s seat heading into the final three holes with the cup up for grabs.
Seeing this shank made the Ciganda’s next two irons the best golf shots I’ve seen in person. With both players splitting the 16th fairway, Ciganda answered Korda’s excellent approach to 10 feet into 16 with an iron to 3 feet. After Korda missed her putt, Ciganda converted her birdie to win the hole and go back up by 1 in the match.
By the time this match arrived at 17 tee, the arena like par 3 was packed and buzzing with energy. You couldn’t script the final act any better: The lone Spaniard had the honor and the advantage. She could win it right here at the par 3 in front of king and country. As I watched her tee it up, I wondered to myself, was she concerned about that swing she made on 15?
Course Notes (written by TC)
While the course left a lot to be desired, let’s focus on the positive:
- The first hole offered an opening litmus test all week, and the setup committee did a great job of mixing up hole locations to make the hole distinctly different each session. Would be keen to know if the first hole was more volatile than the historical average for openers in the Solheim Cup.
- The selection of an American-style course with grainy Bermuda grass definitely had an effect on the European team and played right into the hands of the Americans. That said, it appeared that California native Rose Zhang struggled on the tight Bermuda. Whether this was simply inexperience or a larger issue with Bermuda, we shall see.
- Walking the course, it’s a shame that the coverage was so poor/non-existent on many of the holes, particularly the second through fourth, which were among the strongest on the course and offered some cool vistas out to the Mediterranean. The 2nd is a par five with a fairway that bottles awkwardly in the landing area, the 3rd a strong uphill par 3 that was a good litmus test for who was striking it well, and then the 4th is sweeping par five with water up the left short of the green and a steep slope along the right side of the green. Juxtaposed with the par fives on the back, these two were much more dynamic.
A view of a tree in play on the second hole.
Spanish national treasure Pau Gasol spectates on the No. 4 fairway.
- Not-quite-centerline trees were prevalent on many holes and Randy’s eyes lit up every time he saw them. Weirdly, I really like these vertical hazards - not too tall, not right in the middle of the fairway - they made the players think a bit more, but without being suffocating as trees typically are.
- On the setup front, I really appreciated what they did on Sunday for singles: moving the tee up on 14 to create a dynamic short 4 (for what was otherwise a bizarre hole as a short two-shooter), which contrasted nicely with the beastly par four 15th. These two holes proved pivotal in deciding the outcome of the most competitive matches. The short 17th provided incredible drama with a tucked left pin on Sunday.
- The 9th hole was another high point, both literally and figuratively. Finca Cortesin is unabashedly a resort and real estate development, with the main hotel complex and priciest lots occupying a ridgeline that segregates the two valleys that contain each nine. The 9th (which plays as the 18th for resort play) is really the only hole that uses this ridgeline, and it does so nicely, with a big fall-off down the left and a demanding second shot to a green with short-grass fall-offs up the left.
A view of the approach shot into the 9th green.
- Another positive was the use of short grass around many of the green sites, increasing the importance of good approach play, making chipping more volatile, and offering optionality. The downside: a ridiculous number of catch basins - they were everywhere, perhaps no more evident than on the two downhill par threes on the back.
Best Laid Plans (written by TC & Randy)
- We discussed this for about twenty minutes toward the end of our recap pod, so I won’t belabor the point, but it’s one thing to face some obstacles and minor inconveniences…but the issues prevalent went well beyond those and called into question the safety of the attendees. Confiscating water bottles upon entry and then not providing any water stations or even the ability to purchase water out on the course is both stupid and malicious. The staging area to board shuttle buses was pure chaos on Friday, even well before play concluded. No lines, people pushing to get into the fences for the buses heading to the various parking lots, and nobody in charge. The list goes on and on and on, and heads need to roll. -TC
- Most disappointing above all, though, was the routing of the course itself. It was nearly impossible to walk and really had an impact on the atmosphere and competition itself. Finca Cortesin should’ve never been shortlisted as an option to host, much less selected. While the Spanish Golf Federation should shoulder some of the blame for these issues, since the Ladies European Tour allows the individual host nation to operate the event when it’s on European soil, the LET chose the Spanish host site in the first place and needs to be the adult in the room and ensure that certain minimum standards are being met and there’s an overall sense of competency in the lead-up to the event. That clearly was not the case. -TC
- I’ve been vociferous about the TV coverage (or rather lack thereof) both on X (formerly known as Twitter) and on the podcast, so here’s a sampling of other opinions on the matter. -TC
- Trust us, that is a fraction of the notes we received. So at the end of the day, it’s just a shame. The Solheim Cup is one of the best opportunities in the women’s game, probably the best, to attract a large amount of fresh eyes to the game. And the golf, the golfers–they’re every bit deserving of these eyeballs. But when the broadcast is so poor that it becomes hard, and frustrating, to simply watch, well, we have a MASSIVE PROBLEM. And I wish I could say this was just a one-off occurrence with respect to the viewing experience. But it’s not. Too many times, including majors, I leave frustrated by what’s being put in front of me and others. This must change if everyone involved in talking a good game about growing the LPGA, and women’s golf in general, is ever to be taken seriously. -Randy
Think Big (written by TC)
While this may be impossible considering the other tie-ins associated with the deal points (i.e. the naming rights to the LET’s season-long comp), I’d be really curious to know how much Andalucia/Costa del Sol/Finca paid to host the event and for the LET to look beyond all the obvious flaws. This calculus is both insidious and lazy: while the LET is in financial trouble, they took the easy money instead of investing in the product and the experience. This event is a sleeping giant and can make up ground on the Ryder Cup, especially as that spectacle is seemingly maxed out. To take nothing away from the Spanish fans, who were passionate, plentiful and knowledgeable, it seemed the majority of the fans were from Scandinavia and the UK.
The next iteration of the Solheim Cup in Europe will be at Bernardus in The Netherlands, which should provide for a far better experience and access to a far more dense base of golf fans. I hope that 2030 and 2034 will be in either the UK (the only Solheim Cup ever hosted there was at Gleneagles) and either Sweden or Denmark. The fans would turn out in droves, there are a variety of great venues, and experienced vendors (and IMG will be managing the European iterations thru 2036, which will be a big step up.) Then once that venue is packed and those fans are taken care of, go all out in ensuring that the TV feeds capture the vibrancy and raucous atmosphere and the event feels big, to the point that people are drawn to the broadcast and become curious about attending in the future. And then keep that cycle going. It’s not complicated. Leverage this already-passionate and devoted group of fans who went out of their way to attend despite it being unnecessarily difficult and being treated like shit - there’s a great base to work off of! Plus, the Swedes are coming - get ahead of it and anticipate having that base of veteran talent for years to come.
The Magic of an Unexpected Great Meal (written by Randy)
Is there anything better than heading out for dinner with no plan, no spot in mind, and stumbling upon an amazing dining experience? It usually happens in an area where you’re a foreigner, either literally or figuratively. Well, that’s what happened to Cody and me Tuesday night. We had gotten in late Monday, exhausted from our trans-Atlantic journeys, and got the fastest meal possible from our hotel’s kitchen (a couple of burgers). Feeling refreshed on Tuesday, we vowed to get out beyond the bubble of our media hotel, the course, and the roughly 8 to 10 kilometers between the two. So that’s what we did, with no specific destination in mind.
Restaurante La Escollera. A seafood joint, in the truest sense of the word.
Not much of a building at first glance, but it was busy (always a great sign) and had plenty of outside tables (the weather was sublime). It sits right on a little harbor off the water. In we went to put our names on the list. About an hour wait is what we were told, but we weren’t in a rush (you’re not allowed to be in Spain, right?). But also, there was a spot to order drinks and take them out front to stand or sit on a bench and enjoy the wait. So that’s exactly what we did.
Eventually, our name was called and we were led to a little table on the side patio. Nothing fancy with the table or chairs. Paper tablecloth. Our dining experience had begun…
Restaurante La Escollera is the type of seafood place where what’s on the menu might not actually be what’s available. That depends on what the fishermen catch and bring in on the boats that day. So with this in mind, and owing to the ever-present language gap, we decided to put our fate in the waiter's hands. And, oh boy, he did not disappoint. Fried calamari (no dipping sauce, just a big lemon), mussels, big red king prawns, octopus salad, grilled pollock filets. A few pieces of bread. Cold beers.
Holy shit was it good.
No frills, no dipping sauces. Just straight-up fresh seafood. Prepared in the local way, as they’ve been doing since 1940. It was a wonderful meal, one I’ll remember fondly. And it came from nowhere, like the best meals often do.
The Area (written by TC)
Felt like I was in Orange County, CA at various points, in the Caribbean at others, and in the Middle East at others. This was my fifth trip to Spain and this area is quite different than the others I’ve visited. Wish we would’ve had some time to explore the different towns up and down the coast - that said, the main streets in Estepona were really cool and offered a great variety of local restaurants. I ate a lot of fried anchovies and Jamon Iberico and simple, fresh fish, as Randy described above!
The Malaga Airport was downright palatial - usually, leisure-focused airports are a complete disaster. The building itself is massive, with 50-foot ceilings, dozens of solid dining options, and smooth security screening. They’re serious about their tourism here.