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Solheim Cup takeaways: Leona Maguire’s bright future, American rookies on the rise

Leona Maguire celebrates with the Solheim Cup. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Matilda Castren brought foresight to her role in Team Europe’s 15-13 victory at the 2021 Solheim Cup at Inverness Club on Monday.

At the start of the week, the rookie and the first player from Finland to wear the blue and yellow, talked about Suzann Pettersen’s impact on the team this year. Pettersen, Team Europe’s vice captain and a nine-time Solheim Cup veteran, retired after making the winning putt at the 2019 Solheim.

“There’s a big photo of [Pettersen making the winning putt] in our locker room and, walking past it every day, I just look at it,” Castren said. “And I’m like, wow, that’s so cool and I hope that I can be there one day making that winning putt.”

She didn’t have to wait long. Castren’s 12-foot, right-to-left breaking putt on the 18th hole Monday helped the Europeans edge the Americans, notching the team’s 14th point and securing their second victory on American soil and fourth win in the last six Cups.

“It’s hard to put it into words right now. I think I’m still shaking,” Castren said. “I just knew I was looking at the board, and I knew it was going to be an important putt, and I wanted to make it.”

The win delivers Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew her second and final Solheim Cup win. The 52-year-old acknowledged in her victory press conference that someone else would take the reins for the 2023 Cup in Spain.

Here are five takeaways from Team Europe’s victory.

1. The Iron Irishwoman makes Solheim history

Leona Maguire finished 4-0-1 in her rookie debut for Team Europe. The 4 1/2 points she earned for her side were the most ever by a rookie in the Solheim Cup. Maguire joins Carin Koch in 2002 (4-0-1) and Caroline Hedwall in 2013 (5-0-0) as the only three players to go undefeated in five matches in Solheim history.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my Solheim career,” Maguire said. “I’m very fortunate to have had two great partners the last two days as well, and Mel [Reid] made me feel so comfortable out there and let me go do my thing. It just worked really well.”

Maguire set the tone in her first match, defeating the Korda sisters 1-up in foursomes, their best event as a duo. Then she teamed up with Georgia Hall to beat Yealimi Noh and Brittany Altomare 1-up in four-ball for a clean sweep on Saturday.

The largest margin of victory at Inverness this week was 5-and-4, achieved three times. Maguire played a part in two of those wins. Alongside Mel Reid, she dispatched world No. 1 Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing in Sunday foursomes, and then she handed Jennifer Kupcho her only loss of the weekend in an easy Labor Day singles victory. In Sunday four-ball, Maguire’s lone tie came against Lizette Salas and Kupcho, the two Americans with the best record at this year’s Cup.

Maguire, the longest-reigning world No. 1 amateur, will undoubtedly be on the Americans’ radar for the foreseeable future.

“She’s good,” U.S. captain Pat Hurst said Monday. “She’s going to be around for a long time. She’s the one we’re going to have to fear, like I said, for a long time. She played at Duke and she was good there, and I think this is only going to elevate her game even that much more.”

The 26-year-olds Maguire and Castren (3-1-0) carried the banner for Team Europe, forming a powerful tandem for many Solheim Cups to come.

2. Europe’s fast starts keep Solheim crowd quiet

A record number of fans poured through the gates at Inverness over the weekend, with 130,000 total attending the Solheim Cup. They lined up well before 6 a.m. and were ready to roar once they took their seats in the pavilion surrounding the first and 10th tees, encouraging Team USA to get off to a hot start with their enthusiasm.

Instead, the Americans stumbled out of the gate. Of the 28 matches played at the Solheim Cup, Team Europe led through five holes in 17 of them. The United States led in just five, trailing in eight consecutive matches through the five-hole mark from Saturday four-ball through Sunday foursomes.

“I think obviously, with the home crowd advantage this year, it’s been tough,” Matthew said Sunday. “I thought the crowd was great today, but as you can imagine, there were a lot of USA chants. We were just trying to quiet that.”

There’s never a clear victor in a match through five holes, but 16 of the 28 Cup matches played out to the 18th hole. The early mark is a barometer for how involved the fans will get: As more European flags were raised, the more subdued the fans became. That affected the significant edge the United States should have had, given that European fans couldn’t travel to Inverness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matthew’s goal of keeping the fans anxious with Europe’s strong play early may have been the difference.

“I wish we could have given them a little bit more to cheer about today and kind of help get the momentum in our favor,” assistant Team USA captain Stacy Lewis said. “But the fans killed it this week.”

The United States put itself in a difficult situation, having to climb out of early holes time and time again. The pressure Europe was able to maintain through the weekend contributed to their historic second win on American soil.

3) The top Americans struggle

Team Europe’s top-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings was Anna Nordqvist, currently 16th in the world after her victory at the AIG Women’s Open in late August. Nelly Korda (No. 1), Danielle Kang (No. 8), Lexi Thompson (No. 12), and Lizette Salas (No. 14) all ranked ahead of the Swede, with Jessica Korda (No. 18) sitting only two spots behind Nordqvist.

With nearly half of the roster in the top 20 of the world rankings, the Americans were the favorites on paper and their stars were expected to lead the way. Instead, only Salas (2-1-1) won more than half of the points available to her. Nelly Korda (2-2-0), Kang (1-3-0), Thompson (1-2-1), and Jessica Korda (1-2-0) combined to leave 8 1/2 points on the board.

If 1 1/2 of those points flipped, Team USA would have taken the Cup back. Instead, the top three Europeans in our power rankings combined to go 9-1-2, with Nordqvist, Castren and Maguire leading the charge.

4. American rookies provide a glimpse into the future

Twenty-year-old Yealimi Noh (2-1-0) and 24-year-old Jennifer Kupcho (2-1-1) shined in their rookie debuts for Team USA as two of three players to secure over half of the points available to them.

“I feel like the MVP of our team is this one right here,” Salas said, pointing to Kupcho after they split four-ball with Reid and Maguire on Sunday afternoon.

Kupcho and Salas found success as a duo, going 2-0-1 together and securing 2 1/2 of a possible three points. The 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, Kupcho thrived on the pulsating energy from the fans in Toledo.

“It’s super fun just to be able to hear the crowd roar,” Kupcho said. “I think it’s super exciting for me. I mean, I love the sound of it.”

Noh lost her first match to Maguire and Hall alongside Brittany Altomare. Teamed up with 31-year-old Mina Harigae in four-ball, Noh then defeated Team Europe’s Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov 4-and-3. The Bay Area native took down Solheim veteran Reid by one in singles Sunday, surging to a 4-up lead through four holes en route to notching her second point for Team USA.

“I’m so happy to be a part of this team last minute,” Noh said Monday. “It’s just been so amazing that I keep wanting to play. I hope I play in a couple more Solheim Cups in my career.”

5) Bubba Watson raises the bar for supporting the women’s game

Two-time Masters champion and current PGA Tour player Bubba Watson initially intended to travel to Inverness to participate in the celebrity matchup on Thursday. Once signed up for that, he reached out to captain Hurst to see if he could expand his role beyond the celebrity cameo.

“Bubba called a couple weeks ago … wanting to help women’s golf out,” Hurst said last week. “He’s got a wife, he’s got a daughter, and he loves golf and, like I said, he just wants to support women’s golf.”

Watson’s first bridge to the American team was Nelly Korda. The 23-year-old credited the perspective Watson shared with her at the U.S. Open with the career-low 62 she carded at the Meijer LPGA Classic. The performance vaulted Korda to her second victory of the season a week before she won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and became the No. 1 player in the world.

Watson put in the work as a helper for Team USA, filling in divots, doling out advice from his four Ryder Cup appearances and listening in on his official “Helper” Team USA radio.

Watson punctuated his support in an interview on the first tee Saturday with Amanda Balonis.

“The world needs to see that the ladies have just as much talent, if not more than we do,” he said.

Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas Re-Signs with Barcelona on Two-Year Deal

Alexia Putellas on the field for barcelona
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years. (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Alexia Putellas has re-signed with FC Barcelona on a new two-year deal that will run through 2026. The agreement includes an option for a one-year extension. 

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years, and her previous contract was set to expire next month. However, she’s spent the better part of the last two seasons battling injuries, starting with an ACL tear that kept her out of the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship and limited her participation in Spain’s FIFA Women's World Cup win last summer. 

Putellas returned in March from her latest injury setback, making 25 appearances across all competitions for Barcelona this season and scoring 10 goals. 

In total, the midfielder has made 400 appearances for Barcelona. Among her 20 major trophies with the club include eight Liga F titles and two UEFA Champions League titles — including helping the team to its first European trophy in 2021. 

She then won the Ballon d’Or in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022. 

Putellas could add a third Champions League trophy next weekend, when Barcelona faces familiar foe Lyon, a team they’ve lost to in two previous Champions League finals. Should they secure the UWCL, they would win the quadruple for the first time, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

WNBA on Pace for Record-Breaking Season

onquel Jones #35 of the New York Liberty rebounds during the game against the Indiana Fever on May 18, 2024 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn
Indiana's game against New York on Saturday was the most-watched WNBA game to ever air on ABC. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA continues its historic trajectory one week into the season, with attendance and viewership skyrocketing across the board. 

Indiana’s Saturday game against the New York Liberty was the most-watched WNBA game ever on ABC, drawing 1.71 million viewers. The Sparks vs. Aces matchup that followed became the third most-watched WNBA game broadcast on ABC with 1.34 million viewers.

On Monday, the tense finish between Indiana and Connecticut drew 1.56 million viewers to ESPN, the second most-watched WNBA game to ever air on cable.

Outside of the league’s viewership, both in-person attendance and merchandise sales have also been on a meteoric rise. On Saturday, the game between New York and Indiana shattered the single-game ticket revenue record in the WNBA, with the Liberty pulling in $2 million in sales. 

New York and Indiana played their home openers in front of more than 17,000 fans, with attendance up 14% year-over-year, according to the league. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Aces, the Liberty, the Wings, the Dream, and others have already sold out of their 2024 season ticket allotments.

Since April’s WNBA Draft, revenue from the WNBA’s official online store is up 2,260%, already blowing past total sales for the entire 2023 season.

While the numbers may cool somewhat as teams settle into their seasons, the pop in demand has already overwhelmingly delivered for the WNBA in 2024.

Angel Reese Adds USL Team Owner to Growing Résumé

chicago sky rookie angel reese speaking at an event
Star rookie Angel Reese is all in on the USL Super League. (JC Olivera/Variety via Getty Images)

Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese continues to add to her résumé, becoming the newest member of the DC Power Football Club’s ownership group

The No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft joins an group that includes the MLS team DC United as well as other DC-area community members and business owners. One of the USL Super League’s inaugural clubs, DC Power FC is set to begin play in August. 

"I want to help grow women's sports and elevate female athletes across the board," Reese, who's from Maryland, said in a statement. "We're taking over, and I'm honored to be able to support Power FC and invest in women's soccer in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) community."

The USL is a sanctioned Division I league, meaning that it is on par with the NWSL and MLS in the United States. The league's eight current clubs are Brooklyn FC, Carolina Ascent FC, Dallas Trinity FC, DC Power FC, Fort Lauderdale United FC, Lexington SC, Spokane Zephyr FC, and Tampa Bay Sun FC.

DC Power FC will also be playing their home games in a familiar location: Matches will be hosted at DC’s Audi Field in partnership with MLS side DC United. Audi Field also home to the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

"Angel's decision to be a founding investor alongside us in Power FC is groundbreaking," Jason Levien, DC United's CEO and co-chair, said in a statement. "As a Maryland native, Angel is so passionate about being a catalyst for positive change in women's sports in the DMV as well as globally while inspiring the next generation of female athletes. We're looking forward to her partnership in the boardroom as an equity partner."

It's been speculated that the Super League ultimately intends to compete outright with the NWSL. But in its first year, the league will focus on featuring the depth of women's soccer talent in the US.

Former NWSL players like Taylor Aylmer (Spokane), Jordyn Listro (Tampa Bay), Erika Tymrak (Tampa Bay), and Domi Richardson (Tampa Bay) have already announced a return to professional soccer via the USL.

The league is aiming to provide counter-programming to summer women's sports in the States, with a season running from fall to spring like the European calendar.

In a social media post, Reese said that she’s "grateful & blessed" to be part of the new ownership group. It’s the latest move in what has been a whirlwind spring for Reese, which included getting drafted, attending the Met Gala, signing a new partnership with Good American, and debuting with the Chicago Sky, among other achievements.

"Looking forward to creating new opportunities for women in professional soccer," she tweeted. "I’ve always had to desire to invest in a local team as a Maryland native!"

Reese is the latest female athlete to buy into a women’s sports team, joining the likes of Naomi Osaka, who owns a stake in the North Carolina Courage, and Serena Williams, who's part-owner of Angel City FC. 

Other pro athletes involved in women's sports team ownership include Patrick Mahomes, who shares ownership responsibilities of the Kansas City Current with his wife Brittany. Kevin Durant and Eli Manning are part-owners of Gotham FC, while NFL superstar Tom Brady is part-owner of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

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