It wasn’t a cakewalk. But match play rarely is.
On the final day of Four-Ball competition in the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown, the No.1 seed, the United States Team, found itself in a battle to advance out of the pools and into the Sunday-morning semi-finals.
Despite having the No. 1 and No. 4 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings – Nelly Korda and Lilia Vu, respectively – the Americans were in a late dogfight to finish second in Pool A.
The eight teams were divided into two pools of four with each team playing every other team in their respective pools in the Four-Ball matches for the first three days. A win was worth one point; a tie was worth a half point.
Pool B locked things up early with Thailand and Australia advancing – the latter being something of an upset. But the Americans were supposed to move along to Sunday with ease, or so outside observers thought. The other two players on the team from the USA – Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang – are ranked N0. 7 and No. 16 in the world.
And yet, as the sun slid toward the ocean, a chilly San Francisco afternoon heated up like no one expected. The U.S. entered the third day in second place in Pool A with 3 points, one shy of Sweden, the team the U.S. played on Saturday. China stood in third with one 1 point.
The U.S. objective was simple: win or tie either match against Sweden and advance. Win both and the Americans would advance as the winners of Pool A
But if the U.S. lost both matches, and the People’s Republic of China, which was playing England, could win both its matches, the Chinese could claw their way into a 3-3 tie with the Americans and force a playoff for the last Sunday spot.
As improbable as that outcome seemed, it came close to happening.
First, Xiju Lin and Ruoning Yu won 2 and 1 over Bronte Law and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
One point on the books for China.
In the second match, the English duo of Alice Hewson and Liz Young, who were late replacements for Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, played Yu Liu and Ruixin Liu.
England came into the day mathematically eliminated. The team had lost four matches. With the Law-Ewart Shadoff loss, Young and Hewson were grinding out for pride. A loss would put England at 0 points and in dead last. A tie and the English would share last with Japan.
England led 2 up through 12, but a birdie at 15 made it close. Then Ruixin sent shock waves through the cypress trees at TPC Harding Park when she drained a 30-foot birdie putt on 17 to tie the match with one to play.
Meanwhile, the Swedes kept rolling. Anna Nordqvist, as she has done throughout much of her career, dialed in her irons on the back nine in a way that even had her partner, Caroline Hedwall, shaking her head. On 14, 15, 16 and 18, Nordqvist hit her irons a total of 12 feet from the hole – 6 feet, 1 foot, 3 feet and 1 foot again. Throw in Hedwall’s birdie at 17 and the Swedes birdied the last five holes to beat Korda and Vu 1 up.
If the Republic of China won 18 and the final pair of Swedes – Madelene Sagstrom and Maja Stark – could beat Thompson and Kang, the improbable could come true.
But on the day of King Charles coronation, Hewson decided to put an end to the drama. From the right rough on 18, she hit the wedge of the week, stuffing her third shot on the par 5 to two feet. When that putt fell, England had one full point for the week, and the U.S. advanced.
“It's amazing,” Hewson said of the experience. “We've actually played really well all week; just we've been up against some fantastic competition. This is my first time playing for England as a professional. It's just been an absolutely incredible experience. I'm so lucky to have been here alongside Liz, Bronte, and Jodi, and the team atmosphere has been absolutely fantastic this week.”
Despite a valiant comeback from Thompson and Kang, Stark made a five-footer on the final hole to tie the match, making Sweden undefeated during pool play.
The United States plays Thailand in the semis on Sunday morning, while Sweden takes on Australia. Both matches with potential to be ones for the ages.