TOLEDO, Ohio — How's the old saying go? That's why they play the games?
It's a cliché that couldn't have been more apropos on Monday afternoon — or the entire week, for that matter — at Inverness Club as the 17th Solheim Cup matches were concluding.
Team Europe, which entered play on Saturday as a heavy underdog to Team USA, put its foot on the gas early, winning three of the first five singles matches and earning a half point in another before hanging on late as the Americans did their best to rally.
In the end, Team Europe earned a 15-13 victory, defending the Cup for just the second time in the history of the matches. It was also Europe's second victory in the last three matches conducted on American soil after an 18-10 victory in 2013 at Colorado Golf Club.
"Just an amazing team actually," said Catriona Matthew, the first European captain to win the Cup twice. "They came out here and performed. We got off to a great start this morning. ... I'm kind of lost for words actually at the moment."
The clinching shot came when Matilda Castren drained a par putt from roughly 10 feet on No. 18, a shot that guaranteed Team Europe 14 points and the ability to retain the cup. Moments later, when Danielle Kang's par putt leaked right on No. 15 in her match with Emily Kristine Pedersen, the Europeans had won the cup outright.
"I mean, 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.
"I'm just so happy right now, and I'm not sure what the final scores are, but I'm just ... yeah, a lot of emotions right now."
The slow start for Americans proved to be too much to overcome as they were unable to put a dent in the two-shot hole they were in when the day began.
"I was hoping to see a lot of red in the beginning just to kind of put it up on the board for everyone to see, but it is what it is," Team USA captain Pat Hurst said. "They played hard, they played with heart, and that's what we were asking for.
"I think we got behind the 8-ball the very first foursomes, and we fought our way back. I mean, it's still going to be pretty close, but it's not good enough."
Leona Maguire earned the first points of the day for Europe, making quick work of Jennifer Kupcho. The Irish rookie, who went 4-0-1 in her Solheim Cup debut, had an eagle and three birdies on the front nine to take control of the match, closing things out on the 14th hole after Kupcho made bogey. Kupcho, also playing in her first Solheim Cup, finished 2-1-1 for the week.
"I just tried to get off to a really good start, and then that eagle on 2, that's a pretty good start, and I hit it really solid," Maguire said. "Made birdie on 6, which was a hole I hadn't played well on all week. Yeah, just wanted to put pressure on Jen from the get-go."
Madelene Sagstrom was next, putting things together on the back nine to defeat Ally Ewing, 3 and 2 to give the Europeans an 11-7 lead at the time. That lead grew to 12-7 moments later when Celine Boutier knocked off Mina Harigae, 5 and 4.
After Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist halved their match, world No. 1 Nelly Korda got the first point of the day for Team USA with a 1-up win over Georgia Hall.
It looked for a brief moment that the Americans were starting to mount a comeback. The red flags were starting to pop up on the second half of the leaderboard and there was a buzz starting to build around the historic course an hour south of Detroit.
Brittany Altomare erased a two-hole deficit over a five-hole stretch to beat Carlota Ciganda, 2 and 1, while Megan Khang beat Sophia Popov, 3 and 2.
But almost as quickly as the momentum built, it started to fade.
Austin Ernst had a chance to win her match against Nanna Koerstz Madsen, but a birdie putt on 18 ended just to the left of the hole, giving the Europeans another half point. And when Castren drained a par putt on 18 to beat Lizette Salas 1-up, it gave Team Europe 14 points, enough to retain the Cup.
"I think this probably beats them all because it's been really tough," said Nordqvist, the British Open champion who has now been part of four winning Solheim Cup teams and seven overall. "The crowd has been quite overwhelming, I would say. I'm really proud of my team. We hit a lot of good shots that didn't really get any collapse. I'm really proud of my team, and I think we did great to beat them on home soil."
With things already decided, Jessica Korda finished her match, beating Charlie Hull 2 and 1, and Yealimi Noh hung on to beat Mel Reid, 1-up. Kang, meanwhile, was able to extend her match with Pedersen to 18, but they halved the hole, giving Pedersen the 1-up victory.