What to watch for at the Solheim Cup
For the next two weeks, it’s going to be Europe versus the United States.
The Solheim Cup followed by the Ryder Cup means a fortnight of us against them, team against team, the Stars and Stripes of America taking on the Circle of Stars for Europe.
While the Ryder Cup will get most of the attention, the Solheim Cup, which starts on Friday, shouldn’t be overlooked. It can be as competitive and edgy as it gets. That’s especially so with the two captains, Stacy Lewis for the U.S. and Europe’s Suzann Pettersen, both known for being driven individuals on the course and unlikely to back down in any sort of conflict off it.
Europe enters as the favourite, coming off consecutive wins in 2021 and 2019. The home-field advantage of playing in Spain is also in its favour.
Ahead of Friday’s opening matches, here are the top storylines for this week’s competition.
This year’s event is being contested at Finca Cortesin in Andalucía, which opened for play in 2007. It’s a big golf course, notable for its huge greens that have some wild rolls and undulations.
What is usually the fourth hole at the course is serving as the opener, and it will provide some immediate drama.
It’s a drivable par 4 with some significant risks for those who attempt to land their ball on the putting surface. It’s a 240-yard carry over water, a distance that pretty much every player in the field can handle. But the penalty for missing can be severe. A bunker on the front left which looks like a safe bailout leaves a tricky shot to a part of the green that slopes back to the water.
Then there is the wind, which usually blows into the player’s face, making the distance a bit more challenging.
It’s going to mean some heavy thinking prior to the opening tee shots on Friday.
“I don't know if we've been trying to lay a strategy flat,” said Pettersen. “Because for some people it's very approachable, for others it might be out of their reach to be comfortable to go for the hole in one. So, I think you're going to see both. I have just told the players, let's talk through this.”
The American team has five first-timers in the lineup: Rose Zhang, Allisen Corpuz, Cheyenne Knight, Andrea Lee and Lilia Vu.
Corpuz and Vu, who combined to win three of the LPGA Tour’s five majors this year, along with Lee were automatic qualifiers, while Zhang made the team by virtue of her spot on the Rolex Rankings. Knight was one of Lewis’ three captain’s picks.
While the five have varying degrees of experience in big tournaments, jumping into the fire of a Solheim Cup will certainly be something new to all of them.
Playing assistant captain
Tiger Woods has served as a playing captain at the 2019 Presidents Cup, but Anna Nordqvist can lay claim to being the first playing vice-captain in professional team events. She’ll be making her eighth start for the Europeans, having not missed a Solheim Cup since 2009.
Her double duties will keep her busy both on and off the course and has opened her eyes to just what goes on behind the scenes.
“I think it makes you appreciate all the hard work that goes in a running a Solheim Cup,” she said, “being able to see all the work that goes in behind and how hard everyone works. I think as a player, you show up, everything is sorted, and you're getting so spoiled.”
Danielle Kang’s clubs
Anyone who has been on a golf trip to Europe can relate to Kang’s troubles.
The feisty American made it to Spain but her clubs were lost in transit. A full all-points bulletin was put out over social media, with direct calls to airlines and airports to hunt down Kang’s clubs.
She practised with a set made for her by one of the equipment companies while the wait continued, but it was still nothing like the real thing.
Thankfully, her equipment finally made it to Spain and Lewis dispatched her father to retrieve them from the airport in Malaga, about an hour away.
“The number of people that were working on finding that golf bag the last two days is astronomical,” said Lewis. “So we were very excited. Danielle has given us many hugs and thank-yous. She is very appreciative.”
The numbers game
Lewis is a big proponent of analytics and pushed to get her side to work with the statistical breakdowns of players and courses.
After learning that the men’s teams had begun using the information, she has put it in play for her team, hoping it will show her which players will team up well and how they will fare against certain opponents. She’s been devouring the information in the lead-up to the event.
“Honestly, if you gave me some people's stats without names, I could probably tell you who they are,” she said. “That's how much I know their games and how the style of golf that they play and how they play.”
Lewis will still rely on other factors in making decisions, such as player personalities, what ball each uses and good, old-fashioned gut feels, but the analytics have been a big addition to her arsenal.
Tensions could mount
The Solheim Cup has had its share of prickly moments.
In 2000, Annika Sorenstam chipped in from off the green to square up her match with Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins. But the Americans called her on a breach, saying she had played out of turn as Robbins was away. They made her replay the shot, which she missed, and the Europeans ended up losing the match.
In 2015 in Germany, the Europeans pulled out the rule book to assist them. In a match against Pettersen and Charley Hull, Allison Lee scooped up a short putt thinking it had been conceded. However Pettersen and Hull had not done so and claimed the hole, setting off a wave of hard feelings between both teams.
Will there be more of those this time? Wait and see.
Solheim-Ryder lost opportunities
Two major team events. Back-to-back weeks. Both in Europe. What an opportunity to highlight both games and both events. It would have made a lot of sense to perhaps market them together, no?
“A thousand per cent yes,” said Lewis. “I thought this could have been marketed together as two weeks in Europe, two Cups for play. I think it was a missed opportunity for the sport of golf. I wish that people could, you know, get the sponsorship things out of their head and let's figure out how we can work together, because this may not ever happen again of the two Cups being in the same year.”
This is likely the last chance at a combined effort as the Solheim Cup will be held next year as well, getting it away from being overshadowed by the Ryder Cup.