Since 1990, the Solheim Cup has united rich traditions and immense prestige for golfers from both the United States and Europe. It’s a tournament where a player’s passion for their sport and their country is ignited on the largest stage. There’s no other event in women’s golf history that produces high pressure, strong emotions and intense competition like the Solheim Cup.
Twenty-four of the world’s best female golfers will travel to the Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo. this week to compete for their teammates, their captain and their country in the 13th staging of the Solheim Cup.
There’s a lot on the line this week, as the reigning European champions seek to retain the Cup and win on American soil for the first time in the tournament’s history.
“Obviously it’s very difficult, we’ve never won in America and that’s something we want to change,” said Alison Nicholas, captain of the victorious 2011 European Solheim Cup team. “But it’s always tough because we all know how tough [the Americans] are and how their fans operate over there. I’m sure that won’t detract from what the girls want to do because I know they’ll play hard too.”
The 2011 Solheim Cup was held at Killeen Castle in County Meath, Ireland in late September. The U.S.Team entered the week as favorites on paper, having won three consecutive titles, but Europe was determined to regain control of the Cup on their home soil. Tied 8-8 entering Sunday’s singles play, the European Team played flawless golf in the midst of torrential downpours and wind to steal a 15-13 victory in the final two matches. Needless to say, the devastating loss has the American Team more prepared and motivated than ever before.
“We’ve been waiting for two years to get our Cup back,” said Paula Creamer, who is competing on her fifth U.S. Solheim Cup team this year. “We’ve never lost on home soil and we’re all very aware of that. It’s little bit of added pressure but I still think we can use our crowds to be great motivators for us and I think we’ll all feed off of that.”
Captained by 18-time LPGA Tour winner Meg Mallon, this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup squad consists of eight veterans and four rookies. Led by the RICOH Women’s British Open winner and runaway U.S. points leader Stacy Lewis, the young team will also seek guidance in Solheim veterans Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie.
Four dynamic rookies who are eager to play as contributing factors on Team U.S.A. include Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas and Gerina Piller.
The U.S. Team currently leads the Europeans with an 8-4 record in Solheim Cup history. While the Euros have given the Americans a run for their money during foursomes and four-ball matches, the tournament tends to end in dramatic fashion with Sunday’s singles event, which has historically been dominated by the U.S. Team.
“It is always so close on a Sunday,” said Pettersen. “I mean it’s like two or three points either side. The Americans have always been really good at getting those points and flipping it to their side and their victories. You can look at the final numbers and think it’s a walk in the park but it usually comes down to certain matches.”
The European Solheim Cup Team, led by Captain Liselotte Neumann, also features a contingent of seasoned veterans and zealous rookies. Spearheaded by seven-time European Team member Suzann Pettersen, the squad also consists of four of her teammates from the victories 2011 team including Caroline Hedwall, Catriona Matthew, Anna Nordqvist and Azahara Munoz. Karine Icher also joins the veteran contingent, although she is making her first appearance since 2002.
Six rookies will represent Team Europe in Colorado this week which includes Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Giulia Sergas, Carlota Ciganda, Carolina Masson, Beatriz Recari and Charley Hull, who is the youngest player to make a Solheim Cup Team at age 17.
Despite the separation of experience on the European Team, Pettersen believes their young, wild and fearless attitudes will be huge contributing factors in their quest to retain the Solheim Cup.
“I think it’s healthy for us to kind of have new players coming up,” said Pettersen. “I don’t think it’s a disadvantage to have a lot of Solheim Cup rookies. They’re all out there, and they’re fearless and have nothing to lose. I think it’s much better to have that kind of player rather than the experienced ones who puts a lot of pressure on themselves and has everything to prove to the rests of the world that they deserved this spot on the team.”
While the European Team comes into the week with heavy momentum following their dramatic win in 2011, the American Team exudes confidence in regaining the Cup on home soil. “You can’t win them all, but we’re sure going to try,” said Creamer.
Looking back on 2011: Azahara Munoz and Caroline Hedwall are very aware of what it takes to defeat the Americans in the Solheim Cup. Despite being rookies on the European Solheim Cup Team two years ago, Munoz and Hedwall played critical roles in Europe’s stunning upset of Team USA in Ireland.
Hedwall and Munoz were in the final two singles matches sent out on Sunday at Killeen Castle. Hedwall battled back from two down with two holes to play and ended up halving her match with American Ryann O’Toole to earn a critical half point for Europe. With Hedwall’s half point and Munoz guaranteed to earn at least a half point in her match against Angela Stanford as they walked up the 18th, the Europeans had the points needed to clinch their first Solheim Cup victory since 2003.
Now those two players will be looked at as “veterans” on a young European squad who is looking to capture a victory on American soil for the first time in the history of the event.
“It's amazing,” Munoz said of being back with her European teammates. “ I think this is all we want to play for, every two years. So it's gone by pretty quick, but I think we are all really happy to be back and I love playing in a team environment and we only get to do it over two years, so I'm just going to enjoy this week as much as I can and so far it's been great.
“We're all getting along really well. I think we all can't wait to get started on Friday.”
The Rookie Experience: A total of 10 players will be making their first appearance at the Solheim Cup this week at the Colorado Golf Club. While they all may not be rookies on the LPGA and Ladies European Tours, Solheim week offers an experience unlike any women’s golf event that is sure the leave them feeling like a beginner.
Four players who are making their debut on Team U.S.A. include Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas and Gerina Piller. The experience in the biennial events can get overwhelming, however the eight returning players have made sure to take the rookies under their wings and give them valuable advice and encouragement before Friday’s foursomes matches.
“Don't try so hard,” said Salas of the advice she’s received so far this week. “You're on the team for a reason and you just got to do your thing and play the golf you know how to play and don't make dramatic changes just to please your teammates. You’re here, if you're good enough to be on this team, then you just keep doing what you're doing.”
While half of this year’s European Team were contributing factors in the victorious 2011 team, the other half are joining the team for the first time, hoping to be contributing factors in their quest to retain the Cup and win on American soil for the first time in Solheim Cup history. Despite the separation of experience on the Euro’s side, the veterans have full confidence in their rookies as they have plenty of experience in team competition.
“We have played Junior Solheim together and a lot of European team championships together,” said Azahara Munoz of Team Europe. “We all know each other, and something good about it I think that's why we play really well in the foursomes and four‑balls because we are used to playing foursomes all the time. So we know how to play as teammates.”