CASARES – The United States wants to avoid making the wrong kind of history against Europe at the Solheim Cup this weekend in Spain.
The Americans have never lost three straight editions of the top team event in women's golf. The biennial competition is the equivalent of the Ryder Cup in men’s golf, and for the first time both events will be held in back-to-back weeks with the Ryder Cup taking place in Rome.
A talented but young American team will try to end its losing streak against an experienced European squad at the Finca Cortesin resort-style course along the southern coast of Spain, which is hosting the event for the first time.
The matches will be played Friday through Sunday, with the first foursomes featuring Swedish rookies Maja Stark and Linn Grant against Americans Lexi Thompson and Megan Khang, who together have seven Solheim Cup appearances. The announcement of the initial pairings was made at an opening ceremony in the resort city of Marbella, with several hundred fans from Europe and the U.S. cheering on their teams.
U.S. captain Stacy Lewis was quick to label the Europeans as favorites, and Europe captain Suzann Pettersen lauded what she called “the strongest" European team she's ever been a part of.
“They have won the last two, we’re on their soil, they have a great team that has a ton, a ton of experience in this event,” Lewis said. “So you look at history, it doesn’t bode well for us. But I love our chances. I love these rookies. I think they’re going to have a great week and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”
The U.S. comes with five rookies in a squad whose age average is 25, while there are three rookies in the European team that averages 29 years old.
Four European players have made at least four Solheim Cup appearances. Thompson has played in five editions of the event but none of her teammates have made more than three appearances.
“I do think obviously on paper, on the rankings, we have I think the strongest team ever,” said Carlota Ciganda, the only Spaniard playing this weekend. “I mean, the top players, we have I think eight main players in the top 15 in the world, so that’s amazing.”
One of the American rookies will be 20-year-old Rose Zhang, considered one of the next top stars in golf. She turned professional in June and did enough to seal her spot in the U.S. team.
“Being in the Solheim Cup this year was certainly not one of the goals in mind,” Zhang said. “But the fact that it happened, I’m just super blessed to be alongside players that I’ve grown up watching and playing alongside them representing the red, white and blue.”
Thompson is enduring the worst slump of her career and only made it to the team based on her performance last year.
The most experienced European is Anna Nordqvist, who is also one of the vice captains. The 36-year-old Swede will be making her eighth Solheim Cup appearance. She made history in 2013 when she hit the first hole-in-one in the Solheim Cup. That year, the Europeans broke through with their first-ever win on American soil.
Pettersen made a 7-foot putt to help Europe win the trophy at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2019 in what was her last Solheim appearance as a player. The Europeans won their second in a row against the U.S. in Toledo, Ohio, in 2021.
Lewis used her three captain’s picks on Ally Ewing, Angel Yin and Cheyenne Knight. The other Americans include former top-ranked Lilia Vu, U.S. Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz, Nelly Korda, Jennifer Kupcho, Andrea Lee and Danielle Kang.
There was relief when Kang's clubs finally arrived at Finca Cortesin after being misplaced during her trip from Las Vegas to Spain.
“The number of people that were working on finding that golf bag the last two days is astronomical,” Lewis said. “So we were very excited.”
Pettersen used her four captain's picks on Caroline Hedwall, Madelene Sagstrom, Gemma Dryburgh and Emily Pedersen. The qualifiers were Ciganda, Nordqvist, Stark, Grant, Celine Boutier, Charley Hull, Georgia Hall and Leona Maguire.
Boutier will team up with Hall to take on Kang and Lee in the second foursomes Friday morning. Maguire and Nordqvist then face Korda and Corpuz, while Hull and Pedersen close out the first session against Ewing and Knight.
“I really can’t wait to see our players .... really showcase how good European golf is at this point and stage,” Pettersen said. “So I really can’t wait for Friday morning to let our team go out there and really do what they do best, and we’ll see where that leads. But it’s going to be a fun couple of days ahead.”
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf