CHICAGO: The United States will start as favorites to retain their Solheim Cup crown on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as Europe captain Annika Sorenstam attempts to reshuffle her troops after the late withdrawal of Suzann Pettersen.
The three-day Ryder Cup-style tournament tees off at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa, two years after the American women regained the crown with a thrilling final day charge in the 2015 event.
The US, captained once again by Juli Inkster, has named a team bristling with experience which includes six players who have played in the event at least four times.
Inkster, who played in nine Solheim Cups, said she will look to her veteran team members to provide guidance for the trio of US rookies which includes Danielle Kang, Austin Ernst and Angel Yin.
“I basically let the veterans in the group talk to them. I think coming from them it means more,” Inkster told reporters.
“I try not to get too much in their mind because when it comes to it, it’s just hitting, hitting shots and playing.
“You’ve got to let them figure it out themselves. So I kind of really stay out of it. If they have questions I’ll be more than happy to answer them. But I leave that to the veteran leadership on my team.”
Despite the core of US experience however, history has seen Europe’s players punch consistently above their weight in the Solheim Cup.
It needed a miraculous final day comeback from the Americans in Germany two years ago, recovering from 10-6 down heading into the singles, to clinch a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory.
‘We equally suck’
Inkster is bracing for another nip-and-tuck battle over the first two days of foursomes and four-balls, where she believes Europe may hold an edge.
“I was looking at our foursomes and our four-ball, what one do we do better — and we equally suck at both of them,” Inkster said. “If we could be tied going into Sunday I’d be ecstatic, but it never seems to be that way. We know we usually have to come from behind. But it would be nice not to have to do that.”
The 2015 tournament was dominated by controversy when Europe stalwart Pettersen refused to concede Alison Lee a short putt during a key foursome game.
Pettersen’s reception by the large home crowds expected in Iowa had been a key point of interest until the Norwegian withdrew from the event on Wednesday citing a back injury.
The absence of the world number 23 deprives Europe captain Sorenstam of one of her most reliable performers. Pettersen, who would have been playing in her ninth Solheim Cup, has been replaced by British alternate Catriona Matthew.
“It’s been a lot of juggling, to put it mildly,” Sorenstam said. “But, you know, Catriona has obviously played many times and she knows many of the players.
“And she’s very easy to pair with. So it’s not going to be any more difficult.”
Pettersen meanwhile will serve as one of Sorenstam’s vice-captains.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we wanted Suzann to be part of the team,” Sorenstam said. “I think she earned the right to be here. To have her part of the team, being in the locker room, will help.”