Quest for the Cup
Reigning Solheim champ Americans host Europe
WEST DES MOINES — After accomplishing just about everything there is to accomplish in golf, Annika Sorenstam finally got her shot as a Solheim Cup captain.
Leading Team Europe might prove to be a lot more difficult for Sorenstam than playing ever was.
Veteran star Suzann Pettersen is out with a bad back.
Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, the team’s top-ranked player, recently dealt with a bout of mononucleosis.
Four of Sorenstam’s 12 players are making their debuts in the biennial tournament between Europe and the U.S. — and the Europeans are 1-6 on American soil.
But Sorenstam, the Hall of Fame player who served as a vice captain in the three previous Solheim Cups, is confident the underdog Europeans can hang with the U.S. when play begins Friday at Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson will be the opening pairing for the U.S., while Team Europe paired Nordqvist with Georgia Hall. American captain Juli Inkster also paired rookie Danielle Kang with veteran Lizette Salas, and Catriona Matthew, Pettersen’s replacement, will also open foursome play Friday.
“It’s been a lot of juggling, to put it mildly,” said Sorenstam, who won 72 LPGA Tour titles, including 10 majors. “I had a plan, I called it plan A. And then we started a plan B … and when Suzann and I spoke (Wednesday) morning, I kind of threw out plan A, and now we’re sticking to plan B.”
Still, the Americans will have the edge in experience and with a home crowd that is expected to eclipse 100,000.
Half of the U.S. field has played in at least four Solheim Cups, led by Kerr (nine), Paula Creamer (seven) and the resurgent Michelle Wie (five). But Creamer was an alternate for Inkster until Jessica Korda hurt her forearm and withdrew.
The Americans also have the top-ranked player in the event in Thompson, the 22-year-old Floridian who has three wins and 15 top-five finishes since 2015.
Thompson, ranked second in the world, fought through a respiratory infection that limited her practice time this week. But Thompson said Thursday that while she’s been taking it easy since landing in Des Moines, she’ll be fine by Friday.
“I’m not dying,” Thompson joked. “I’ve been on every (medication) you can think of.”
Sorenstam said this week that she was “not so worried about” Nordqvist, whose seventh-place tie two weeks ago in the Women’s British Open confirmed her fitness.
But the Europeans might need a huge weekend from Nordqvist given how many questions marks there are on the rest of the team. Team Europe has just four players ranked in the top 30 in the world following Pettersen’s withdrawal.
Hall, Florentyna Parker, Emily K. Pedersen and Madelene Sagstrom are making their tournament debuts. And though they’ve all established themselves as professionals capable of competing for wins, Solheim Cup veterans believe that nothing can prepare a newcomer for pressure of playing in the most raucous environment in women’s golf.
“It’s literally like no other experience you’ll ever have, the nerves on the first tee. You know, back in 2013 I didn’t even think I could get the ball on the tee I was shaking so much. But everybody’s been in pressure situations, individually and as a team. So hopefully the rookies can draw on that because you need to. It will be fun,” Europe’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff said.
Solheim Cup Pairings
At Des Moines Country Club, West Des Moines
8:10 a.m. — Mel Reid and Charley Hull, Europe, vs. Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson, U.S.
8:22 a.m. — Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson, Europe, vs. Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas, U.S.
8:34 a.m. — Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall, Europe, vs. Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst, U.S.
8:46 a.m. — Karine Icher and Catriona Matthew, Europe, vs. Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller, U.S.