Europe seeking just a second win on American soil: Solheim Cup preview

Catriona Matthew’s team will defend the trophy they won in Gleneagles two years ago at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

By nature and design, tour golf is a very staid and sober business.

Golf is a sedate pursuit to start with, of course: a four mile walk with a bit of yoga, the odd moment of impact, but in reality there is an awful lot more thinking about it, pretending to do it, and faffing about, than actually doing anything.

On tour, the faffing about is a lot more disciplined. To faff about at elite level demands slow movement, the observation of routines, mantras from mind gurus, never getting ahead of yourself, never showing any emotion, and always being in control.

And, for whatever reason, history insists that all of this faffing about must take place in a weird monastic silence, with everyone in the surrounding district playing musical statues any time anyone wants to hit a ball.

And then, once every two years, there is Solheim Cup week.

It's a week when all that faffing about is not just tossed out the window, but hurled out of it.

The Solheim Cup is to 72 hole stroke play is what the office Christmas Party is to every Monday morning: it's golf on the lash, with shots to start.

What happens when a birdie putt is drained on the first? In the two years between each match the response is a strained smile, a little flap of the hand toward the handful of people politely clapping, and an urgent reminder: stay in the present.

Solheim week says: "F**k that."

In Solheim week a birdie on the first green gets a snarl to yourself, a roar to the ecstatic galleries, a furious fist pump just for the hell of it, a wrist-threatening high five with your partner, a chest-bump with your caddie, an in-joke with the other caddie, four or five slaps on the back from the captain (plus two vice-captains and a couple of players not out yet), then a giddy laugh as the adrenalin sinks through your system like Delhi Belly and you try to look dignified as the opposition line-up a knee-knocker for a half.

Mind coach? Focus? Staying in the present? Strained smile? Little flap of the hand? Bugger all that for a game of soldiers: we've got a continent the other side of the Atlantic to beat.

Yes, it's safe to say we can expect a bit of drama this week as Catriona Matthew's team attempt to defend the trophy won at Gleneagles in 2019, and also become only the second successful European raiders in the match's history.

It will be difficult, but it is not impossible.

The fact that the Inverness Club is expecting 150,000 spectators, of which almost all will be American fans, will be intimidating.

The trick will be to use that to the European advantage - for the team to be prepared to use that wall of noise as fuel for the fire in their bellies.

It won't hurt to make them feel a little wronged by it, either, because self-righteous fury is frequently the common factor in both Solheim and Ryder Cup triumphs.

They must also put the Americans under pressure, make them all too aware of the weight of expectation, because an enormous crowd, when silent, can cast a very long and dark shadow.

We should be in for a treat. Five of the last six matches have been ding-dong affairs right to the final few holes. Here's hoping for more of the same.

Let's take a closer look at the two teams and the best bet.

Team USA

Qualifiers: Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Ally Ewing, Austin Ernst, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Megan Khang, Lizette Salas, Jennifer Kupcho. Picks: Yealimi Noh, Mina Harigae, Brittany Altomare.

The Korda sisters look like the obvious foundation of the bid to wrestle the trophy back Stateside. Nelly was superb on debut in 2019, winning three and a half points from four matches. Jessica is playing in her third match and has won 62.5% of her points. Together, they not only won their two foursomes, but thumped the opposition in the process.

The only other American with a winning record is Altomare who excelled on debut two years ago. Thompson has a surprisingly poor record, winning just 46.7% of her points, but she has been stronger on home soil (57%).

Ewing had a tough opener at Gleneagles, but since then has won the LPGA's Bank of Hope Match Play event. Expect more of her this week. And of the rookies, Noh brings promise (she's threatened to win three Majors in the last year) and Kupcho a bit of fire.

Team Europe

Qualifiers: Emily Pedersen, Georgia Hall, Anna Nordqvist, Sophia Popov, Charley Hull, Carlota Ciganda. Picks: Leona Maguire, Madelene Sagstrom, Matilda Castren, Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Mel Reid, Celine Boutier.

The European challenge looks set to be based on an English-Swedish alliance of Hall, Hull and Nordqvist. All three have high class individual wins (Hull the LPGA Tour Championship, the other two Majors), lots of Solheim experience, and - crucially - they historically win more than half the points they play for.

Hull, playing in her fifth match at the age of 25, has won nine and halved three of her 16 matches, Hall was unbeaten in Gleneagles, Nordqvist was undefeated away from home in 2017 (when seriously ill) and is now flying high as the recent Women's Open champion.

Two years ago Boutier played four matches and won them all. An exact return would be astounding, but she will surely feature early. Ciganda and Reid have put in excellent performances, but have also struggled. At least one of this trio will probably need a good week.

Popov reached the final of the Match Play event this year, Castren has won both sides of the Atlantic this summer, Maguire's putting could be a key weapon.

Solheim history

The raw data looks bad for Europe. USA leads the win count 10-6 and on home soil they have dominated 7-1. Nonetheless, the Europeans often put up a fight: they're almost always competitive until the singles.

In recent years the match has been far more even, a consequence of greater depth for Europe and a weaker back end for the Americans.

It kicked off in 2009 when the Europeans had the home team scared in Illinois during the singles. The Americans responded to win, but it was the first sign of the tide turning.

Suzann Pettersen inspired a European victory in Ireland in 2011 and two years later they not only defended the trophy, they hammered the home team 18-10. They really ought to have won for a third time in 2015, but controversy fuelled the fire in the American belly. Previously down and out they fought back to win and defended easily in 2017.

Pettersen then returned to the fray in 2019. Her pick was unexpected. She was out of form and had played very little golf post-pregnancy, but she played solid all week and won her point in the final match out when there was no other option. She drained the winning putt and promptly retired.

In the last five matches, then, Europe has won three and should have won four.

The last three matches away from home are a mix: a match they could have won, another they won with ease, a third (in 2017) when they led after the first morning and thereafter were never in the contest.

It's a tricky one to call but, at the prices, the call might be to back Europe and lay them back when you get the chance before the singles.

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