Solheim Cup Day One: Phoney war over, battle begins

The action begins at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday with morning foursomes and afternoon fourballs.

The chitter-chatter, the prep and the opening ceremony are all over: the Solheim Cup begins shortly after noon today.

One recurring theme of the phoney war (the press conferences) was the question of who is the underdog.

Most would conclude that the Europeans face by far the greater challenge: they've won just once in eight visits, have no players in the world's top 15 compared to America's four, and they have almost no fans present while the home team will have 150,000 supporters through the gates all week.

Charley Hull doesn't mind that. "I'm actually looking forward to this year not having as many Europe fans because I actually quite like being the underdog coming into the event," she said. "I enjoy that. I kind of bounce off that more."

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World No. 1 Nelly Korda, on the other hand, wanted a bit of that for the home team.

Initially asked about pressure she said: "There's definitely a lot of people that try to put (pressure) in my head, for sure. I'm pretty easy-going. I just try to fly under the radar and do my thing. We're on home soil, so there's more eyes on Team USA but we're embracing this."

She then added: "I don't know if there's more pressure because they're defending. In a sense, I feel like we're underdogs because they're the ones defending."

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This notion of the American Solheim Cup team trying to be the underdog first crept in at the 2011 match and there's absolutely no doubt that it's a fascinating dynamic because before then the team welcomed, thrived on, and had no fear of being judged the favourite.

That confidence was one of the main reasons they won eight of the first 11 Solheim Cups.

And it's entirely possible that the change of heart helps explain why Europe has won three of five since then (and really should have won four).

Let's take a closer look at the first day of action.

The opening foursomes

Match 1: Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren versus Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst

Nordqvist is 6-5-0 in foursomes and Castren ranks second for Greens in Regulation on the LPGA this year; they look like a solid combination. Kang (1-2-0 in the format) and Ernst (1-1-0) are a new foursome pairing. The Scandinavians have been judged the outsiders, but both available at odds against.

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Match 2: Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall versus Ally Ewing and Meghan Khang

The Anglo-French duo went 3-and-0 two years ago, including two wins in this format. Their opponents were rookies that same year who between them lost three foursomes matches. Ewing lost to this pairing on the second day. The Europeans are favourites, but you can get odds against.

Match 3: Mel Reid and Leona Maguire versus Nelly and Jessica Korda

A tough opener for the English veteran and Irish rookie, taking on the pairing which won two foursomes points in emphatic style at Gleneagles: 6&5 and 6&4. Understandably, the Kordas are the odds-on favourites.

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Match 4: Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen versus Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare

Hull has played five foursomes, winning four and halving the fifth. A pretty good partner, in other words. The Americans combined in the opening series in Scotland, losing 2&1 to Hall and Boutier. The books make the Americans the slight favourites.

Pick of those first matches? The three Europeans not taking on the Kordas look good. Hull and Nordqvist are solid in the format, Hall and Boutier superb. Combined, this might be the play ...

Can the Europeans make a fast start?

Beyond good pairings and a nice draw, simple numbers and history argue in favour of the Europeans enjoying the first morning.

In the 16 contests, Europe has been leading after the first sessions nine times, with two ties and five going the way of the States.

Rather surprisingly, Europe has an even better record on American soil: they've led in five of eight with no ties.

Despite that, you can get the European at 19/10 to win this year's Saturday foursomes.

Fancy USA to win but can't see any value?

Many will consider the case for an American win as strong. History is certainly in their favour.

There have been 16 matches in Solheim Cup history and Team USA has won 10 to Europe's six.

On home soil they have an even stronger record: they lead 7-1.

Nor do the world rankings provide any solace for the visitors.

The home side have the World No. 1 and another three other players in the top 14; Europe's leading star is ranked 16th.

As convincing as this case might be, odds of 4/9 are hardly inviting.

But is there a way to back them at a bigger price?

Maybe, because in those 16 matches the winning team was leading the match at the end of the first day 12 times (only three teams have reversed that early scoreline, with one tie). The US has also never lost an end-of-day-one lead.

So, if you really believe this American team has the depth and strength to overpower the visitors then maybe taking them to lead after both the Saturday foursomes and fourballs might be the way to go.

Reserving judgement

It's been little discussed ahead of either this week's match or the Ryder Cup later this month, but might the 13th golfer prove important at one stage?

Because with a positive Covid test result an ever-present possibility the travelling reserves might find themselves thrust into the action.

It would make a great story - the player who took the chance to travel, suddenly finding themselves in with a chance of impacting on the result.

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Quotes

Catriona Matthew on the challenge: "This year is going to be more difficult, more of a challenge for us, but we can rise to that. Rather than thinking we're going to have a few fans, we're expecting very few, I mean, basically about zero fans. The players are going to be mentally prepared, it gives them another challenge to overcome and get that victory."

Mel Reid on the rookies: "They're fearless. They're not like rookies when I first started playing Solheim Cups that were just playing on the LET. Not discrediting that at all, but they are playing against the American girls week in and week out and they're just not scared, and that's exactly what you want in a rookie."

Lexi Thompson: "It's match play, anybody can win."

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

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