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Sunday, August 11, 2013
U.S. relishes home-course edge

By Mechelle Voepel
espnW.com

Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen
Players such as world No. 2 Stacy Lewis will try to keep the Americans perfect record at home intact; No. 3 Suzann Pettersen will lead the charge in Europes Cup defense.

To paraphrase from the classic 1970 weepy "Love Story," the Solheim Cup means never having to say you're sorry.

"The veterans have already told us that," said Lizette Salas, one of four rookies on the U.S. team. "Whatever you say, don't say, 'Sorry.'"

The United States versus Europe women's team competition brings out a lot of emotions in the often lone-wolf personality of golfers, as is the case with the Ryder Cup. One of those emotions is a feeling of responsibility to teammates, combined with the fear of letting them down. These are things a golfer doesn't have to think about in the average tournament.

But, says five-time Solheim veteran Angela Stanford, no matter how remorseful you feel about a bad shot or missed putt or blown opportunity, skip the S word.

"I think it actually puts pressure on your partner when you apologize," Stanford said. "Because they feel like maybe you think you're not pulling your weight, and then they start pressing."

The Solheim Cup will be played for the 13th time this week. The Colorado Golf Club in Parker, just outside of Denver, will host the event, and Europe is in the defender position. But to keep hold of the Cup, the Europeans must do something they never have: win on U.S. soil.

The Americans have won each of the biennial competitions that were played in the United States, starting in Orlando, Fla., in 1990. The last Cup, in 2011, was contested in Ireland, where the Europeans' 15-13 victory was powered by a surprisingly strong singles performance on the final day. All in all, the United States leads the competition 8-4.

With play beginning Friday, here are five questions to ponder.

1. How much will LPGA victories translate to Solheim success?

Europe better hope not much because the United States has a big lead there. Among the dozen U.S. players, there are 50 LPGA tournament titles, including the most recent -- the Women's British Open, won by world No. 2-ranked Stacy Lewis. Among the Europeans, there are 21.

Ten of the Americans have won at least once on the LPGA Tour, only five of the Europeans have.

This imbalance isn't unique to this particular Solheim Cup; the European team is always going to have some players who spend a significant amount of time competing on the Ladies European Tour.

Weve been waiting for this moment all year. & Losing the Cup two years ago -- that still sits with us, a horrible feeling.

-- Brittany Lincicome

Still, it should give the Americans a confidence boost knowing that, individually, they have more experience winning at the highest level than do the Europeans.

"We've been waiting for this moment all year," said Brittany Lincicome, playing on her fourth Solheim team for the United States. "You want to be playing good going into the event, and a lot of [Americans] have been playing well. Stacy winning the British helps give us an edge.

"And losing the Cup two years ago -- that still sits with us, a horrible feeling."

2. Without Laura Davies, who will be Europe's leader among players?

Davies, who turns 50 in October, really wanted one more Solheim appearance. She has played in all previous 12, with a record of 22-18-6. But she didn't qualify this year based on points, and she wasn't a captain's pick.

The most accomplished player on this European squad is Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who has 11 LPGA Tour wins and a 12-8-5 record in six previous Solheim appearances.

Pettersen is the No. 3-ranked player in the world and has top-four finishes in three of the four LPGA majors thus far in 2013. However, she also is an emotional competitor, someone who doesn't hide it well when she's not happy.

Perhaps for a more even-keeled personality, the Europeans will look to their oldest player: Scotland's Catriona Matthew, who turns 44 on Aug. 25. She has five top-10 finishes this season.

Catriona Matthew
Europes oldest player, Catriona Matthew, could provide some leadership. At 44, shes playing the best golf of her career.

"It's great; I'm playing the best golf of my career," Matthew said after finishing tied for 11th at the Women's British Open in her native country. "When you get to this stage, everything is a bonus. So you enjoy it. I take each year as it comes, and go from there."

There are six Solheim rookies on the European side. Matthew is mom to two young daughters, so she knows something about nurturing and patience. But Matthew said she didn't think she'd have to do much, if any, "mothering" with this squad. Not even with 17-year-old Charley Hull of England, the youngest player ever to compete in the Solheim Cup.

"Most of the players, they may be rookies in this, but they're pretty experienced," Matthew said. "Apart from Charley, they've all played a lot professionally. I think it's just the first few holes you have to get through with your nerves, and then you can relax more and get going."

3. Without Juli Inkster, who will be the Americans' leader among players?

Inkster, 53, played on the Solheim team in 1992 and '98, taking some time off in between as she had her two daughters.

Then from 1998 to 2011, she competed in every Solheim Cup, and overall had a record of 15-12-7.

"I would say Juli Inkster was the best American Solheim player I've ever played against," Davies said. "Especially the gracious way she was, winning or losing."

Inkster was a playing assistant captain in 2011 and acknowledged the dual role wore her out. She still competes on the LPGA Tour but realizes she's past her Solheim playing days. It seems likely she will be a U.S. captain in the not-too-distant future.

Creamer
Paula Creamer has a stellar Solheim resume, with a record of 11-3-5 in four appearances.

With no Inkster this year, though, the oldest player for this U.S. team is also the one with the most success on the LPGA Tour. Cristie Kerr, 35, has 16 LPGA victories and an 11-11-3 record in six Solheim appearances.

However, the American who has had the most Solheim success is Paula Creamer, who just turned 27 last week and is 11-3-5 in four Solheim appearances.

Stanford doesn't have a winning record (3-7-3) but is the personality type to take a leadership role with the rookies. Same with Lincicome.

"We've had a couple of practice sessions with some of the younger players," Lincicome said. "And Angela and I have told them, 'This is how it's going to go. You're not going to remember most of it, but it will be somewhere in the back of your brain.'

"Sherri Steinhauer told me before my first time, 'You're going to possibly get sick on the first tee.' I didn't get sick, but I felt like it was close because I was so nervous. That first tee shot, there's nothing like it with everybody cheering and chanting and singing."

4. How will the captains' personalities influence the teams?

If you were to take a poll on who might be the most well-liked players on the LPGA Tour for the past 25 years, U.S. captain Meg Mallon and European captain Liselotte Neumann would finish very high. They're both friendly, approachable and gracious, and they get along with everybody.

But are those qualities necessarily great for a team captain?

"I think it's a little harder for Meg to make the hard decision," said Judy Rankin, who was twice captain of the U.S. Solheim squad (1996, '98) and is now a television analyst. "It's just not in her nature. Meg tends to be your best friend.

"But she's very capable of figuring out what that decision would be. We have already seen it with the captain's picks."

It likely wasn't coincidental that Mallon picked two assistant captains who have different personalities than she does: Laura Diaz and Dottie Pepper.

"Laura, and especially Dottie, are pretty vocal, not afraid to speak their mind," said Curt Byrum, a former PGA Tour player and Golf Channel analyst for the Solheim Cup. "And I think for Captain Mallon, it's huge to have people that aren't just going to say, 'Yeah, that sounds good to me.' They are actually going to voice a strong opinion."

On the European side, Neumann may be the prototypical Swede -- on the quiet side and calm. She had a losing Solheim record in her playing days (6-10-5). But her assistants are fellow Swedes who are a little more vocal and were very successful at the Solheim: Carin Koch and one of golf's all-time greats, Annika Sorenstam.

Koch went 10-3-3 in her four appearances. She often paired with Sorenstam, who was 22-11-4 in eight appearances.

"Even though she is not old, she is an elder statesman of sorts," Rankin said of Neumann. "She is a very thoughtful person, and I think she will garner a lot of respect from these players."

5. Does the course favor either side?

Byrum played Colorado Golf Club last year when it was the site for the Senior PGA Championship, so he has a good idea how it will set up for the women this week.

"It's just outside Denver, so obviously we're at elevation there at about 5,000 feet," he said. "So the ball is going to go a lot further there.

"[Nos.] 14, 15, 16 could be real volatile; there could be a lot of comebacks there. There are eagle possibilities in that stretch of three holes. I think that is going to be really exciting."

High winds were a factor at the Senior PGA last year, so that might figure into how the course plays for the Solheim. The length of the course would seem to give the longer-hitting Americans an edge.

"If you have reachable par 4s and par 5s, if you can just bomb it off the tee, it matters," Rankin said. "You have got Brittany Lincicome, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Gerina Piller and Michelle Wie all very long off the tee. So I do think the U.S. has the advantage in length."