Before hopping on the plane to the Solheim Cup, TG columnist and Sky Sports golf broadcaster Iona Stephen gives her insight on the biennial match between Europe and the USA and how she sees the 2023 clash going.
It’s going to be an epic couple of weeks for golf with the Solheim and Ryder Cups being played just days apart for the first time and I’m privileged to be working at both.
It’ll be the second Solheim Cup I’ve worked at – I was at Gleneagles in 2019 – and, outside of The Open at St Andrews, it is my favorite week of work I’ve ever had. It’s fair to say I’m pretty excited for this week.
The atmosphere and energy through that week four years ago were beyond belief and then there was the climax, with USA seemingly going to win only for Europe to fight back and Suzann Pettersen to hole the winning putt on the final green.
There’s something particularly powerful in team golf – there’s a feeling that transcends the sport because they are not playing for money and they’re playing for each other. I think that’ll be even more prevalent this year because so much of the last two years in golf has been dominated by money and talk about money.
Both the Solheim and Ryder Cup have history running through their veins and at times like this, it’s important to remember the past and be thankful that what’s gone before has allowed us to get to where we are in 2023, with golf bigger than ever. It’s in a strong place in terms of growth and the momentum it has around the world with new people taking up the sport every day. It’s important to have these to have these events as a passionate reminder of why we play this game. They both hold mass appeal, and we know the audiences aren’t just people who already play the game, but general sports fans who know these matches and the excitement they bring. Find out how you can watch the Solheim Cup and watch the battles.
The atmosphere at the Solheim Cup is like nothing else I’ve experienced. It’s high-pressure and that makes for world-class entertainment.
I’m expecting the threepeat
Pettersen believes Europe have never been stronger and they are understandably favorites to achieve their third successive, which is something they’ve never done before. I think it’ll be tight, but I do believe they will do it. They’re at home and going to be tough to beat with the talent they have in the squad (see who is playing for Team Europe).
Finca Cortesin is a very physically demanding course (read TG’s Solheim Cup course guide), which will definitely play its part, and, on paper, Europe look very physically fit, so I think that gives them another advantage.
But the USA have a point to prove and they also have world-class players (meet Team USA’s players)! They’ve done the threepeat on two separate occasions themselves and will be determined not the be on the end of one for the first time. They’re also not used to being underdogs and you should never underestimate the underdog, but I believe Pettersen’s team will have enough to lift the trophy again come Sunday evening.
Leaders and legends
The captains are two of the greatest in Solheim history. Suzann Pettersen has a real authority and inspiring aura about her, which will prove very powerful for the Europeans. She’s been there and done it as a player, and the team will all respect her and want to ensure they get the job done for her.
I grew up watching Stacy Lewis, aspiring to be her – read TG’s excellent interview with her and you’ll see why. She’s such an iconic figure who had an exceptional career, winning two Majors and 13 times on the LPGA. We’ll see many pieces of footage of her from her multiple Solheim appearances and she’s been part of winning teams so knows how to get it done.
Hull of a player
Charley Hull remains the best women’s player I’ve watched and she’s my pick to be the standout player at Finca. The way she strikes the ball is like no woman I’ve ever seen. I love watching her and when it comes to matchplay she’s feisty.
After she finished second at the AIG Women’s Open she said “I’m off to the range to make my hands bleed,” such is her desire to keep improving and be the best. She’s also made big strides in publicly discussing her ADHD and mental health struggles, and that has been a weight off her shoulders. She’s developing into a mature Charley Hull with more knowledge, confidence and experience on her shoulders, which is a powerful force.
I’d also expect Celine Boutier to shine after an incredible year – she’s prolific. I love her swing. I wish more young women who are aspiring to be pros, and even men who are elite players, would watch players like Celine and the way they swing the club because it’s more relatable and you can learn more from it than you can from watching Brooks Koepka or Jon Rahm, who are built like tanks.
As a fellow Scot, of course I am excited that Gemma Dryburgh got a pick. I played with her in the AIG Women’s Open Pro-Am at Muirfield and we used to play together when I was a competing pro myself. I have followed her career closely and I’m very impressed with what she’s achieved in her career and, more recently, winning on the LPGA.
We have been lucky to have Catriona Matthew as the flagbearer for Scotland on tour and in the Solheim, inspiring the younger generation, and this year it will be so good to see Gemma taking that role. She’s only the seventh Scottish woman to play for Europe so it’s a huge achievement for her. She copes brilliantly with pressure and will be an enormous asset for Europe. We are all so proud of her.
The stars that stripe
Team USA is always packed with stars but, aside from America’s golden girl Nelly Korda (I’m a big fan girl), it’s a rookie I’m especially looking forward to watching. Rose Zhang.
What an incredible story. She’s just turned pro, already has a win on the LPGA, up to 31st in the world, and is just going to be a superstar. I was lucky to spend some time with her at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur (Zhang won the ANWA) this year and she’s the salt of the earth. Rose is present, calm, and very humble for someone who has already achieved so much. It’s a very similar story to Ludvig Aberg – Zhang only played her first pro tournament in June and here she is, playing in the Solheim just a few months later. Incredible.
When Rose won her first tournament, they asked Ludvig about that, and he said how important it was for him. I love that. It shows how important the men’s and women’s games are for each other and how they can inspire each other. Would either of their names have been mentioned for these teams a couple of years ago? Absolutely not, but it just goes to show how quickly things can change in golf.
It’s also a huge Solheim for Lilia Vu (above), who has had an incredible season, winning two Majors, including the AIG Women’s Open. A Vu vs Hull showdown in the singles would be a great way to end the week.
And I’ll be really interested to see how Lexi Thompson performs. She’s had her struggles, as discussed with TG, so it’s great to see her in the team because she brings power and personality and is another of those players who has been so key in the growth of the women’s game.
READ MORE FROM IONA STEPHEN
– I’d love to see a combined Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup
– I don’t want to see a golf ball rollback
– Slow play has to be punished
About the author
Iona Stephen is a former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, and is a highly-respected golf broadcaster.
She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.
Stephen’s career has seen her work for Sky Sports Golf, CBS, the BBC, and NBC Golf Channel covering everything from The Masters and The Open, to the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. She has also hosted prize presentations to a global audience at some of the DP World Tour’s flagship events.
Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona – which has welcomed guests including Jon Rahm, Niall Horan, Rick Shiels, Bronte Law, and Martin Slumbers.