Ahead of Europe’s defense of the Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin, we take a look at what each team has to offer, who can make the difference, and give one of the teams an edge over the other.
It’s time to strap yourself in because this year there is not one golfing trans-Atlantic tussle to envelope yourself in. Oh no. This year, for just the second time ever, the golfing gods (or, more specifically, world affairs) are treating us: we’ve got two.
What’s more, it’s not two in the year or two in the month – it’s two in a fortnight. Both of them on this side of the pond, both of them in southern Europe and both of them promising to be ultra-competitive.
The Solheim Cup kicks off the festivities, with the match heading to Spain for the first time and the country is excited because – whisper it – the feeling still lingers that the Ryder Cup which Valderrama hosted in 1997 was not quite a Spanish event.
True, it was Seve’s Ryder Cup. But it’s also the case that the course and club was owned by a Bolivian who held the purse strings and who jealously held on to all power in and around the match. Many Spaniards felt themselves to be visitors, just like all those traveling from beyond the nation’s boundaries.
Finca Cortesin, not too far from Valderrama and also in Andalusia, is the venue. It is an undulating course close to Marbella which already has experience of hosting this form of the game having welcomed the 2009, 2011, and 2012 Volvo World Match Play Championship.
Unlike the Ryder Cup, Europe will be defending the trophy after a superb performance two years ago in Inverness (Ohio rather than Scotland), one that featured an audacious debut from Ireland’s Leona Maguire.
What can we expect this year? Let’s take a closer look.
The history of the Solheim Cup can be told in one sentence: early American dominance followed by a sustained European fightback. Sound familiar? It should do, the echoes of the Ryder Cup are genuine.
Unlike the men, however, the match is a relatively recent introduction to the schedule. The inaugural edition was in 1990 and it owes its existence to Karsten Solheim, the founder of PING clubs who felt the women’s game deserved its own version of the Ryder Cup.
For the first two decades, it was perhaps no surprise that the Americans frequently prevailed. There was more depth in quality in the States and the LPGA was (and remains) a significantly stronger base than the LET. Wrestling the Cup from American hands was largely reliant on the brilliance of Annika Sorenstam and/or the mercurial skills of Laura Davies.
All that changed in 2011 when captain Alison Nicholas steered the team to triumph at Killeen Castle in Ireland. Emboldened, the team then won away from home for the first time ever in 2013. They also completed the home and away double in 2019 and 2021 so the Europeans have now won four of the last six matches.
There are some who would quibble that the power in women’s golf lies in Asia and that therefore the Solheim Cup lacks sufficient quality. There’s absolutely no doubting the first point. Korea’s women’s golf is in something of a lull right now but remains very strong, Thailand is a hotbed of quality, Japan has depth, and the new World No. 1 is China’s Ruoning Yin.
The most competitive match between the best players in the world would clearly need to be Asia versus the Rest of the World. But it would lack the historical and social niggle that fuels any decent sporting occasion. It would be an exhibition. The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup, works because the United States can unite behind Uncle Sam and the Europeans happily unite in defiance of the American superiority complex.
It’s hard to imagine there being much controversy without that natural niggle and the Solheim Cup has had plenty of it (which only goes to prove its relevancy).
At Loch Lomond in 2000 Annika Sorenstam holed a chip shot, celebrated it, and was forced to play it all over again when her opponents insisted she had played out of turn. She did so, with hot, salty tears in her eyes, and failed to repeat the blow. Not to worry – her team-mates were so incensed it fuelled their victory march.
In Germany 15 years later the boot was on the other foot. American youngster Alison Lee picked up her ball towards the end of the fourth session assuming, not for the first time, it was a gimme. Her opponent Suzann Pettersen was correct to be irritated but flawed when insisting Europe win the hole. Because this time it was the Americans, who very badly needed something turn around a poor performance, who stoked the fire in their bellies and won.
Other instances of Solheim spiciness? When the American player Dottie Pepper moved to the commentary box she was caught chuntering “choking freaking dogs” about her compatriots after they had squandered points (she believed she was off air). And two years ago another Swede was in tears after a ruling.
This time Madelene Sagstrom picked up Nelly Korda’s ball when it was on the edge of the hole to concede a birdie but she did so before enough time had elapsed to confirm it would not fall in the hole for an eagle. The battle was won (the Americans gained the hole) but the war was lost (Europe triumphed in the match).
It’s a good rule in the Solheim Cup: the opposition is never more dangerous than when riding a wave of self-righteous anger – don’t give them any such motivation.
Europe are led by Suzann Pettersen, a titan of the women’s game who led the continent to home victories in 2011 and 2019 with performances of Viking-like intensity – in the latter she had been called up as a wildcard more or less from maternity leave with no golf behind her, she holed the winning putt and promptly retired. She is proudly passionate yet insists that parenthood has mellowed her.
Stacy Lewis leads the Americans and her character was forged by a back problem in her early teens that demanded a spinal fusion. She overcame the pain to become an amateur star and two-time major championship winner. The chess game conducted by this pair promises to be one of the highlights of the week.
Finca Cortesin will play to a slightly different configuration than in the Volvo event because what was the short par-4 fourth hole has become the first. From a high tee the green, protected all the way down the left by a lake, is in play for the boldest and biggest hitters.
Thereafter the track sweeps through rugged countryside with a spectacular mountain backdrop. It will be a fierce test of fitness and has a quirky scorecard. There are five par-3s in all but four of them are in the first 14 holes (scene of the bulk of the action), as are three of the four par-5s and also five par-4s that play to 366 yards or less.
It might be said that there are two themes in Pettersen’s European line-up. On the one hand, there is a British and Irish backbone that includes Charley Hull (11-5-3 win-loss-half record), Georgia Hall (7-5-1), and 2021 debutant and top scorer Leona Maguire (4-0-1).
In addition there is Scandinavian strength in the guise of seven-match veteran Anna Nordqvist (14-10-3), 2013 top scorer Caroline Hedwall (8-6-1), Emily Pedersen (3-4-0), Madelene Sagstrom (2-4-0) and the exciting debutants Linn Grant and Maja Stark (all of them, bar the Dane Pedersen, Swedish).
They are augmented by this year’s Evian Championship winner and 2019 joint top scorer Celine Boutier (5-1-1), home hero Carlota Ciganda (7-8-4), and Scottish rookie Gemma Dryburgh.
The visiting US Team also have a two-tone nature. The veterans, it might be said, have somewhat spluttering records. Lexi Thompson (6-6-7) is most experienced with five starts but the log book in her last two appearances reads 1-4-3.
Danielle Kang went 3-1-0 on debut in 2017 but has gone 2-6-0 since. Ally Ewing is 2-5-1 and Megan Khang is 1-3-2. Nelly Korda (5-2-1), Jennifer Kupcho (2-1-1), and Angel Yin (3-2-1) are on the right side of 50%. Five rookies join them in Spain and offer the prospect of rookie revitalization.
Lilia Vu is a two-time major champion this year, Allisen Corpuz also made a major breakthrough this summer, Andrea Lee was a solid qualifier and Rose Zhang is probably the best of them, an amateur prodigy who won on the LPGA in her first outing as a professional in June. Cheyenne Knight earned a wildcard.
The Solheim Cup – Our Picks
*Betting odds as of Tuesday 12th September*
To win – Europe at 11/10 with Unibet
The home side are odds-on with some books which makes the widely available evens, and also this rare odds-against price, very appealing. Europe has won six of the 12 matches in the 21st century but also four of the last six. It has won four of six matches on home soil since 2000 and it would have been five of six without Lee’s cock-up and Pettersen’s outrage. The American rookies, allied to Korda’s quality, are a threat but so is that European top eight.
European top scorer – Charley Hull 6/1 with SkyBet
Grant could have a great week and Stark may form a powerful alliance with her. Boutier’s confidence will never have been higher and she was impressive when playing four and winning four in Gleneagles four years ago. Can Maguire be the top scorer in two matches in a row? It’s a big ask. Hall also played four and won four in Scotland in 2019. The pick, however, is Hull.
In Germany in 2015 she played five and won four, in Scotland she played four, won two, and halved two. That’s an impressive 6-1-2 on home soil and she is excited about playing in Spain where she expects decent support from family, friends, and fans. She’s also a two-time major championship runner-up this year.
USA top scorer – Rose Zhang with 6/1 with BetVictor
Nelly Korda is a fair favorite and might even form a potentially dynamic partnership with Rose Zhang. But the latter is worth the play. She’s got enormous potential, she’s fit, she’s likely to play enough to have the chance to win this market, everyone on the team will want to play with her, she can make a big impact and could easily be the star of the show.
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About the author
Matt Cooper – Contributing Writer
Matt Cooper has been a golf journalist for 15 years. He’s worked for, among others, Golf365, SkySports, ESPN, NBC, Sporting Life, Open.com and the Guardian. He specializes in feature writing, reporting and tournament analysis.
He’s traveled widely in that time, covering golf from Kazakhstan to South Korea via Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
More straightforwardly, he’s also covered numerous Majors, Ryder Cups and Solheim Cups.