Date: 24-26 September Venue: Finca Cortesin, Spain
Coverage: Daily live text and radio commentary, plus television highlights on BBC2 on Friday and Sunday and BBC4 on Saturday at 19:00 BST
A fortnight of compelling transatlantic tussles for golf’s most precious team prizes begins with what could be a feisty Solheim Cup as Europe’s women bid for a record third win in a row.
Emotions might run high at Finca Cortesin in Andalucia, with both Europe and the United States led by uncompromising and forthright characters in Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis respectively.
“It’s one of the things I look forward to the most about this Solheim Cup is going up against her,” Lewis said in the build up to the match which begins on Friday.
“We both have kind of the personalities that hopefully we don’t have any rules issues because I don’t think either one of us will back down.”
Pettersen was involved in one of the Solheim Cup’s most infamous moments with “gimme-gate” in the 2015 match in Germany. The Norwegian claimed a vital hole after Alison Lee had picked up her ball thinking a short putt had been conceded.
Pettersen, nor her partner Charley Hull, had made the concession and to the letter of the rules a distraught Lee was in the wrong. But the more experienced of the European pairing was roundly criticised for her perceived lack of sportsmanship.
Amid the resulting furore, current Ryder Cup skipper, Zach Johnson, who leads the US defence of that trophy the week after the Solheim Cup, branded Pettersen a “disgrace to the sport”.
She later apologised and recently told the Times that the episode, “almost killed my desire to go out on the golf course and compete again”.
Thankfully, Pettersen persevered and after becoming a mother returned to the Solheim Cup team as a surprise pick by Catriona Matthew for the Gleneagles match in 2019.
There she holed the winning putt to end a tumultuous contest and finish her career in the most dramatic way possible. That nerveless eight-foot putt was her last shot as a competitive golfer.
Pettersen was vice-captain to Matthew as the Scot masterminded Europe’s defence of the trophy at the Inverness Club in Toledo two years later. It was perhaps the most amazing away win ever achieved in the sport.
There was no travelling support for Matthew’s team because of Covid restrictions. Europe were heavy underdogs but were inspired to a 15-13 victory by debutant Leona Maguire who collected four and a half points out of five.
Now Pettersen has taken over from Matthew and it would be easy to assume she will be a more emotional rather than analytical leader. But, Dame Laura Davies – an assistant – sees it differently.
“She’s not as feisty as a captain as she was as a player,” Davies told Golfweek. “Having said that, once the gun goes off on Friday, I’m sure she’ll revert back to, ‘come on, let’s win this thing’.
“So far she’s been really calm and fun to work with.”
Europe have arguably their strongest core in the history of these matches, which stretches back to the inaugural contest in 1990. Their leading eight players are all in the world’s top 40.
But by selecting world numbers 121 and 122 in Emily Kristine Pedersen and Caroline Hedwall, Pettersen has gambled on Scandinavian Solheim grit rather than current form.
Pedersen won three points out of four in Ohio two years ago, but after starting the year by finishing sixth in Saudi Arabia the Dane has not challenged for a title in 2023.
She has missed five cuts and failed to finish in the top 15 in any event on the LPGA Tour.
Hedwall won in Andalucia at the end of last year and finished sixth in this summer’s Scottish Open before coming 66th at the AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath.
The Swede missed the cut at the Irish Open and was most recently 39th at the LET’s Big Green Egg Open in the Netherlands. It is hardly compelling form from the 34-year-old who won all five points in the 2013 Solheim Cup.
Since that glorious performance in Colorado, Hedwall won only one point out of four in 2015 and lost both matches in her most recent appearance in 2019.
“The best I can do is just to be supportive from an arm-length distance,” Pettersen said. “To facilitate the team the best I can is my most important job.
“I want the players to have the greatest energy, the best surroundings, the best kind of helpers, the best support team. That is actually what Solheim is all about from the European side.”
The continent’s average world ranking is 42.58 compared with 25 for the Americans. All of the visiting players reside in the world’s top 50.
It is a transitional line up with five rookies that include double major winner Lilia Vu, US Open winner Allisen Corpuz and Rose Zhang, who won her first LPGA tournament on her professional debut only last June. The 20-year-old has also posted three major top 10s.
“I’m not worried about the chemistry at all,” Lewis insisted after unveiling her six wildcard picks. “These five, they are rookies, but they are so experienced, just as far as the amount of golf they have been able to play.
“Rose is the only true rookie but she’s probably got more experience than a lot of us combined, in big events.”
Lewis’ big concern is the form of Lexi Thompson, who qualified for the team despite wretched performances for most of this year. The 28-year-old ended a run of four consecutive missed cuts by finishing 19th in Cincinnati earlier this month.
It was her best result since January when she shared third place in Saudi Arabia. “There are definitely some concerns about her game, 100%,” Lewis recently admitted.
“She is not going to quit and she is not going to give up on the golf course, and sometimes I think that’s the most important thing in Solheim Cups and team events.”
If Europe are to make history with a hat-trick of wins, they will need the likes of Evian and Scottish champion Celine Boutier, the in-form Hull and Swedish debutants Linn Grant and Maja Stark to fire on all cylinders.
Maguire remains a nigh-on perfect foursomes and fourball partner but will not have Mel Reid at her side this time. Georgia Hall has been short of form but boasts eight points out of 13 from her three impressive appearances to date.
Gemma Dryburgh’s calm temperament should be vital in the Scot’s Solheim debut and the experience of Anna Nordqvist, playing for the eighth time, could prove invaluable.
Europe won the last two matches by a combined three points and three of the last four contests have been settled by two points or less. “I just think Europe is really, really strong,” Lewis insisted in the latest battle for coveted underdog status.
“They have got all the momentum in this event. That’s going to be our biggest thing. We are going overseas, and we don’t have the momentum on our side.”
But the US do have a new team and a determined captain. Europe’s skipper is also hellbent on victory. It could be a classic.