Why Europe Will Retain The Solheim Cup
When Suzann Pettersen holed her winning putt at Gleneagles in 2019 - the ultimate career mic-drop moment - we had just seen the completion of the most exhilarating Solheim Cup to date.
Now, two years on, victorious captain Catriona Matthew is back to lead Europe on away soil at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, which presents an even greater challenge against a United States team determined to regain the trophy.
Europe's blowout triumph in Colorado in 2013 remains their only win in America, but there are reasons to feel optimistic that the Scot's 12 players could pull off a relative upset in the heartlands of the US.
This European side has a strong balance of experience and freshness, with many of those stalwarts having consistently impressed in this format. Anna Nordqvist, the new Women's Open champion, brings a depth of experience from six previous appearances, while Georgia Hall, who was runner-up at Carnoustie, has a striking 66.67 win percentage from her two outings in the Solheim Cup.
25-year-old Charley Hull has already played in four Solheim Cups and boasts a record that surpasses the rest, winning 70% of her matches. Match play is a style of golf that suits the Englishwoman's aggressive approach to the game, and that could once again benefit Europe.
It hasn't been a vintage season for Carlota Ciganda, but she has proven to be a formidable performer in this event, while Celine Boutier is back after winning all four of her matches in 2019.
And Mel Reid, who was a vice-captain at Gleneagles, will surely relish being an on-course leader as she makes her fourth playing appearance in the Solheim Cup.
#TeamEurope in Toledo. @Beany25 ????????@emilypedersen96 ????????@georgiahall96 ????????@ANordqvist ????????@SophiaCPopov ????????@HullCharley ????????@carlotagolf ????????@melreidgolf ????????@leona_maguire ????????@msagstrom ????????@CastrenMatilda ????????@KoerstzMadsen ????????@celineboutier ????????#SolheimCup pic.twitter.com/8EHR9gEZDj— Solheim Cup Team Europe (@SolheimCupEuro) September 1, 2021
Those stalwarts can provide a foundation to be competitive, but in order to retain the Solheim Cup, the rookies will need to make a positive contribution. And the signs are positive.
American-born Finnish star Matilda Castren has been a sensation in 2021, winning on both the LPGA Tour and LET, while Ireland's Leona Maguire has produced some sparking golf this year, including a runner-up finish to world number one Nelly Korda, and a final day 61 at the Evian Championship, the joint-record low round in any major.
2020 Women's Open champion Sophia Popov was last year's fairytale story and she makes her Solheim Cup debut, as does Nanna Koerstz Madsen who was right in contention last month before a heartbreaking finish on the fearsome 18th hole at Carnoustie.
When you consider that these players are rookies, it's an impressive crop of added freshness to the European team.
In both the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup, the teams have consistently formed a cohesive unit, and there is no reason to expect anything different this time. Playing away in the face of a dominant home crowd, that atmosphere should only bring the players closer together, a mentality that Catriona Matthew will be expecting to bridge any perceived disadvantage by playing in America.
Europe has won three of the last five Solheim Cups, altering the course of history. With the backing of captain Matthew, assistants Laura Davies, Kathryn Imrie, and the talismanic figure of Suzzan Pettersen, the European team will feel confident that they can retain the trophy at Inverness.
There is no question that playing away presents an ominous challenge, especially against an American side that boasts the talents of Nelly Korda and Danielle Kang, but this European side possesses the ingredients required to cause a shock, a captain with the cool leadership and confidence to succeed, and players who should thrive in this format. Not to forget that many of them have arrived in Ohio on the back of strong recent performances.
Whatever happens, expect this Solheim Cup to be tight, enthralling, and potentially dramatic. The same as last time, please.
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