U.S. will flex muscle on Solheim Sunday

Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr sparked the U.S. on Saturday at the Solheim Cup.

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – The U.S. team thinks the media is crazy. Why would anyone consider Beth Daniel’s team the heavy favorite of this year’s Solhiem Cup?

“Their team is stacked as good as our team is so I have no idea where they got that from,” said birthday girl Brittany Lang, who turned 24 Saturday and got an half-point for her effort.

Gee, I don’t know. The Rolex Rankings, perhaps?

No matter what happens on Sunday in the 12 singles matches, there’s no question that Team USA had the upper-hand this week at Rich Harvest Farms. Daniel and Co. can pretend all they like that the Europeans match the U.S. in talent, but the stats don’t lie.

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Christina Kim celebrates during the Saturday morning fourball matches at the Solheim Cup.

“You guys are just sitting in here,” said Juli Inkster, addressing the media Friday evening. “Believe me, we know we’re not heavy favorites, and we know we have to play well to win.”

Inkster also called this one of the strongest European teams she’s ever seen. How quickly she forgets about Annika Sorenstam.

Inkster is correct when she says the Americans must play well to win. They are tied 8-8 heading into Sunday’s matches. But Team USA should flex its muscles Sunday afternoon, when Europe can’t hide any weak links. All 12 players must tee it up, and top to bottom the Americans are simply better.

To start, the Europeans have never won on American soil. They have to deal with rowdy American fans who don’t know it’s courteous to cheer for all good golf shots. (Many of them simply don’t the game.)

“You are probably the loudest people in the world when it comes to golf,” said two-time European captain Dale Reid. “This week we don’t know how things are going because they’re getting huge cheers for just hitting the greens.”

A break-down of the Rolex Rankings makes it even more clear. Inkster is the lowest-ranked player on the U.S. team at No. 51. The Americans are led by Cristie Kerr (No. 3) and Paula Creamer (No. 4).

Suzann Pettersen headlines the European team at No. 6, light-years away from Europe’s weakest player, Diana Luna, who checks in at 195th.

Daniel’s team has eight players ranked inside the top 40 while Europe has six. The bottom-half of the teams don’t compare.

Janice Moodie (87th), Laura Davies (90), Gwladys Nocera (125), Becky Brewerton (139), Tania Elosegui (188) and Luna (195) are exactly world-beaters these days. Yes, Davies has played on every Solheim Cup since 1990 and has 23 points to her credit. But her captain showed so little faith in her she sat around all day in waterproofs and black flats.

Nocera, Luna, Brewerton and Elosegui will never enjoy a terribly high ranking playing full-time on the Ladies European Tour. The fields are simply too weak compared to the LPGA. Of the four, Brewerton probably has the most natural talent.

The European team as a whole nearly doubles the Americans in terms of Solheim experience. The total Solheim points statistic isn’t even close with Europe’s members checking in at 80.5 points total compared to 44.5 for the U.S. They even have more LPGA experience with an average of 11.1 years compared to 7.83 for the Americans.

Players like Helen Alfredsson, Catriona Matthew, Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth are constants in the European lineup. They’re consistently good and know exactly what to expect.

But the LPGA, the strongest tour in the world, is driven by youth. Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and Creamer are fearless in their own right. They’ve contended (and won) majors. They’ve played for the U.S. numerous times in international competition and take this competition seriously.

Wie said she’s never had more fun on the golf course and it shows. She hasn’t won an LPGA event yet, but even the American players admit she plays a different game.

Creamer crushed Davies four years ago in her first singles session and Pressel took down Sorenstam as a rookie two years ago in Sweden.

Of course, this has been the Year of the Upsets. The golf world doesn’t have to look too far back to find an unlikely finish (hint: fellow named Yang).

Alison Nicholas pulled out all the stops for her team, showing them video messages from Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal for inspiration. If Big Al pulls this one off, she’ll look like a pint-sized genius.

Daniel hand-picked this venue several years ago when she sent a letter to John Solheim touting Rich Harvest Farms. Her suggestion became a reality and this demanding, curious track took center stage.

Daniel took a gamble benching every player at least one match. She wanted her team well-rested after 6-hour rounds. We’ll see Sunday if it pays off. The Americans, by the way, have scored 23 more points than the Euros in singles competition.

Driving into Rich’s compound, past silos and through rows of corn, one can’t help but think of Kevin Costner playing a game of catch in “Field of Dreams.”

The place, however, can turn into a nightmare real quick. Even for the heavy favorites.

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