SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – It’s Solheim Cup week, which means we’re guaranteed to see American names on the leaderboard. (It’s OK to smile after reading that.) Judging by the early-week crowds, it appears as if the LPGA will have more buzz at Rich Harvest Farms than it has had at any of the four majors, excluding commissioner hoopla.
Fans love the uniqueness of this biennial event – the match-play format, team chemistry and endless drama. They want to know what music gets Paula Creamer pumped in the team room (Savage’s “Swing”), who won the nightly pingpong match (Kristy McPherson and Brittany Lincicome), who delivered the most inspiring words (TBD, but my money is on Juli Inkster).
Fans love this event because it’s saturated with the best America has to offer. Hardly a week goes by on the LPGA when the phrase “Where are the Americans?” isn’t uttered. Americans simply enjoy watching Americans. And they expect to win.
That shouldn’t be much of a problem this week, because Team USA is heavily favored to retain the cup. The Europeans are 0-5 on American soil, and that record isn’t likely to improve down on the Farms.
Most of the media attention this week likely will focus on Michelle Wie and Creamer, but Cristie Kerr has done her part this year to wave the flag. Kerr leads the money list with $1,309,202. Four Asian players stand between her and Creamer.
Kerr also became the first American player to top the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index earlier this week. Annika Sorenstam led the index for 291 weeks (March 19, 2001 to Oct. 9, 2006). Kerr supplanted Lorena Ochoa, who owned the top slot from Oct. 16, 2006 to Aug. 10, 2009). Karrie Webb is the only other former No. 1, reigning for 53 weeks from the index debut on March 20, 2000.
In the past year, Kerr and Ochoa are tied at 9-9-1 in head-to-head competition. In common rounds, Kerr leads 35-33-4.
Kerr’s Solheim Cup experience on the U.S. team is second only to Juli Inkster. Kerr is the hottest American player coming into the event, and her deft putting stroke will come in handy when she’s paired with Creamer in Friday’s opening four-ball match.
Kerr, who will never be nominated for the Miss Congeniality Award, praised the team chemistry of this year’s squad, bad news for a European team that’s already outmatched in talent.
“You know, in years past, it’s been amazing team chemistry,” Kerr said. “But this year, I think, surpasses that.”
>> Fast start: The 8:05 a.m. pairing carries the most firepower. America’s top two players in Creamer/Kerr against the fiery Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson. In the absence of Sorenstam, Pettersen takes the lead for Europe. The last time the Norwegian teed it up was at the British, where she missed the cut. She was visibly frustrated at Royal Lytham, something her Vision54 coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, have worked hard since to correct.
Marriott thinks that Pettersen plays her best golf when she’s relaxed and aggressive. The team atmosphere helps her to focus on something other than score, and the format gives her the freedom to, at times, be overly aggressive.
“This feeds into her style of play: high-adrenaline kind of golf,” Marriott said. “I think we’ll see some stellar golf this week.”
>> The bookends of the morning session should provide plenty of action and massive crowds. Wie pairs with good friend Morgan Pressel, one of the shortest hitters on tour, for her Solheim debut in the final pairing. U.S. captain Beth Daniel thought that Pressel’s strong match-play mind would help the much-hyped rookie.
Pressel won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur and practically came out of her shoes on the first tee at the 2007 Solheim Cup when she took down Sorenstam in singles. They’ll face two of the more subdued players on tour in Maria Hjorth and Catriona Matthew.
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Pairings for Day 1 of the Solheim Cup
8:05 a.m. – Suzann Pettersen-Sophie Gustafson (E) vs. Paula Creamer-Cristie Kerr.
8:20 a.m. – Helen Alfredsson-Tania Elosegui (E) vs. Angela Stanford-Juli Inkster.
8:35 a.m. – Laura Davies-Becky Brewerton (E) vs. Brittany Lang-Brittany Lincicome.
8:50 a.m. – Catriona Matthew-Maria Hjorth (E) vs. Morgan Pressel-Michelle Wie.