Solheim Cup: U.S., Europe deflect role of favorite

Rosie Jones, the USA team captain, holds the Solheim Cup with her team as they arrived at Dublin Airport for the 2011 Solheim Cup.

DUNSANY, Ireland – The trash talk in Ireland so far smells awfully sweet. Both teams want to claim the role of underdog at the 12th Solheim Cup.

“If you look at their team from top to bottom, this is my fourth time, this is the most consistent team I have faced,” said Angela Stanford, whose U.S. team will play Europe in the Solheim Cup on Sept. 23-25 at Killeen Castle. “They’re solid, and they’re at home.”

England’s Laura Davies, of course, noted that according to bookies, Europe is a “massive underdog.” She was then asked to handicap the field in soccer terms, and her response drew a hearty laugh from the Brits in the room. (“We’d be Barcelona, and they’d be Grimsby Town,” Davies said.)

Whatever that means.

“You don’t need a close-run thing,” Davies said, “because they’ve proven over the years the singles are their forte.”

Davis is correct. The U.S. has won 61 percent of the singles. Europe has a slight advantage over the Americans in foursomes and four-balls.

Regardless of which team is expected to win, there’s a feeling that one side in particular needs to win. The Americans lead the series 8-3, having won the past three matches. A victory at Killeen Castle would go a long way in bolstering the biennial event. There’s so much chatter each year about opening up the Cup to the rest of the world that Europe might want to make this more of a competition if the Continent wants this event to remain status quo.

“If you compare our team to the Americans’ team, I think we’ve had a stronger year,” said Europe’s top player, Suzann Pettersen. “But at the same time, you want to leave the Americans as a favorite. I like being the underdog.”

Kathy Whitworth will assist the U.S. team while Juli Inkster is on the course competing. Inkster is the first playing assistant captain in Solheim Cup history. In 1990, Whitworth was the first Team USA captain, and she served again in 1992.

Davies has competed in more Solheim Cup matches than any other player, teeing it up in 43 of 48. However, don’t be surprised if Davies sits the bench this week. Davies has played in 11 events on the LPGA this season and made only five cuts, earning a paltry $26,499. And anyone who has watched the powerful Englishwoman struggle in these competitions knows she’s not exactly fighting ’til the bitter end.

Two years ago at Rich Harvest Farms, folks criticized the fake birds “swimming” in the ponds. Well, Killeen Castle has one-upped them in terms of deceptive appearances. The grand castle that serves as the centerpiece of this lush complex northeast of Dublin is nothing more than a shell.

Michelle Wie was asked for her philosophy on switching to a long putter last July: “My philosophy was ‘Why not?’ ” Despite shaky putting performances of late, Wie said it’s the only putter she brought to Ireland. Wie was the marquee player outside Chicago two years ago, going 3-0-1 in her Solheim debut. She’ll need another strong putting performance to back that up. Does anyone have Dave Stockton’s number?

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