Fresh faces line up for Solheim Cup

Lexi Thompson during the second round of the Navistar LPGA Classic.

Rookie Azahara Munoz asked for a pep talk, and Suzann Pettersen certainly delivered. As a cart drove Munoz, Pettersen and Caroline Hedwall out to their matches after the final rain delay of the 2011 Solheim Cup, Pettersen looked Munoz in the eyes and said, “This is your pep talk: This cart takes three points.”

Europe won in dramatic fashion, giving life to an event that was becoming terribly lopsided. Credit Pettersen for the added fire.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the ShopRite Classic, but the LPGA took advantage of the event’s long windup (Round 1 starts Friday in Galloway, N.J.) to bring players together to talk about the upcoming contest Aug. 16-18 in Parker, Colo.

Europe’s side likely will include Charley Hull, a 17-year-old from England who leads the Ladies European Tour's money list and is due to win after a staggering four runner-up finishes in four starts.

Team USA also will carry a teen in Lexi Thompson. The 18-year-old LPGA winner ranks sixth on the U.S. points list. Jessica Korda (seventh) and Lizette Salas (eighth) would round out the automatic qualifiers if points were cut off today.

Both teams will have their share of fresh faces, giving the biennial contest a boost of energy, and hopefully, hype.

This year, two U.S. players will qualify based on their position in the Rolex Rankings. As of now, Brittany Lang and Gerina Piller would fill those spots. U.S. captain Meg Mallon then would make two picks to round out a team of 12. (She will do that Aug. 4 following play in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews' Old Course.)

Spain’s Carlota Ciganda leads the European points list. She won the LET’s Order of Merit in her rookie season.

“I think there's a new generation popping up,” Pettersen said. “And through all the six times I've played, half the team has pretty much been Swedes. (That’s) not necessarily going to happen this year.”

Fan favorites who are outside the automatic-qualifying criteria for the American side include Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie. Pressel, maker of team ribbons and digital scrapbooks, would cry a river if left off this year’s squad. She is ranked No. 64, two spots behind Piller.

Wie often has sought advice from Mallon, growing close to her and Beth Daniel as a captain’s pick in 2009. She has played 10 times this year on the LPGA and missed five cuts. Her best finish is a T-28 in her home state of Hawaii – on a former home course.

Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim are three more crowd-pleasers who likely will be watching this one from the couch.

With three majors left on the docket and double points on the table, it’s certainly possible for some of these big names to make a run. Mallon has invited a practice squad to Colorado Golf Club during the week of the men's U.S. Open, a dark week for the LPGA.

“On the American side, we've had a lot of young players starting to step up that are very talented,” said U.S. points leader Stacy Lewis. “I think it'll be interesting to see how they get to Solheim and kind of handle that pressure."

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Downgrade: Remember when Yani Tseng owned the LPGA? Two years ago she led nearly every statistical category: driving distance, scoring average, rounds under par, birdies, money list, rounds in the 60s. She was second in greens in regulation and fifth in putting. She won seven times in 2011.

This season, she’s 59th in greens in regulation and 21st in putting. She’s 31st in total birdies. Whatever ails Tseng runs through her entire bag.

When Stacy Lewis took over the No. 1 ranking in March, Tseng looked relieved. She since has slipped to No. 5. Her last top 20: Honda LPGA Thailand in late February.

Here’s to hoping the Lewis/Tseng showdown returns this summer to a major near you.

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From the 'Where Are They Now?' file: Birdie Kim shot 65 to Monday-qualify for this week’s LPGA event. The 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champ is a regular on the Symetra Tour.

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Back to Solheim: Dates were announced for the 2015 Solheim Cup, to be contested in Germany. The event will be held Sept. 18-20 at Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, immediately following the Evian in France. Two Germans – Sandra Gal and Caroline Masson – are potential players for the 2013 European team.

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