Nichols: Juli Inkster got it right with veteran Solheim picks

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Nichols: Juli Inkster got it right with veteran Solheim picks

Solheim Cup

Nichols: Juli Inkster got it right with veteran Solheim picks

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Juli Inkster made the right call. She needed more veterans on the 2019 roster. She needed leadership. For those screaming for new blood, consider that only two of the 10 players who automatically qualified for the U.S. team were in Germany four years ago. It was a new-look team well before Inkster picked Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis to round out the 12.

Why not simply go with current form?

Because this isn’t like any other tour stop. Line up a dozen Hall of Famers and ask them to talk about Solheim Cup nerves. They’ll all tell you there’s nothing else like it in golf. And that playing overseas with fans rooting against you – loudly – can be overwhelming.

Morgan Pressel recalled a conversation in the team room her first time out in Sweden when JoAnne Carner and Judy Rankin told players they put Chapstick on their teeth so their mouths didn’t dry out.

As a rookie, Stacy Lewis told Angela Stanford that she’d tee off on the odd holes in their opening match in Ireland eight years ago. Lewis didn’t think about having to hit the first tee shot until she was on her way to No. 1.

“I hit a horrendous tee shot,” she said. “That was the kind of moment for me that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, and that I want the other rookies to be ready for.”

USA captain Juli Inkster celebrates with Lizette Salas after winning the The Solheim Cup international golf tournament at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. (Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

And it’s not just what Pressel and Lewis say to the team. Sometimes it’s simply sitting beside someone who looks like they’ve been here before that can calm nerves. A confident stare. A confident walk.

Pressel, for example, knows what it’s like to hit the event’s opening tee shot on a Friday morning in front of raucous crowds. She was pleased to get the ball in the vicinity of the fairway four years ago in Germany.

Pressel took down Annika Sorenstam as a Solheim rookie in Sweden a dozen years ago and twice beat European stalwart Anna Nordqvist head to head. The confidence she’s riding will pour into her teammates.

Inkster said she wasn’t the only one who wanted these two veterans on the team. The players did too.

“To have your peers want you I think is a big compliment to those two,” said the captain.

Lewis said she ran out of gas at the AIG Women’s British, where she missed the cut. The new mom played most of last year pregnant and all of this year trying to figure out how to travel with an infant. But she believes that her game is trending in the right direction, and maybe motherhood will somehow keep it all in better perspective.

Despite being the top American most years, or close to it, Lewis doesn’t have a good Solheim Cup record (5-10-1). Coming in as a captain’s pick could put more pressure on Lewis or less, depending on how she handles it. People aren’t expecting her to go 4-0, which means she might actually do it. With Gerina Piller not on the team, Lewis is in the market for a new partner. The all-business team of Brittany Altomare and Lewis would be intriguing.

USA captain Juli Inkster laughs with Danielle Kang on the first tee during the final round of The Solheim Cup international golf tournament at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Lewis remembers her hands shaking on that first tee shot back in Ireland. She wants everyone on the team to know that at Solheim, “you’re going to hit some of the worst golf shots you ever hit, and some of the best golf shots you ever hit. So just to know that stuff is going to come out of nowhere and it’s OK. We’ve all done it; we’ve all been there.”

Inkster, always one to lighten the mood, pointed to the sweaters she wore one year in Sweden that grew when it rained.

“They went from my waist to my knees by the time I got done with 18,” she said, “and they weighed about 15 pounds.”

The stories will be flowing all week at Gleneagles against a formidable, and experienced, European team.

From the start of her captaincy, Inkster has brought a blue-collar approach to the Solheim Cup. This a no-fluff zone. She passed out hard hats and helmets to the first two teams. This group will get a navy and white construction vest with their names printed on the back.

“They’ve got some reflective gear on them,” said Inkster, who joked that the U.S. team was going to hit glow balls off the balcony at Gleneagles.

Did we mention they’re going to have fun while they work?

Leave it to Inkster. She knows how to win.

2019 U.S. Solheim Cup team

POINTS

LEXI THOMPSON (5-2-4) – Fourth Solheim Cup for America’s best. Won three points in each of her last two appearances.

NELLY KORDA (rookie) – Wouldn’t be surprised if this rookie ended up being MVP at her first Solheim. Sister-act pairing an added bonus.

DANIELLE KANG – High-octane player was a breakout star in Des Moines, putting up three points and playing up the crowd.

LIZETTE SALAS (4-4-2) – Self-described “reborn” player nearly picked off her first major title at Woborn. Comes into Solheim on fire.

JESSICA KORDA (1-2-1) – Hard to believe it’s only her second Solheim. Not many positives to draw on from ’13 but a different player.

MARINA ALEX (rookie) – First-time winner last year in Portland left nothing to chance for this year’s team. Hasn’t finished outside the top 40 since June.

MEGAN KHANG (rookie) – Five top-10 finishes this season. Not yet a winner on the LPGA but one of the tour’s most accurate players.

BRITTANY ALTOMARE (rookie) – Flat-lined Cavalier hasn’t missed a cut this year. Mature player could pose a quiet threat.

WORLD RANKINGS

ANGEL YIN (1-1-1) – Big-hitting comedian went from outside-the-box captain’s pick to playing her way on Inkster’s team.

ANNIE PARK (rookie) – Former USC standout and 2014 Curtis Cupper collected first LPGA title last season.

CAPTAIN’S PICKS

MORGAN PRESSEL (10-7-2) – Bounced back in a mighty way after missing ’17 Solheim and finishing 90th on last year’s money list.

STACY LEWIS (5-10-1) – Has the chance to reboot her Solheim legacy at Gleneagles by successfully leading next generation.

Solheim Cup on TV

Friday, 3 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Golf Channel

Saturday, 3 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Golf Channel

Sunday, 6:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Golf Channel

All times ET

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