History awaits Team Europe at the 2023 Solheim Cup as the defending champions bid to make it an historic hat-trick of victories against Team USA under sunny Spanish skies at Finca Cortesin.
While just over half of the players currently inside the top 50 of the women’s world rankings are from outside of Europe or the United States of America, it is a biennial transatlantic tussle between players from these two continents/countries that continues to dominate the discourse and be considered the showpiece event of the women’s professional circuit outside of the five major championships.
Where once it was considered something of a one-sided affair – USA won eight out of the first 11 matches – the Solheim Cup is very much a needle affair these days, with Europe having won four of the last six, and arriving in Spain this month seeking an historic third win on the bounce, something that Europe has never achieved before.
And with US players occupying the top two in the world rankings, and having won three of this season’s five majors, and France’s Celine Boutier having captured one of the remaining two, the 2023 Solheim Cup is packed with serious star quality, and recent tour winners, all of whom will be looking to prove that they are great team players as well as being individual champions.
Spain will stage the 18th edition of the Solheim Cup for the very first time this year, a befitting host nation renowned for its passionate, fiery atmosphere and deep admiration for the game of golf.
Having produced seven Solheim Cup stars since the biennial tournament was established back in 1990 – Carlota Ciganda, Azahara Muñoz, Raquel Carriedo, Paula Martí, Ana Belén Sánchez, Beatriz Recari and Tania Elósegui – Spain will host their first edition of the event at Finca Cortesín Golf Club in Andalucia, world-renowned as high class match play venue, having previously staging three World Matchplay Championships on the European Tour.
On top of looking to complete a Solheim Cup hat-trick, Team Europe will also be seeking to reduce the overall series deficit once again, with the United States currently leading the series 10-7.
Suzanne Pettersen, the captain of the European team, will have plenty of experience at her disposal as she chases the ‘three-peat’, with English duo Georgia Hall and Charley Hull about to tee it up for their fourth and sixth editions respectively, while Carlotta Ciganda, Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordquist, all of whom were captain’s picks, will be lining up for the sixth, seventh and eighth appearances.
While all five players will no doubt provide a steady hand on the tiller, the fireworks are more likely to come from young newcomers Maja Stark and Linn Grant, both of whom have been tearing it up on the Ladies European Tour of late and seem to show no fear in stroke play competition, although it remains to be seen whether that form will translate to white heat of the team match play format.
Elsewhere, Leona Maguire, fresh from her breakthrough win on the LPGA Tour in June, will no doubt be looking to build on the stunning start to her Solheim career she enjoyed in 2021, when she bagged 4.5 points on her debut in the away matches in Ohio.
Europe’s nail-biting 15-13 win in Toledo two years ago was all the more impressive considering that virtually no European fans were able to make the journey over to the USA due to Covid travel restrictions, but this time they can bank on thousands of supporters from all over the continent and the UK making the pilgrimage to Finca Cortesin to cheer on their team.
Maguire said: “It’s going to be a very different one this year on home soil in Spain. I was a rookie last time, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just happy to be there and make the team. This time I feel like I belong, and I know that I have the game to take on and beat the best. It will be great to have that home support, and also to get the crowds back after last time when the fans were not allowed to travel.”
Georgia Hall is another who is particularly bullish about Europe’s chances this year, and even thinks that they are the stronger team, regardless of what the world rankings might suggest. “I think we’re going to have the best team on paper this time. It’s been a while since we were. But we have an amazing captain again in Suzann, who is a fierce competitor, and I think she’ll be a fierce captain, too. To get three in a row would be incredible.”
OUT FOR REVENGE
Standing in Pettersen’s way, for what we now know will be the first of two captain’s stints, is America’s Stacy Lewis, who, like her European counterpart, has been confirmed as skipper for next year’s Solheim Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, as the matches seek to return to the even years to rule out further clashes with the Ryder Cup.
While Pettersen’s team contains four captain’s picks, Lewis’s US team contains just two, Ally Ewing and Cheyenne Knight, with the other 10 picked on merit – eight qualifying from the LPGA Tour points list and two more from the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings who have not already qualified through the points standings. This ensures a team packed with form players, as well as those who have played well in this season’s biggest events.
None come bigger than the majors and world no.1 Lilia Vu has won two of them this year, winning the Chevron Championship and the Open Championship, the latter by an impressive six shots at Walton Heath just a few weeks ago.
Lewis’s firepower has also been boosted by having World No.2 and Olympic gold medallist Nelly Korda back in full health and playing as well as she ever has. Recently recovered from a blood clot in her right arm, the one-time major winner is seeking to avenge the losses of 2019 and 2021 alongside sister Jessica and fellow major winners Danielle Kang, Jennifer Kupcho and Lexi Thompson – the latter coming in as America’s most experienced player with five Solheim Cup appearances.
Asked about what it will take to turn around the USA’s recent losses, Lewis is under no illusion that it’s about who is able to handle the pressure and who holes those key putts, whether they’re for pars or birdies. “It comes down to making putts,” Lewis said. “We didn’t do enough of that at Inverness. That’s what I talked about, being in these last groups and learning how to handle the pressure and the emotions of it. That’s really what the putting comes down to.
“If you look at your best clutch putters over time, they have a lot of experience winning golf tournaments,” Lewis said. “They’re putting themselves in contention. They’re giving themselves opportunities to win. I look at last year’s European team, and as a team, they had a lot of wins. Whether it be LPGA or LET, they had won a lot more golf tournaments than our team. A lot can be said about having that experience and knowing what that feels like.”
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SOLHEIM CUP TIMETABLE
SEPT 21 OPENING CEREMONY
SEPT 22 4 FOURSOMES (from 7.10am) 4 FOURBALLS (from 12.40pm)
SEPT 23 4 FOURSOMES (from 7.10am) 4 FOURBALLS (from 12.40pm)
SEPT 24 12 SINGLES (from 10.10am)
WATCHING THE SOLHEIM CUP ON SKY
Sky Sports will have live coverage of the Solheim Cup for all three days, plus daily highlights, previews and a host of extra programming. For more details visit sky.com.