ANDALUSIA, Spain — European team captain Suzann Pettersen had a reputation as a fiery competitor during her playing career, which helped her become one of the most successful and controversial players in Solheim Cup history.
In 2015, Pettersen was at the center of the “gimme-gate” controversy after American Alison Lee missed a birdie putt and picked up her ball on the 17th hole, stating she had heard the Europeans concede the 18-inch putt. Pettersen said she hadn’t, resulting in the U.S. team losing the hole and falling 1 down in the match. The Europeans won the match 2 up and took a 10-6 lead into singles.
Pettersen was heavily criticized for her actions and later apologized. The Americans rallied to win 8½ points during singles, resulting in a 14½-13½ victory at Golf Club St. Leon-Rot in Germany. It was the largest comeback in Solheim Cup history.
Four years later, at Gleneagles in Scotland, Pettersen made the winning putt to clinch Europe’s 14½-13½ victory. She announced her retirement moments later.
Pettersen seems to be carrying that same emotion and confidence as Europe’s captain at this week’s Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin in Andalusia. She has already called her team the most talented Europe has ever assembled.
“I don’t think there’s anything to hide under a chair that if you look on paper, we have the strongest team that I’ve ever been a part of, and that’s based on great performances over the last few years from all the players,” Pettersen said. “So with good results, there’s also expectations, but these girls are so up for it, so we can’t wait.”
American captain Stacy Lewis seems more than willing to let the Europeans carry the weight of being the favorites. Europe has won each of the last two Solheim Cups. They’ve never won three in a row. The U.S. had three-match winning streaks from 1994-98 and 2005-09.
“I think Europe’s the favorite,” Lewis said. “They have won the last two, we’re on their soil, they have a great team that has a ton, a ton of experience in this event. So you look at history, you know, it doesn’t bode well for us. But I love our chances. I love these rookies. I think they’re going to have a great week and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”
On paper, at least, the Europeans do have an advantage, especially when it comes to experience. Their 12 players have combined to play in 31 Solheim Cups, have amassed a 62-43-13 record and earned 68½ points.
The Americans, on the other hand, have 15 combined Solheim Cup appearances with a 24-26-13 record. They have combined to win 30½ points. Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang and Angel Yin are the only players who were on winning teams.
“I think this is a very, very strong team,” England’s Charley Hull said. “It’s got a lot of depth to the team as well. Before, we had a lot of strong players, but then sometimes the back end of the team wasn’t as strong. But I feel like we’re pretty strong all the way through. Yeah, no, I think we’ve got a good chance this year. I’m looking forward to it.”
Added England’s Georgia Hall: “I think this is the strongest team we’ve ever had on paper, for sure. Like Charley said, there’s not one weak player on our team. I think you can put out any of us at any time and I think we’ll perform well.”
It’s not like the Americans are going to roll over. Each of their 12 players is ranked in the top 50 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking, including No. 2 Lilia Vu, No. 3 Nelly Korda and No. 9 Allisen Corpuz. The U.S. will have five rookies, but Vu and Corpuz won three of the five major championships this past season.
“I wouldn’t consider ourselves underdogs, but I think we can come in here with nothing to lose because there’s really nothing to lose,” Vu said. “I think we’re a pretty young team, but I think we’re going to come out really strong and we’re going to have fun and our game will show on the course.”
How it works
The Solheim Cup, which pits a 12-player U.S. team against a 12-player European team, is a three-day match-play event. There are 28 matches and the team that has the highest point total after three days is the winner.
In foursome (alternate shot) matches, each team plays one ball, and the golfers play alternate shots until the hole is finished. In four-ball (or best ball) matches, each member of a two-player team plays her own ball. Four balls are in play on each hole. The lowest score from each team will count as the score for that team.
Friday includes four foursome matches and four four-ball matches.
Thursday includes four foursome and four four-ball matches.
Sunday’s finale includes 12 head-to-head singles matches.
Each match is worth one point and both teams receive a half-point for each tie. There is no playoff if the teams are tied after Sunday’s singles matches.
Celine Boutier (France)
Boutier was one of the hottest players on the planet this season, winning three times on the LPGA Tour, including her first major at the Amundi Evian Championship in her native France. She has been spectacular in the Solheim Cup with a 5-1-1 record in two previous appearances. Boutier has one of the best short games in the world; she ranked second on the LPGA Tour in strokes gained: around the green (0.59), first in scrambling (68.3%) and fourth in sand saves (61.1%).
Carlota Ciganda (Spain)
The two-time LPGA winner is making her sixth appearance in the Solheim Cup. She is the only player on either team to have at least three victories in singles with a 3-1-1 mark. She is tied for third on the LPGA Tour in putts per green in regulation (1.75).
Gemma Dryburgh (Scotland)
The former Tulane star is one of three Solheim Cup rookies on the European team. She picked up her first LPGA victory at the 2022 TOTO Japan Classic. She ranked seventh on the LPGA Tour in driving accuracy (82.14%).
Linn Grant (Sweden)
Another Solheim Cup rookie, Grant has won five times on the Ladies European Tour, most recently at the Jabra Ladies Open in France in May. She picked up her first LPGA victory at the Dana Open in July. Grant is one of the best ball strikers in the world; she ranked second in strokes gained: off the tee (1.15) and seventh in tee to green (1.60).
Georgia Hall (England)
Hall is making her fourth appearance in the Solheim Cup. She has been one of the team’s top performers. At the 2019 Solheim Cup in Scotland, Hall became only the 14th player to go unbeaten with a 4-0-0 record, helping the Europeans take a 14 ½-13 ½ victory.
Caroline Hedwall (Sweden)
At the 2013 Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colorado, Hedwall became the only player in the event’s history to go 5-0-0, helping the Europeans walk away with an easy 18-10 victory. She has an 8-6-1 record at the Solheim Cup. She won only one of five possible points in her two more recent appearances.
Charley Hull (England)
Hull is competing in her sixth Solheim Cup, which is tied with Ciganda for second most on the European team. She has an 11-5-3 record, earning 12½ points for Europe. She has been battling a neck injury and limited her practice this week.
Leona Maguire (Ireland)
Maguire was the star of the 2021 Solheim Cup as a rookie, compiling a 4-0-1 record to earn 4½ points in Europe’s 15-13 victory at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. She was the only player from either team to play in all five sessions.
Anna Nordqvist (Sweden)
A playing vice captain, Nordqvist is easily the most experienced player in the field with seven past appearances since 2009. She has a 14-10-3 record in the event, picking up 15½ points for Europe. The three-time major champion has gained at least a half-point in 57.4% of her Solheim Cup matches.
Emily K. Pedersen (Denmark)
A five-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, Pedersen is playing in her third Solheim Cup. She had a 3-1-0 record in 2021, partnering with Hull to go 2-1-0 in foursomes and four-ball matches, and then defeating Danielle Kang 1 up in singles.
Madelene Sagstrom (Sweden)
The former LSU star was a member of two European teams that won the Solheim Cup in 2017 and 2021. Sagstrom was on the wrong end of a ruling in 2021 after she prematurely picked up Nelly Korda’s eagle putt on the par-5 13th in a four-ball match. An official ruled that Sagstrom didn’t wait the required 10 seconds and awarded Korda and Ally Ewing an eagle. Korda and Ewing won the match 1 up.
Maja Stark (Sweden)
Another Solheim Cup first-timer from Sweden, Stark already has six victories on the Ladies European Tour and 13 top-10 finishes in three seasons. She won the 2022 ISPS Handa World Invitational to secure an LPGA card. Stark is one of the best tee-to-green players in the world, but ranked 117th in putting on the LPGA Tour.
The former USC star is only the second player from Hawaii to represent the U.S. in the Solheim Cup, joining Michelle Wie West. She won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach and has three other top-10 finishes.
The only player from Mississippi to compete in the Solheim Cup, Ewing is making her third appearance in the event. The three-time LPGA Tour winner had a 2-5-1 combined record in her previous two appearances.
The six-time LPGA Tour winner is one of the Americans’ most experienced competitors in the Solheim Cup with three previous appearances. She has a 5-7-0 record in the event. She’s also one of the most reliable putters in the world; she ranked second on the LPGA Tour in putting average (28.56) and putts per green in regulation (1.74).
Khang will be making her third Solheim Cup appearance and will be looking for better results. She went a combined 1-3-2 in the first two, including 1-1-1 in 2021. She finished in the top 10 in three of the five majors this season, including a tie for third at the Women’s PGA Championship. She’s one of the most accurate players off the tee (80.1% fairways hit) and on approach (72.6% greens in regulation).
A two-time LPGA Tour winner, Knight’s most recent victory came alongside Elizabeth Szokol in the two-player tournament at the 2023 Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. The former Alabama player had three other top-10s, including a tie for sixth at the JM Eagle LA Championship.
The former world No. 1 golfer is still looking for her first victory on Team USA, after losing in 2019 and 2021. She went 5-2-1 in those events, picking up 5 ½ points. Korda was better playing with her sister, Jessica, in 2019 than she was partnering with Ewing in 2021.
The 2022 Chevron Championship winner is making her second Solheim Cup appearance. She went 2-1-1 and earned 2½ points in 2021. There aren’t many players in the world better than Kupcho with an iron in her hand; she ranked fifth in greens in regulation (73%) on the LPGA Tour.
Lee might be a Solheim Cup rookie, but she had extensive experience in team events as an amateur, competing in the Junior Ryder Cup (2014), Junior Solheim Cup (2013, 2015), Pan American Games (2015), Curtis Cup (2016, 2018), Arnold Palmer Cup (2018) and Espirito Santo Trophy (2016).
An 11-time LPGA Tour winner, Thompson is the most experienced U.S. player in the Solheim Cup and will be making her sixth appearance. She has a 6-6-7 record in the vent since 2013, earning 9.5 points with a 6-6-7 record. She had missed the cut in five straight LPGA events before tying for 19th at the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G in early September.
After nearly giving up golf two years ago while competing on the Epson Tour, Vu captured two majors this season at the Chevron Championship and AIG Women’s Open. Those victories helped her ascend to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking. Vu ranked 12th on the LPGA Tour in strokes gained: putting (0.80) this season.
This is Yin’s third appearance at the Solheim Cup; she had a combined 3-2-1 record in 2017 and 2019. In 2019, she and Ally Ewing tied for the second-largest margin of victory in the event’s history with a 7-and-5 win in a four-ball match over Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall.
A two-time NCAA Division I-A individual national champion at Stanford, Zhang is the youngest competitor at the Solheim Cup at 20. She captured her first LPGA Tour victory in her first start as a professional at the Mizuho Americas Open in June.
About the course
Finca Cortesin, located near Spain’s southern coast, is widely regarded as one of Europe’s top courses. It hosted the Volvo World Match Play Championship three times in the past.
The par-71 layout is 6,138 yards, which isn’t too long. The front nine includes three par-5 holes, two par-3s and four par-4s; the back nine has one par-5, three par-3s and five par-4s. Finca Cortesin has Bermuda grass fairways and greens.
The opening hole is a drivable 280-yard par-4 hole, which might be reachable for the longest hitters off the tee, depending on the wind direction. The four closing holes, including the par-5 18th, might make for dramatic finishes in matches.
“It’s something that we don’t get to do a lot of,” Korda said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of trouble short. If you land it just short of the green, it’s rolling into the water. I think it’s a fun opening hole. I think you’re definitely going to be feeling it in your stomach on that first hole.”
The course is built into the slope of the Sierra Bermeja Mountain Range, making for a very difficult walk for competitors.
“People said it was hilly, but it’s definitely hilly,” Knight said. “I don’t know, it’s gorgeous, the views, everyone said, and how beautiful it is, but I’ve definitely been taken away by just how gorgeous everything is and the course is in great shape.”
Hitting fairways because of deep rough and natural areas, and finding greens because of runoffs is going to be paramount.
“The golf course is going to play tough, especially if the wind kind of picks up,” Korda said. “It’s pretty narrow with a lot of trouble on both sides of the fairway, so keeping it in play, and there’s a lot of falloffs by the greens. Obviously, coming from Florida, I’m used to Bermuda grass, so a little bit of maybe an advantage for me because I know this grass so well, but it’s going to be a true test.”
Ditching the pods
Pods have been a big part of American team golf since Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger introduced the pairings system in 2008. The belief was that by dividing a 12-player team into four pods, you could group players together who had similar styles of golf and compatible personalities.
Solheim Cup team captain Juli Inkster adopted the pod system in 2015 after the Europeans won in 2011 and 2013. The U.S. reclaimed the Solheim Cup in each of the next two events with Inkster as captain. In 2021, the Korda sisters, Ewing and Khang were in the same pod. Kang, Kupcho, Lizette Salas and Austin Ernst were in another.
After the Europeans won each of the last two Solheim Cups, Lewis is ditching the pod system. She’s hoping the team that practices, eats and spends time together will win together on Sunday.
“It creates more dynamic between all of the team members instead of just the three people you’re with,” Yin said. “I think that’s very special. I think the way she’s doing it is making it work fantastic. I don’t think people understand how great it’s working. Be scared.”
Lost and found
Kang went on social media earlier this week, asking for help finding her clubs, which didn’t arrive in Spain on her flight. She only had her putter, which she carries in a rifle case when traveling to avoid bending it.
Fortunately for Kang, her clubs arrived at Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport on Tuesday. Lewis’ father, Dale, went to the airport to retrieve them. Kang had been practicing with backup sets provided by Ping and Titleist. She was able to play the course with her regular clubs Wednesday.
“My dad actually went and picked it up for us,” Lewis said. “So Dad gets the MVP of the week. But, yeah, the number of people that were working on finding that golf bag the last two days is astronomical, so we were very excited. Danielle’s given us many hugs and thank yous. She was very appreciative.” Lewis said Kang remained calm, which was a good lesson for the team’s rookies.
“I’ve told a lot of people this: She’s handled it so well, like, so remarkably well that I think it sent a message to the rookies,” Lewis said. “There was no panic in her and it helped that team room vibe. I don’t even think Danielle realized it, you know, that she’s being a leader in that aspect. So it’s just been really cool to see her step up.”