Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Solheim Cup Preview: Team USA

Hound Dog is your one-stop shop for all things Solheim Cup. His preview, evaluation of the teams, and breakdown of individual players' records are excellent enough, but then he went and recommended strategies for putting the best-ball (four-ball) and alternate shot (foursomes) teams together. This, better than anything else, shows how many choices are available to the captains and how much of a difference chemistry and tactics can make in team match play. The pressure is on Beth Daniel, as an American loss on home turf would be a huge humiliation. And Rich Harvest Farms puts a lot of pressure on the players, both off the tee and on approach shots. So how to set up her teams to hold off an inevitable charge from the European underdogs with nothing to lose?

First step is knowing what kinds of players you have to work with. Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome are bombers, long and not at all accurate off the tee. Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, Christina Kim, and Juli Inkster are long hitters who are much more accurate than the bombers (although the latter 2 have lost a little distance this year, due to weight loss and age, respectively). Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, Nicole Castrale, and Kristy McPherson are all precision players. Gulbis, Kerr, and Wie are probably the best putters on the team right now, then McPherson, Creamer, and Stanford, then Castrale and Pressel.

Next step is figuring out who is most likely to play well together and in what format. Alternate shot is the toughest format, so you want players with experience who will complement each other well, which means no bombers allowed. Inkster and Creamer were a great team in 2007 and 2005. I'm not splitting them up in alternate shot, no matter what. Kerr has played well with both Gulbis and Castrale in recent Cups, but I wouldn't put 2 of the best putters on the team together unless absolutely necessary, so let's call it Kerr and Castrale for foursomes on Friday. Stanford is another anchor in foursomes and would pair well with Gulbis, Pressel, or McPherson; my heart says put the Southerners together, but my head says save that for Saturday if necessary and start Gulbis on Friday. I would make Kim my last Friday foursomes anchor and pair her with Pressel for an all-star Twitter combo. So what order to put the teams out in on Friday afternoon?


A tough-as-nails lead-off team, the most vulnerable of the 4 teams next, and the 2 strongest to finish off the 1st day.

Friday morning best-ball pairings follow from these. I'd rest Inkster both mornings so she's fresh for foursomes. Pressel is the shortest hitter on the team, so I'd bench her Friday morning. I agree with Hound Dog that it's important to get everyone out there on the 1st day, so that means pairing the bombers with some steady players. To me, that means putting Lincicome with Gulbis and Wie with Creamer (it would be the other way around if Wie and Gulbis weren't in the top 3 in putting on the team). Rookies Lang and McPherson also need steadying influences, so pairing the former with Kerr and the latter with Stanford makes the most sense to me. That frees up Kim and Castrale for cheerleading duties with Inkster and Pressel. Here's my Friday morning line-up in order:


Once again, I want Kerr's team batting clean-up and a tough lead-off team, but this time I'm hoping for at least 1 win from the 2 bomber/precision player pairings in the middle.

What to do on Saturday depends a lot on Friday's results. If Team USA is leading the 1st day, I'd get a little creative with my best-ball pairings Saturday morning:

Wie-Kim (to get the top sparkplug/cheerleader done early)
Lincicome-Creamer (especially if Lincicome couldn't get even half a point with Gulbis the morning before)
Stanford-McPherson (or Gulbis, if McPherson played badly the morning before)
Kerr-Lang (or Castrale, if Lang played badly and Castrale teamed up well with Kerr in alternate shot the afternoon before)

If Team USA is tied or trailing, though, I'd consider concentrating my firepower a little more in hopes of nailing down at least a couple of points in the morning:

Kim-[the hottest-remaining precision player]

My Saturday afternoon would depend, again, on previous results. If Team USA and Team Euro are tight, I'd go with the same combos as on Friday, unless someone were playing really badly, in which case I'd go to the Plan B in parentheses:

Kim-Pressel (Gulbis if Pressel is struggling)
Stanford-Gulbis (McPherson if they've done well in previous matches or if Gulbis needs to switch partners)
Kerr-Castrale (Lang or Pressel could sub for Castrale if necessary)

Oddly enough, if Team USA is trailing or leading, I'd use the same alternate combos as in the morning:

Kim-[the hottest remaining precision player]

The idea would be to either mount a comeback or pour it on. Even if these pairings didn't work out in the morning best-ball matches, I think they'd have a better chance of working out in the afternoon alternate-shot matches, because the players would have become even more accustomed to playing together in a team match-play format.

Here's my order for singles, which wouldn't change much no matter what the previous results. My idea would be to put your shakiest players right after Inkster and Kim, who have to lead off to set the tone and get in cheerleader mode as soon as possible, and then build up to your steadiest ones:

1. Inkster
2. Kim
3. Wie
4. Lincicome
5. Lang
6. McPherson
7. Castrale
8. Pressel
9. Gulbis
10. Stanford
11. Creamer
12. Kerr

My only modification to this principle would be to put Wie after Kim (normally she'd be my #7 person), so she'd have a friendly face to confide in if there's any waiting on the tees.

So there you have it. Tomorrow I'll preview Team Europe!

[Update 1 (7:52 pm): Here's Brian Heard's excellent preview.]

[Update 2 (8/20/09, 2:25 am): Here's Average Golfer's set-up for the Solheim Cup.]

[Update 3 (2:36 am): Here's Jeff Skinner.]


Anonymous said...

Wait - Michelle Wie is your "top sparkplug" ???

Only playing Juli Inkster in one match before the singles ? She is the most consistent, and most experienced match player on the team.

Why Wie and Gulbis if the team is behind ? Not exactly a combination I would put together. Neither is very reliable off the tee - neitehr has a reliable short game - and only Gulbis is a solid putter.

On the other hand - if the US is as dominant as advertised - it's not going to make much difference.

The Constructivist said...

Heh, I was referring to the other Korean-American in that pairing, as you know, CG!

Inkster is not having a good year and hasn't played all that much. Can she handle 4 matches, physically, and still play well in the last one?

On a Wie-Gulbis pairing, they're probably the top 2 putters on the team (stats-wise, at least). Even if they're not that accurate off the tee (and Gulbis is much more accurate than Wie), they're used to making recovery shots from the rough, so I think they could pull off alternate shot. And Natalie's a long-time Friend of Wie.