Thursday, September 1, 2011

Team Euro Looks Tough This Year for the Solheim Cup

Looking over the LET's rundown of Team Euro, I'm struck by how competitive the 2011 Solheim Cup ought to be this year. Using my admittedly-slightly-dated Best of the LPGA ranking from early last month, consider how the teams match up on paper and the likely contributions each team member is likely to make:

#2 Cristie Kerr vs. #3 Suzann Pettersen: Not only has Pettersen already beaten Kerr in a match-play final this year, but Kerr's been trying to groove some swing changes and has been wildly inconsistent by her incredibly high standards. Not to say there isn't time for her to build more confidence in her swing, but right now I'd say Team Euro has the edge here.

#6 Stacy Lewis vs. #15 Maria Hjorth: Yes, this is Stacy's 1st Solheim Cup and Hjorth has played brilliantly many times in the last year (winning about as much as anyone not named Tseng), but I have to give the edge to Lewis here, as her all-around game's more consistent than Hjorth's.

#7 Paula Creamer vs. #21 Anna Nordqvist: Of the 2 precision players, I'd day Creamer's a little closer to her best than Nordqvist right now, plus she has a lot more Solheim Cup experience.

#11 Angela Stanford vs. #22 Catriona Matthew: Wow, I'd love to see these 2 gritty competitors face off in a singles match! Stanford's been struggling to turn very good play into great play, while Matthew's also been knocking at the door lately. With both having relatively equal Solheim Cup experience, this one's too tough to call.

#12 Morgan Pressel vs. #23 Sandra Gal: Give Pressel the edge for her fire and experience, but watch out if Gal's putter gets hot Solheim Cup week.

#13 Brittany Lincicome vs. #28 Sophie Gustafson: Another singles match I'd love to see, as both bombers are capable of truly roller-coaster rounds. Edge to Lincicome, however, as she really seems to be maturing on the golf course of late.

#18 Michelle Wie vs. #31 Karen Stupples: Despite Team Euro Assistant Captain Annika Sorenstam's attempts to needle Wie in the run-up to the Solheim Cup--or maybe because of them--I see Wie coming to Killeen Castle with a massive chip on her shoulder and I see Team USA rallying around her. I pity anyone who tries to beat her. Stupples definitely deserves to be on Team Euro, but I can't imagine her contributing as much as Wie that week.

So, yeah, on paper and based on past performances (and more recent ones), I'd give Team USA the edge over Team Euro if it were a 7-player-per-team event. But the gap between them isn't as large as it's been in past years. And check out how evenly matched the next 5 are:

#24 Brittany Lang vs. #35 Azahara Munoz: Lang gets the edge because she seems to have emerged from the 2nd big slump of her pro career, but Munoz came in 2nd to Pettersen at the LET event at Killeen Castle this year and is also rebounding from a little bit of a sophomore jinx, so it's a very small edge we're talking about here.

#33 Juli Inkster vs. n.r. Laura Davies: Another must-see singles match. Fortunately for Team Euro, this year's Solheim Cup isn't being played on U.S. soil, which is like Kryptonite for Davies of late. Given Inkster's struggles of late and her duties as one of Team USA's assistant captains, this one is too tough to call.

#49 Ryann O'Toole vs. n.r. Melissa Reid: Who wouldn't want to watch a singles match between the "It" Girls of each tour? In one sense, the pressure's on O'Toole, who Rosie Jones picked over #29 Mindy Kim, #32 Katie Futcher, #43 Stacy Prammanasudh, #44 Paige Mackenzie, #47 Natalie Gulbis, and #48 Pat Hurst, but in another sense it's on Reid, who's the top LET qualifier and who wants to prove to herself she can compete against the best in the world. This one's too tough to call.

#54 Vicky Hurst vs. #50 Caroline Hedwall: Hurst leapfrogged a lot more possible captain's picks than Hedwall, who's ranked behind only Beatriz Recari in LPGA performance, but it was Hedwall's outstanding play on the LET in her rookie season this year that made her a lock for the team. Hurst will contribute a lot in doubles matches simply because of her length, but I have to give the edge to Team Euro here.

#63 Christina Kim vs. #65 Christel Boeljon: This is the worst Kim's ever played in a Solheim Cup year, but she's shown some signs of life lately while Boeljon's not taken the LPGA by storm, to say the least. But she has been steadier than Kim, who's probably going to contribute more on intangibles--mainly pumping up Wie--than with her actual play.

Thinking of who matches up well with each other on Team USA, I'd like to see Wie and Kim, and Creamer and Inkster, together at least once, but I'd also like to see how well Kerr and Pressel, Creamer and O'Toole, Wie and Stanford, Lewis and Lincicome, and Lang and Hurst play together, particularly in the alternate-shot format.

But I think Team Euro captain Alison Nicholas may have a little more flexibility when it comes to pairing up players than Team USA's Jones. I'd love to see her pair Pettersen with Nordqvist and Hedwall and Reid in turn, but keep veterans Hjorth and Gustafson, and Stupples and Davies, together at least once. I think Matthew has the reliability, intensity, and experience to help fellow LPGAers Munoz and Gal get accustomed to Solheim Cup pressure. And Davies could play the same role, particularly with Reid and Boeljon, whom she's played a lot with on the LET, provided she's bringing any kind of game to Ireland. But if need be, Nicholas could go young, as Nordqvist, Reid, Munoz, Hedwall, Gal, and Boeljon have plenty of experience despite their youth and have solid all-around games that could lead to a host of good pairings.

Where Jones has to be careful, even with Killeen Castle's generous fairways, is in keeping Wie and Lincicome apart (too much of a chance of their drivers getting them in trouble on the same hole in best-ball or in consecutive holes in alternate-shot), keeping Creamer and Pressel apart (they're giving up too much distance off the tee), keeping Kerr, Stanford, and Lang apart (they're too valuable as straight shooters to be paired togethere; their combination of distance and accuracy means they could pair up as well with bombers as with precision players), keeping the rookies apart (which means that Lewis can't really play the same kind of anchor role that Kerr, Creamer, Pressel, and Stanford should and O'Toole and Hurst may not be as reliable when it comes to bringing the power as Wie and Lincicome), and keeping Inkster, Hurst, and Kim apart (none of whom seem to be playing particularly well heading into the competition). That's a lot of red flags--something I just don't see Team Euro having to worry about.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Hound Dog (who's absolutely right that having 2 spots on the U.S. team decided by Rolex Rankings instead of Solheim Cup points is pretty meaningless), Brent Kelley (who's absolutely right that this is Team Euro's best chance for a win in a very long time), Tony Jesselli, bangkokbobby, and Ruthless Mike size up the teams and matches in the coming weeks. And I'd be even more excited if the JLPGA and KLPGA would synchronize their Pinx/Kyoraku Cup annual competition with the Solheim Cup by 2013 (in timing and format), so that the winning and losing teams from each could face off in 2014!

[Update 1 (5:20 pm): Here's Ward Clayton's take on]


Awsi Dooger said...

The USA is a surprisingly hefty favorite, more than I expected. Ladbrokes offers USA at 2/5, Europe at 5/2 and a Draw at 10/1.

Eventually other sites will put up odds that base the result on who exits with the Cup, with Draw not a separate option. The USA will obviously be a higher chalk in that situation, as the holder.

Jim C said...

I disagree about the rule change. If you look at the ten players who earned their way onto the 2009 team, the new rules would have omitted Gulbis and replaced her with Wie. Wie only made the team as a controversial captain's pick. As such, she had to deal with the stigma of not really earning a spot on the team--and with another captain she might not have made the team at all. Even with the new rule the deck is stacked against rookies--but less so. I think the rule change is a definite improvement.