By outpointing Team Korea at the last second of International Crown qualifying, Team USA earned its way into a much weaker pool, as measured by the Rolex Rankings, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and my own career ranking system (for those who joined the LPGA since 2005).
Consider Thursday's match-up against Taiwan (the percentage increase or decrease listed after my system tracks how well a player has done relative to their standing at the end of last season):
TEAM USA (1)
Stacy Lewis: #1 RR (11.72), #1 GSPI (68.35), #4 MH (+15.7%)
Lexi Thompson: #5 RR (6.67), #10 GSPI (70.01), #9 MH (+16.1%)
Cristie Kerr: #10 RR (5.16), #12 GSPI (70.08), n.r. MH
Paula Creamer: #12 RR (4.35), #16 GSPI (70.44), #6 MH (+/-0%)
TEAM TAIWAN (8)
Teresa Lu: #44 RR (2.11), #24 GSPI (70.63), #43 MH (+/-0%)
Ya Ni Tseng: #53 RR (1.86), #93 GSPI (72.15), #1 MH (-4.5%)
Phoebe (Hsuan-Yu) Yao: #105 RR (1.07), #77 GSPI (71.85), n.r. MH
Candie Kung: #118 RR (.97), #103 GSPI (72.11), n.r. MH
Obviously, Team USA is much higher-ranked and playing well (except maybe for Creamer, who seems like she's trying to play through an injury after starting the season with 3 top 3s in her 1st 4 starts, including her 10th LPGA victory), but it is worth noting that everyone on Team Taiwan is playing better in 2014 than they did in 2013 except for their leader Tseng (although she does have 2 top 5s this year). Lu has a 4-event top-20 streak going on the JLPGA that includes her 2nd win on that tour. Yao got her 1st JLPGA win earlier this season, but has missed the cut in her last 2 starts. Kung has 2 top 20s in her last 5 LPGA starts. Assuming Kerr/Creamer and Lewis/Thompson pair up for Team USA, and LPGAers Tseng/Kung and JLPGAers Lu/Yao pair up for Team Taiwan, it's hard to see Team Taiwan getting any points on Thursday. Even if you mix the teams up differently, the American advantage seems too hard to overcome.
The Thailand-Spain matches are going to be much more evenly matched:
TEAM THAILAND (4)
Pornanong Phatlum: #28 RR (2.84), #25 GSPI (70.64), #42 MH (+14.9%)
Ariya Jutanugarn: #43 RR (2.16), #56 GSPI (71.41), n.r. MH
Onnarin Sattayabanphot: #88 RR (1.25), #62 GSPI (71.48), n.r. MH
Moriya Jutanugarn: #120 RR (.96), #141 GSPI (73.03), #60 MH (-26.0%)
Phatlum ended last season hot, beating Stacy Lewis in Dubai to cap off that run, and hasn't lost any steam in 2014, with 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s on the LPGA thus far this season. Sattayabanphot started 2014 hot on the JLPGA, with a gold (her 2nd on tour), a silver, and a bronze in her 1st 6 starts, but has since cooled off, with only 1 top 10 in her last 9 starts and 2 missed cuts in a row heading into this week. You might say that Moriya is suffering a sophomore slump, but I wasn't all that impressed by her Rookie of the Year season in 2013. Ariya is not as dominant as she was before injuring her shoulder in Rochester last summer, but is still #21 on the LET's Order of Merit (she finished #19 in her injury-shortened rookie year there).
TEAM SPAIN (5)
Azahara Munoz: #20 RR (3.48), #15 GSPI (70.35), #18 MH (+5.1%)
Beatriz Recari: #37 RR (2.39), #118 GSPI (72.70), #27 MH (-8.2%)
Carlota Ciganda: #63 RR (1.67), #75 GSPI (71.79), #48 MH (-26.6%)
Belen Mozo: #112 RR (1.03), #108 GSPI (72.39), n.r. MH
Munoz started 2014 with 9-straight LPGA top 25s, and added 4 more in her last 8 starts on tour, but has a T37 and MC in her last 3 starts, her worst 2 finishes this season on the LPGA. Ciganda has only 1 top 20 on the LPGA this year, but she's #28 on the LET's Order of Merit in only 3 starts, and she bounced back in last year's Solheim Cup, so don't count her out this week. I can see Munoz and Ciganda taking advantage of their Arizona State connection. Recari, meanwhile, got off to a terrible start to the season due mostly to injuries, but has 2-straight top 25s, while Mozo has 2 top 10s in her last 7 LPGA starts, so they're a little more of a risk to put together, but I think they'll go for it.
Assuming Phatlum/Sattayabanphot match up against Munoz and Ciganda and the Jutanugarn sisters go up against Recari and Mozo, I think I'd give a slight advantage to Team Spain because of their Solheim Cup experience, but I expect this one to be close and hard fought.
Tomorrow I'll look at Pool B, where my fave Team Japan has a tough crowd to battle against!
[Update 1 (10:55 pm): Got everyone's pairings right except Taiwan's!]