With seven of the world’s top-20 golfers on its bench and sporting an all-time 8-3 edge over its European competitors, the U.S. Solheim Cup team appears to have a clear advantage heading into this weekend’s matches. Just don’t tell that to Cup veteran Angela Stanford, who wants the world to believe her squad is the distinct underdog.
Away game. For one thing, it’s an away game for the Americans. “I know how much harder it is to play over here than it is at home,” Stanford, who is making her fourth appearance on the U.S. team, told reporters Tuesday about Ireland’s Killeen Castle venue. “I’ve always said it’s a lot tougher playing over here.”
Then, of course, there’s the opposition, which includes No. 2 in the world Suzann Pettersen, 11-time Solheim Cup vet Laura Davies, and 2011 Kia Classic champ Sandra Gal. When Stanford peers into the home team’s dugout, she sees golfers who know their way around the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
“This is the most consistent team I have faced from top to bottom,” said Stanford, whose roster boasts third-ranked Cristie Kerr, Nos. 8 and 9 Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome, No. 10 and reigning Kraft Nabisco champion Stacy Lewis, and the effervescent Christina Kim. “They’re solid, and they’re at home. I know a lot of their team has played on this course multiple times. Suzann won, Sophie [Gustafson] won the year I played here.
“So for us to come in and think that we’re favorites,” she cautioned her teammates, “we have to watch that.”
Given the history of the games, one could understand if the visitors believed they had the upper hand. Stanford, however, doesn’t buy the numbers.
“We’ve heard all the stats,” she said. “You’ve won X‑number in so many years, and you haven’t lost since ’03. But it’s a new year, and they’re playing good….We know we have our work cut out for us.”
No, we’re the underdogs. While Davies and Pettersen might also prefer to go into the games as dark horses (“If you look at the bookmakers, we’re massive underdogs in a two-horse race,” Davies said Tuesday), European vice captain and all-time Solheim Cup points leader Annika Sorenstam would beg to differ.
“We haven’t won the Cup since…2003,” Sorenstam told the Ladies European Tour’s Ben Jacobs, “but I do genuinely like our chances. Admittedly, there is a bit of a rankings gulf between the two sides, but you would be foolish to brand Europe underdogs.”
Sorenstam believes the playing field could be the difference between another commanding U.S. win and some face-saving on the part of the Euros.
“As with the Ryder Cup, playing at home is a huge advantage,” she said. “Remember, America have only won on European soil twice (1996, 2007) since the tournament first began in 1990.”
As for Sorenstam’s role as second-in-command to captain Alison Nicholas, the LPGA Tour Hall of Famer has been busy doing some reconnaissance work in enemy territory.
“For the past two years, I have been Alison’s eyes and ears in the States — scouting at LPGA events and generally passing on my two cents,” Sorenstam said. “Alison…can’t be everywhere and I guess that is where I come in.”
Mind games? The self-described team motivator and tactician may have tried to instill some uncertainty in the U.S. locker room months before kick-off. Thanks to Sorenstam’s ongoing needling of Michelle Wie since the U.S. Women’s Open in July, the Stanford University senior must answer queries about her commitment to golf everywhere she goes.
Killeen Castle was no different, as Wie, once again, defended her work ethic and her decision to stay in school — both of which Sorenstam has questioned.
“I think over the last four years I’ve played in the same amount of tournaments that everyone else has played. I’ve put in the same amount of hours that everyone else puts in,” Wie told reporters on Tuesday. “I still work hard, maybe even harder to make up for it, but….I think that [college has] done a lot for me personally and for my game as well, because I think I’ve matured a lot hopefully.”
What impact, if any, role Sorenstam’s drumbeat of criticism will have on Wie — whose confidence was sky-high after earning a 3-0-1 record in her first Solheim Cup two years ago — remains to be seen. But the wily winner of 10 major championships must certainly have mastered the art of the mind game in her eight turns as a Solheim Cup contender and may have been practicing her craft on the 22-year-old two-time LPGA Tour winner.
Wie, by the way, will stick with the long putter she has used with so-so results since July. “My philosophy was, ‘Why not?’” she said of her switch to the elongated blade. Wie, who told media members she brought only the long mallet with her, shares 116th place on tour with an average of almost 31 putts per round.
The Solheim Cup begins on Friday, with foursome and fourball matches. Foursome and fourball games continue on Saturday, with the singles finals on Sunday.