Throw out the stats when it comes to Solheim Cup

By Associated PressAugust 20, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 Solheim CupSUGAR GROVE, Ill. ' The Americans have stuck to a pretty tight script at the Solheim Cup this week: They talk about how much fun theyre having, how honored they are to represent their country and rave about what great shape the golf course is in.
 
Not Angela Stanford.
 
Stanford is sick of hearing what overwhelming favorites the Americans are when the Solheim Cup opens Friday. Never mind that the U.S. team includes two of the worlds four best players, while four of Europes players are ranked 125th or lower. Or that the United States has yet to lose on home soil, and has won the last two Solheim Cups. Or that the Europeans no longer have Annika Sorenstam, the best player in Solheim Cup history.
 
We need to go out and play like were the underdogs because I think that theyre going to be ready to play and theyre going to be ready to fight, Stanford, who has been in the top 10 in half her starts this year, including winning her fourth career title at the SBS Open, said Thursday.
 
Its one thing to think, yeah, we have a lot of talent and were stacked, she added. But you cant go in thinking that the ball is just going to go in the hole. I mean, its still golf, its still match play, and they still have two major champions on their team and a boatload of experience.
 
Now, a week ago, Stanfords comments probably would have drawn an eye roll or two. Every team, no matter how dominant it is, trots out the same kind of line so as not to disrespect opponents and rile them up.
 
But that was before the stunning finish at the PGA Championship.
 
Tiger Woods had won the two weeks leading up to the PGA, was atop the leaderboard at Hazeltine National all week and was 14-for-14 when he began the final round of a major with a lead. Yet it was little-known Y.E. Yang who walked off with the Wanamaker Trophy, not Woods.
 
Everyone knows we have not won on American soil, Europe captain Alison Nicholas said. There has to be a first time on some stage in some place. My word is, `possible.
 
Nicholas and U.S. captain Beth Daniel released their pairings Thursday night for the first opening-day matches, and there are two matches everyone will be keeping an eye on.
 
Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer, the third- and fourth-ranked players in the world, face Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson in the opening fourball match. In the final match, young guns Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie team up against Womens British Open winner Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth.
 
In the other two matches, Helen Alfredsson and Tania Elosegui play Stanford and Juli Inkster; and Laura Davies and Becky Brewerton play Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome.
 
The first two days consist of 16 team matches and the tournament closes with 12 singles matches. As defending champions, the Americans need 14 of the 28 points to retain the cup. Europe needs 14 1/2.
 
On paper, the Americans would seem to have a huge advantage.
 
Of the 12 U.S. players, only Natalie Gulbis isnt in the top 50 of the world rankings, and shes at 51. Three players are in the top 10, and three more are in the top 25. The team has a total of 63 wins on the LPGA ' though, to be fair, Juli Inkster and her 31 victories kind of skews that.
 
And the U.S. players have combined to win 10 majors ' though, again, Inkster is responsible for seven of those.
 
Kerr leads the LPGA in scoring average (70.17) and top-10 finishes (11, in 17 starts). Creamer is right behind Kerr in top 10s (eight, 14), and leads the tour in greens hit. Lincicomes game is back on track after a rough year last year, and Wie is finding her stride.
 
The American team is always first-class and they always come in playing really well, which theyve done again, Davies said.
 
Europes biggest problem is making up for the loss of Sorenstam, a staple of the team from 1994 to 2007. Her 22 match victories and 24 points are the most by any player, European or American.
 
But Europe has a new addition who could make a big impact.
 
Alfredsson was Europes captain two years ago, her playing career sidetracked by back and hamstring injuries. Healthy again, the 44-year-old is playing her best golf in years. Ranked 10th, she won the Evian Masters for a third time last season and was runner up at the U.S. Womens Open.
 
This year, shes got two top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at Evian.
 
Matthew won the Womens British Open two weeks ago, and Anna Nordqvist won the LPGA Championship. And dont forget Pettersen and Gustafson, both of whom have been solid in Solheim Cup play.
 
Theyve got, I think, one of their best teams theyve ever had this year, Inkster said.
 
The big-hitting Europeans also got a break with the site. At 6,670 yards, Rich Harvest Farms is the longest course yet for a Solheim Cup, and heavy rains Wednesday night did nothing to lighten the load.
 
Im one of the longer hitters, and I had three 4-irons into greens today, which is unbelievable, Brittany Lincicome said. If Im saying its kind of long, its a good challenge out there.
 
Just as the world rankings dont mean anything, neither do driving averages. Match play can be a quirky thing, with entire events turning on a single putt. Two years ago, Europe led by a point going into Sundays matches only to watch the Americans run away with 8 1/2 of the 12 available points.
 
Just because Europe may hit it a little farther than us, were up for the challenge, Nicole Castrale said. As Angela said, this is a match not on paper, were playing it on grass. So low score wins.
 
Watch exclusive GolfChannel.com LIVE streaming coverage of Day 1 of the Solheim Cup, Friday from 2 pm- 4 pm ET.
 
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