ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – The Americans would like to think they are the underdogs at the Solheim Cup this week.
If you examine the resumes of the 12 players on the United States roster, compare them to Europe’s, it’s no contest in favor of the Americans. If you look at the world rankings, it’s no contest again. The Americans’ average world ranking is 24.6 and Europe’s is 52.6.
“I don’t know that you can call yourselves underdogs when you’re that much higher ranked,” European captain Carin Koch said.
If you look at major championships won (10-4), the Americans tower over the Euros. If you look at LPGA titles (16-4) won over the last two years, the Americans also dominate, even though 10 of the 12 Euros in this Solheim Cup are LPGA members.
It doesn’t matter that the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cups, or that they beat the United States in a record 18-10 rout at the Colorado Golf Club in the last event. It doesn’t matter that the Europeans are the “home team” this time around, either.
You want the official word? That comes from the bookmakers.
The experts, the gurus who officially make the odds, they’re all making the Americans the favorites.
Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power are among oddsmakers who list the Americans as favorites.
Ladbrokes and William Hill both make the United States a 4-6 favorite. Paddy Power makes them even heavier favorites at 8-13.
What do the odds really mean? They mean the majority of the betting public believes the Americans should win. Bookmakers aren’t prognosticators. They aren’t in the business of predicting who will win. They aren’t floating their opinions making these odds. What they’re trying to do is accurately assess the public perception of who will win. That’s how oddsmaking works.
If the odds were even this week, a load of money would be bet on the United States. That’s a fact. That’s why bookmakers are shifting the odds to make the Americans the favorite, to even out the betting.
Of course, as they say, this is all “on paper.”
And as we’ve learned, what’s on paper doesn’t mean diddly in these international team competitions. The Americans were heavily favored in both of the Solheim Cups lost in 2011 and ’13.
Most of professional golf is an individual sport. It’s individuals playing for themselves, and most of it is stroke play.
The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup and Walker Cup, is a team event, and it’s all match play.
This team thing and this match-play thing, they change everything.
“Match play, it’s a different game,” said France’s Gwladys Nocera, who’s playing in her fourth Solheim Cup. “I think, two years ago, we were more united as a team than maybe the Americans were. Why? I don’t know. You have to ask them why they aren’t super strong together.
“On the European side, for sure, we were like really, really strong together. Maybe that makes a difference at the end.”
Maybe that’s just perception, but the scores of the last two Solheim Cups favor Nocera’s assertion. And even if it’s perception that the Americans aren’t a strong team, it’s a reality in the heads of the Euros. That’s a potential psychological advantage.
“On paper, for sure, the Americans are better than the Europeans,” said France’s Karine Icher, who will be playing in her third Solheim Cup. “When you take the world rankings, there is no doubt they are much better. The magic of the match play, you never know. You can play No. 2 in the world against No. 100, and No. 100 wins, and you don’t know why.
“It’s probably mental and how you can create a spirit together. It’s about being a team and being able to put aside every personal thing.”
While bookmakers might not agree with U.S. captain Juli Inkster’s assertion that the United States is the underdog this week, there’s no denying the Americans have adopted the mindset.
“My plan is to bring our lunch boxes over there,” Inkster said. “We're going to have fun, but we're also going to go to work. We’re tired of losing to the European team. We are the underdogs. It's been a long time since we've been the underdogs, and the only way to get that back is to go over there and work hard and play some good golf.”
What is it about international team events that makes everyone want to be the underdog?
“I think it just makes you a little bit more scrappy, a little bit more willing to fight harder,” said Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ who played on two European Solheim Cup teams. “There's no real pressure on the performance, because you're not expected to win, so you can go out there and just show everybody what you've got, but with a little chip on your shoulder to say. 'You know what? It may not be thought that I'm as good, but I am as good.’ So that's what the underdog role does for the players.”
Whether the Americans should be favored or not, Koch knows they’re highly motivated and they’re feeling some heat.
“In my eyes, it’s Team USA that's under pressure,” Koch said. “But we also want it all. We want to win three in a row. That's our big goal. It's another tournament. It has nothing to do with what happened in Colorado or what happened the time before then. We start over, and it's the Solheim Cup 2015 at St. Leon Rot, and this is the event. We're there to win, but we're also there to have a great match and to just have a lot of fun.”
The winners always have the most fun.