Buckle up, Solheim Cup hopefuls.
This summer could be a bumpy ride with potentially the youngest American team ever coming together.
After this week’s Shoprite Classic, just six LPGA events will remain before the American Solheim Cup team is set and three of those events are major championships with double points up for grabs. Next week’s Wegmans LPGA Championship launches a potentially volatile summer of movement in the qualifying standings.
“That’s why I’m not getting overly excited about the points list yet,” U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon told GolfChannel.com. “There are just so many points to get.”
The American and European teams will be announced Aug. 4 at the conclusion of the Ricoh Women’s British Open with the Solheim Cup scheduled Aug. 16-18 at Colorado Golf Club in suburban Denver.
Euro captain Liselotte Neumann is at the UniCredit Ladies German Open this week to watch prospective team members. It’s one of just five events remaining before the European team is set.
The American team will be made up of eight players off the U.S. Solheim Cup points list and two off of the Rolex World Rankings. Mallon gets two captain’s picks.
The European team will include four players off the Ladies European Tour points list and four off the Rolex World Rankings. Neumann gets four captain’s picks.
If the American team were decided today, there would be at least four Solheim Cup rookies on the team with the squad’s average age 26.0 years old. Lexi Thompson (18), Jessica Korda (20), Lizette Salas (23) and Jennifer Johnson (21) would all make their first appearances in the international team event. The youngest American team ever averaged 27.5 years old back in ’09 when the Americans won at Rich Harvest Farms.
The Americans have never lost on their home soil and the possibility looms that Mallon could be trying to defend that record with four or more Solheim Cup rookies. Since the Solheim Cup rosters were expanded to 12 players in 1996, there have never been more than five Solheim Cup rookies on an American team. There were five on the 2002 USA team that rallied from a two-point deficit on the final day to beat the Euros at Interlachen.
Stacy Lewis (28), Cristie Kerr (35), Paula Creamer (26), Angela Stanford (35) and Brittany Lincicome (27) look as if they’re all locks to make the team as the top five players on the American points list. They’re all Solheim Cup veterans. Kerr and Stanford are the only players over age 30 among those who currently sit within qualifying standards.
Thompson, Korda and Salas currently hold the final three spots off the points list. Brittany Lang (27) and Johnson, winner of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic two weeks ago, currently hold the two roster spots off the Rolex World Rankings.
“We pretty much felt like the top five were a lock from last year because they accumulated so many points, but Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson have stepped up the most this year and are really trying to cement their positions on the team,” Mallon said. “It’s fun to watch these three very talented and determined players.
“But, it’s still wide open. You saw what Jennifer Johnson did leapfrogging a bunch of people with a win. It’s why I’m sitting back and waiting because anybody can do that in the next six weeks.”
The possibility of some major turnover on the American roster exists with six players on the U.S. team that lost in Europe two years ago sitting outside the qualifying standard in various states of sluggish form.
Juli Inkster, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Vicky Hurst and Ryann O'Toole played on that American team that lost in Ireland but Pressel has posted the lone top-10 finish among them this season.
With so many young first-timers possibly making the team, Mallon could be looking for veteran leadership as her captain’s picks to help solidify the roster.
“Considering I have five solid veterans who have played in Solheim Cups, I feel very good about that,” Mallon said. “That being said, with the possibly of four or five rookies making the team, I would definitely look for experience and players who are playing well going into the event. That combination would be the ideal situation for me.”
If Pressel, 25, doesn’t qualify for the team, she looms as a strong captain’s pick candidate. She was 4-0 in the last Solheim Cup and sports a 7-2-2 overall Solheim Cup record. She has a strong overall match play record having won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and finishing third in the Sybase Match Play Championship a year ago. She’s rebounding from a left-hand injury that derailed her in the second half of last season.
Inkster, 52, who has played in an American record nine Solheim Cups, told GolfChannel.com in April that she wasn’t really interested in playing again and believed it was time for some younger Americans to step up. Mallon, though, isn’t discounting Inkster making her 10th team.
“It’s Juli speak,” Mallon said. “In a way, it’s a motivator for her as well. I fully expect Juli to play well this summer with a carrot there in the Solheim Cup. She’s not a ceremonial golfer. She’s not out there just to play. She’s out there to play well. If she finds her game, she will put herself in contention to win tournaments.”
Wie has a 4-3-1 record in two Solheim Cups but she has missed five of 10 cuts this year with no finish better than a tie for 28th.
Natalie Gulbis, slowed by back problems in the past and a bout of malaria earlier this year, is 5-4-1 in three Solheim Cups.
“There are several factors that go into the captain’s picks,” Mallon said. “One is the golf course we’re playing. We are playing at altitude. We’re playing a second shot golf course where you need to have control of your golf ball. So, that’s one part of the pie. Another is experience. Having match-play experience would be great if it was Solheim Cup experience. Another factor is just flat out playing well at the time. That’s a significant factor, and so is the chemistry of the team. You have to have good chemistry in pairings.”
The European squad may feature three or more Solheim Cup rookies.
In the current European standings, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall and Germany’s Caroline Masson hold the top four spots. Off the Euro Rolex World Rankings list, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, Spain’s Azahara Munoz, France’s Karine Icher and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist hold the top four spots.
Ciganda and Masson would be Solheim Cup rookies.