DUNSANY, Ireland – The Europeans would like to think they are underdogs in this Solheim Cup.
They’d like to think they’ve got nothing to lose. They’d like to think the pressure is off them with oddsmakers making the Americans heavy 4/9 favorites.
“If we lose, everyone will say we were expected to lose,” Sweden’s Maria Hjorth said. “We have nothing to lose.”
She’s wrong. Europe’s got everything to lose, maybe even its place in the future of the matches.
The pressure’s all on the Euros this week.
The pressure’s on them to step up and make sure the Solheim Cup remains relevant.
The pressure’s on them to show they’re not so overmatched in the biennial competition that the public loses interest in the event. The Euros, after all, haven’t just lost the last three Solheim Cups. They’ve been routed. The Americans have won the last three by a cumulative score of 47 ½ - 36 ½.
This feels like a must win week for Europeans with the home crowd advantage and raw Irish weather favoring them at Killeen Castle.
The high temperature this week is forecast as 58 degrees.
There’s also pressure on the European women to show they’re not a fading faction in the women’s game.
There’s a new golden age in European golf as it relates to the men’s game, but the same can’t be said for the European women’s game.
The top two men in the world rankings are Euros.
European men have won six of the last seven major championships, nine of the last 21. They’ve won four of the last five Ryder Cups.
There’s just one European woman (Suzann Pettersen) among the top 20 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings today.
Since Annika Sorenstam won her last major, European women have won just three of the last 21 majors.
If the Euros lose this Solheim Cup, a red flag rises over the event and the worthiness of the competition. If the Euros lose again, it fuels debate over whether the Europeans need help. It rekindles memories of howthe Ryder Cup expanded after Great Britain & Ireland proved no longer competitive against the Americans.
“Of course, we’re motivated,” Hjorth said. “The world rankings, sometimes they don’t really show who’s best right now, who’s being more consistent. The way the world rankings work, the European Tour, unfortunately, doesn’t rank as high as other tours do. So, in that regard, even if we have a lot of success in Europe, it doesn’t show up in the world rankings that they’re playing well. In that regard, it doesn’t really show the European girls’ potential.”
The reason the Americans are so heavily favored can be seen in the world rankings.
Six of the top 15 players in the rankings are on the American roster. The Euros? They’ve got just Pettersen.
There’s always a danger in comparing teams on paper in these international team events. Just ask the American Walker Cup team. They went to Scotland looking like a juggernaut a couple weeks ago and got beat.
American Angela Stanford won’t even concede the Americans are favorites.
“I say no,” Stanford said. “If you look at their team top to bottom, this is my fourth Solheim Cup, and this is the most consistent team I have seen them have.”
American Christina Kim goes fUrther.
“I think this might be of the strongest teams Europe’s ever brought forward,” Kim said.
The Europeans typically feature a roster with LET regulars American audiences aren’t familiar with, but this team’s much more recognizable to American fans. Pettersen, Hjorth, Laura Davies, Catriona Matthew, Anna Nordqvist, Sandra Gal, Sophie Gustafson, Karen Stupples and Azahara Munoz have all played the LPGA. Caroline Hedwall, Melissa Reid and Christel Boeljon may be less familiar to Americans, but they’ve combined to win six European events this year.
“We have a very good team” Hjorth said. “I think the biggest thing is everyone is playing well and very consistent. I think that’s what we’ve been lacking a little bit before.
“If we win, it’s going to be huge, and it’s going to be remarkable.”
A European win also keeps the Solheim Cup from becoming irrelevant.