There’s a lot more packed into the inaugural Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational team event this week than meets the eye with the Solheim Cup just eight weeks away.
For U.S. captain Juli Inkster and European captain Catriona Matthew, it feels like a bonus qualifying event for the biennial matches scheduled for Scotland in September, even though there aren’t actually any Solheim Cup points available this week.
Still, importantly, the captains will get to see their “prospects” interact in alternate shot and four balls. It’s a chance to impress the captains in those Solheim formats.
“It’s a great deal,” Inkster told GolfChannel.com. “Just having alternate shot for two rounds is awesome, and they’ll probably be practicing it together. We just don’t get opportunities to play alternate shot.”
Matthew is playing with Suzann Pettersen, one of her vice captains, in Pettersen’s return to the game after 20 months away for the birth of her first child. Pettersen is a potential playing vice captain.
Inkster is making a special trip to Midland, Mich., to see her players compete with qualifying now down to just four events.
“It’s crunch time,” Inkster said. “I have a lot of gals playing.”
On the American side, the sister combo of Jessica and Nelly Korda are paired together. So are Solheim stalwarts Lexi Thompson/Cristie Kerr, as well as Stacy Lewis/Gerina Piller and Paula Creamer/Morgan Pressel. Angela Stanford is also in the event, with Dori Carter as her partner.
Thompson is the only player among those proven American Solheim veterans listed above who is within the qualifying standard. Kerr, Lewis, Piller, Creamer, Pressel and Stanford wouldn’t make the team on points if the squad were set today. They would need to be one of Inkster’s two captain’s picks to make it.
“It was great seeing Stacy play great last week,” Inkster said. “That helps a lot. Kerr took the last two weeks off, and now we’ll see what she can do the next few weeks.”
Lewis finished third at the Marathon Classic last week and moved up to 12th on the U.S. Solheim Cup points list. The top eight automatically make the team when qualifying concludes at the end of the CP Women’s Open (Aug. 25). Lewis is 50 points behind Megan Khang, who holds the final spot on points.
Kerr and Thompson have become the dynamic duo of International team golf. They’re 11-1-2 as partners in Solheim Cup and UL International Crown play, but Kerr has yet to qualify. She’s on the cusp, sitting ninth in points, 31 behind Khang.
While there are no Solheim Cup points available this week, points will be doubled at the Evian Championship next week and again at the AIG Women’s British Open the following week. So this is a vital three-week stretch. A victory will be worth 120 Solheim Cup points at Evian and also at the Women’s British, with second place worth 60, third 57, with points awarded down to 20th place (6 points).
Lewis and Piller are 4-3-1 in Solheim Cup and UL International Crown matches.
“Pairings are key to what we are trying to accomplish, as is camaraderie and feeling good with your partner,” Inkster said. “It’s a big part of the Solheim Cup.”
Creamer and Pressel are far off the qualifying standard, but they can send a strong message to Inkster with a victory this week.
“I would love to see them do that,” Inkster said. “It’s tough for me as it is now, but I would like for them to really make my job tough. I would love to see them play well. They’re good together, and really good at alternate shot.
“It’s like they know how to dance together.”
Creamer, 33, has played in every Solheim Cup since she joined the LPGA in 2005. She’s 17-9-5 in Solheim Cup play, with her 19.5 points trailing only Cristie Kerr (21) for most in the American team history.
Pressel is 10-7-2 in six Solheim Cups.
They’re 2-2-1 as Solheim partners.
With so many newcomers looking as if they’ll make the American team, Inkster may need to use her two captain’s picks to add veteran experience. If the team were decided today, Thompson, Danielle Kang, Nelly and Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas, Marina Alex, Brittany Altomare and Megan Khang would make the team on points. Angel Yin and Austin Ernst would make it off the world rankings.
“I have a young team, a lot of players who have never been there, which I think is good,” Inkster said. “They all seem to be playing really well. And it’s maybe a little easier going overseas the first time, not knowing any different. So, I’m not worried about that.”
Inkster has other pairings to watch this week with the Korda sisters together.
Also, Kang and Salas are partnering, as are Khang and Annie Park, who is on the cusp of making the team off the world rankings list.
Just about everyone Inkster is looking at is in the event.
Matthew doesn’t have as many potential Solheim pairings in the event, but she’ll get a closeup look at Pettersen, plus Anna Nordqvist is partnering with Caroline Hedwall.
Also, Pernilla Lindberg, Bronte Law, Celine Boutier, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Sandra Gal are in event, though not in likely Solheim pairings.