TOLEDO, Ohio – Could this year’s European Solheim Cup team be the strongest they’ve ever assembled? The team believes it's possible.
Europe’s Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda, veterans who combine for nine Solheim Cup appearances, are touting the strength of their squad. In their mind, there has been no stronger European team than the one they’ve brought to Inverness Club in an effort to retain the cup and win on American soil for the first time since 2013.
“It's one of the best teams we ever had,” Ciganda said on Thursday. “The Americans, they have a great team. I think they're always really good and really hard to beat. But I think we can win.”
Eight of the 12 players on Team Europe are returning members. So, what makes this team different?
Reid and Ciganda point to the strength of their competition. In years past, the European team had more players who competed primarily on the Ladies European Tour. They lacked LPGA experience and competing against the game’s best. Today, members of Team Europe play the majority of their schedules on the LPGA, with a fraction spent competing on the LET.
“All these girls, they're not scared of the American team,” Reid said. “I think before, we've had a few players who have never played against a Jess Korda, never played against a Danielle Kang, whereas these girls all have.”
Emily K. Pedersen is the only current member of Team Europe who plays primarily on the LET. Six members of Team Europe have won over the last two seasons on the LPGA Tour, including major champions Sophia Popov and Anna Nordqivst, the last two winners of the AIG Women’s Open.
“When all the girls are playing in the LPGA and they are playing with Americans and all the best players in the world, you just become a better player because you are playing in tough courses, you are playing against the best players, all the Koreans, everyone here,” Ciganda said.
The Europeans will face a difficult challenge come Saturday. They’re not only trying to retain the cup, but they’re also trying to win on foreign soil for just the second time in the competition. That year, 2013, was also the only time Europe successfully retained the cup, having also won in 2011.
And, they’ll be trying to win again largely without their 13th man – the fans.
Because of the pandemic, a limited number of European fans are expected on site for this year’s event. Early in 2021, there was a question of whether fans would be allowed at all. In April, European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew said she would be happy to have any fans on site, even if they were cheering for the Americans, because they are such an integral part of the competition. The overwhelming American contingent at Inverness Club will present another challenge for the Europeans as they fight to quiet the crowds with an outstanding performance.
“You guys are loud. That's what we want,” Reid said about the American fans. “Obviously, it's going to be very American dominated. We understand that. The golf ball can't hear anything.”
The golf ball won’t know who struck it or who is cheering for it as it flies through the air, but whoever gets that ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes will determine the outcome of the Solheim Cup. And Team Europe is confident they’ll be the ones to do so upon the conclusion of the match on Monday.
Could this be the strongest team that Europe has ever assembled? Three days at Inverness will tell.