SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (AP) — Just once, Laura Davies wants to experience how it feels to win the Solheim Cup on someone else’s turf.
The Americans have done it. Twice, in fact.
“To overcome the crowds and the American team, which is always first-class and they always come in playing really well, which they’ve done again, and just to beat them over here, I think the sense of satisfaction Sunday night would be beyond anything I’ve achieved,” Davies said.
Look at the statistics and all the chatter ahead of Friday’s start at Rich Harvest Farms, though, and it would appear another year will go by without Davies getting her wish.
The U.S. team includes two of the world’s four best players, while four of Europe’s players are ranked 125th or lower. Then there’s that gaping hole left by Annika Sorenstam’s retirement. Sorenstam was a staple of the European team the last decade, and her 22 match victories and 24 points are the most by any player, European or American.
The Americans also have won the last two Solheim Cups, and have considerable home-field advantage. The stands behind the first tee were packed with red, white and blue-clad fans on a fall-like Friday morning, and they didn’t even need Christina Kim’s prompting to let loose with cheers of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” “Paula, Cristie” and “U-S-A, all the way” before Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr teed off in the first fourball match.
The Europeans did get a little love, with one fan waving a Scottish flag and a brief chorus of “We all root for the European team.”
But there was little doubt this was the Americans’ show.
“I think, obviously, everybody’s writing us off as the underdogs,” Europe’s Janice Moodie said.
Just don’t tell the Americans that.
Angela Stanford waited all of about 30 seconds Thursday before saying she’s sick of hearing about the Americans being favorites. The Solheim Cup, after all, is match play, where quirky things happen more often than not. Entire events can turn on one putt, and the best team on paper isn’t always the one celebrating on Sunday.
“We need to go out and play like we’re the underdogs because I think that they’re going to be ready to play and they’re going to be ready to fight,” Stanford said. “It’s one thing to think, yeah, we have a lot of talent and we’re stacked. But you can’t go in thinking that the ball is just going to go in the hole. I mean, it’s still golf.”
Just look at last weekend’s shocking finish at the PGA Championship.
Tiger Woods had won the two weeks leading up to the PGA, was atop the leaderboard at Hazeltine National all week and was 14-for-14 when he began the final round of a major with a lead. Yet it was little-known Y.E. Yang who walked off with the Wanamaker Trophy, not Woods.
“Everyone knows we have not won on American soil,” Europe captain Alison Nicholas said. “There has to be a first time on some stage in some place. My word is, ‘possible.”’
The first two days of the Solheim Cup consist of 16 team matches and the tournament closes with 12 singles matches. As defending champions, the Americans need 14 of the 28 points to retain the cup. Europe needs 14 1/2.
Play began with the fourball matches – each player plays their own ball, and low score counts as the team score – and things could get interesting early. At 6,670 yards, Rich Harvest Farms is the longest course in Solheim Cup history, and players will feel every inch of it Friday after more rain fell overnight.
Kerr and Creamer face Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson in the opening match. Kerr and Creamer are the Nos. 3 and 4 players in the world, respectively, but Pettersen might be Europe’s most consistent player, and she and Gustafson have a long history together at the Solheim Cup.
The final match pits Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie against Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth. Pressel and Wie, of course, are the face of golf’s youth movement, players who were holding their own against the grown-ups as teenagers. Wie is a Solheim Cup rookie while Pressel beat Sorenstam in a key singles match in 2007.
Matthew is one of Europe’s veterans, and she won the Women’s British Open two weeks ago.
“The perception in our team room is that we have to play our best golf to beat this team. And we do,” U.S. captain Beth Daniel said. “Match play, anything can happen.”