Veterans vs rookies? Youthful US seeks 3-peat in Solheim Cup
Team USA captain Juli Inkster during the preview day ahead of the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles Golf Club, Scotland, Monday Sept. 9, 2019. (Ian Rutherford/PA via AP)
The United States had already brought one of its most inexperienced teams in Solheim Cup history to Scotland this week when a back injury nagging Stacy Lewis flared up in practice.
Out went one of the Americans' few seasoned players - a major champion and a former world No. 1.
In came another rookie in Ally McDonald, lifting the number of debutants in the 12-woman team to six.
The chances of a U.S. three-peat just got that bit tougher.
The Solheim Cup - women's golf's premier team event - starts on Friday at Gleneagles with U.S. captain Juli Inkster billing it as the veterans vs. the rookies.
"We'll just have to see how it plays out," Inkster said. "We could get creamed or we could make a match of it."
Seeking a record-tying third straight victory over Europe, the U.S. has only four players left over from the win in Iowa in 2017 - Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang, Lizette Salas and Angel Yin. Nine of the team are playing in their first away matches in the Solheim Cup.
There are only a combined 14 previous appearances on the whole squad, with Lewis' withdrawal robbing the team of a four-time Solheim Cupper. There's no Cristie Kerr (nine appearances), Paula Creamer (seven appearances) or Michelle Wie (five appearances).
Throw in the fact that the Americans have lost both of their previous matches in Scotland - at Dalmahoy in 1992 and at Loch Lomond in 2000 - and there's a lot going the European team's way.
"I have a question mark on how they are going to respond to playing in Scotland in front of those crowds," said Inkster, who was captain in 2015 and `17. "There's a lot up in the air - the weather is such a huge factor in everything - and it depends on how they handle it."
The Europeans trail 10-5 overall but four of their five victories have come at home. They might take inspiration from Europe's win in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014.
Like with Paul McGinley five years ago, Europe has a diligent, calm captain who comes alive in the team room and has the Solheim Cup in her blood.
Catriona Matthew has played in nine matches, most recently in 2017 when she won three points from a possible four to move into third place on the all-time points list with 22.
Now she is captaining the team in her home country.
"If we win, it will be right up there with my best days in golf," said Matthew, who won the Women's British Open in 2009.
By selecting Suzann Pettersen as a wild card, Matthew has brought onto the team a player with just three tournaments to her name in the past two years - she has had injuries and took time off last year to have a baby - but also the experience of eight previous appearances.
The last one stands out.
At the 2015 Solheim Cup at St. Leon-Rot in Germany, Pettersen refused to concede a short putt to Alison Lee on the 17th hole of a tight fourballs match before the singles. There were tears and angry exchanges, and it stoked a fire inside the Americans as they fought back from 10-6 down going into the singles to win 14 1/2-13 1/2.
Four years on, the Solheim Cup still burns strongly inside the Norwegian.
"Catriona's gone a little bit out of the way to put me on the team and I'll take that pressure," Pettersen said.
"I feel I was born for this match."
There are three rookies on the European team - Anne van Dam, Celine Boutier and Bronte Law - but seven players who have featured in at least three Solheim Cups.
There was a minor alarm this week when the clubs of wild-card pick Jodi Ewart Shadoff failed to arrive in Scotland following a trans-Atlantic flight. They turned up two days later.
In every other respect, Europe appears fully ready for the Americans.
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Updated September 10, 2019