According to the world rankings, this weekend’s Solheim Cup should be another rout for the Americans.
According to European Captain Alison Nicholas, things aren’t quite that simple.
The Solheim Cup is being played in Ireland for the first time, after previous European editions had been staged in Scotland, Wales and Sweden.
While the United States has seven players ranked in the top 20 compared to just one for Europe -- second-ranked Suzann Pettersen -- there is another statistic that could speak in the host’s favor. The European players have won 12 tournaments among them this year, while the Americans only have three victories.
That’s one of the reasons Nicholas is hopeful of preventing a fourth straight victory for the United States.
“We’ve got great strength in depth and it’s a very strong European team,” said Nicholas, who also captained Europe in its loss in Sugar Grove, Ill., in 2009. “But I would never underestimate the Americans, because on paper in the world rankings, we are the underdogs slightly.”
The United States leads the biennial match play series 8-3, and won the last two events by four-point margins. But U.S. Captain Rosie Jones expects a much closer contest when play gets under way at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Killeen Castle course on Friday morning.
“We haven’t come here looking at rankings on paper,” Jones said. “We definitely know this is going to be a hard fight. Europe has probably one of the strongest teams they’ve had in a long time. We have a lot of respect for that. I have a lot of respect for Ali, and how she can captain the team, and expect our players to fight very hard to get another win.”
And the Europeans are arguably in better form. Eight members of the team have won tournaments this year, and four of the victories came on the LPGA Tour, where Pettersen has two titles while Germany’s Sandra Gal and Sweden’s Maria Hjorth have one each.
In contrast, only two Americans have won a trophy this year. Brittany Lincicome has won twice on the LPGA Tour and Stacy Lewis captured her first major title at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.
Nicholas does have five rookies on her team, but is more experienced herself after learning valuable lessons during her captaincy two years ago.
“The five rookies all have LPGA experience and I think it helps that this is my second time as captain,” Nicholas said. “I’ve got last time in the bank and there are a few small things that I can change. It was very close two years ago, we just didn’t hole enough putts. If we can play the same this week and get a little bit of luck then we can definitely win.”
One of the keys to the Americans’ recent dominance in the series has been their success in the singles matches, but England’s Karen Stupples said the Europeans are better equipped to compete in that format this year.
“I think traditionally in the past the top players have had to have had a lot of pressure, because they know that their points are big,” Stupples said. “But this year we’re all playing fairly well. I think we have a better chance together as a team, so there’s not that same kind of pressure. I think we’re going to do just fine.”
The teams will play for 28 points over three days, with eight foursomes and fourballs on both Friday and Saturday, and 12 singles matches on Sunday.