Golf Monthly columnist and Sky Sports presenter Sarah Stirk previews this week’s Solheim Cup in Ohio…
One of the first big events I covered at Sky Sports was the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado, where the US team were heavy favourites but Europe stormed to an 18-10 victory.
The crowds were big rather than huge, but I remember thinking how much of a massive deal it was for women’s golf and how much coverage it was given compared with a run-of-the-mill tour event.
Since then, it seems to have got bigger and bigger with each hosting, culminating in 2019 and the events at Gleneagles.
I’ve seen some amazing tournaments over the years, be it Opens or Masters or Ryder Cups, but I count that Solheim Cup as one of my favourite weeks and one of the best in terms of drama.
It epitomised just how exciting match play golf can be and it played out on a global stage.
Since then, women’s golf has gone from strength to strength and those three days in Scotland played a massive role in that.
I think this year’s contest has the potential to be even bigger, helped by a quirk of fate with the scheduling.
It is sandwiched in between the Olympic Games and the Ryder Cup, two events which put golf firmly on the sporting map.
There has been much debate about whether golf should be included at the Games, but, for women’s golf especially, the extra exposure can only be a good thing.
The key now is to carry that momentum through to Inverness Club and showcase how exhilarating the match play format can be.
The postponement of the Ryder Cup last year due to Covid has now meant the events are less than three weeks apart, which gives those running the Solheim Cup a great opportunity.
There has already been media coverage linking the two and this can only add to the Solheim Cup’s profile.
The Ryder Cup transcends golf, and anything that can be done to tap into this for the women’s game can have a powerful impact on the sport as a whole.
In terms of the actual golf, Europe will certainly be up against it as the away team, but I think it may prove to be a closer contest than many have predicted.
Yes, home advantage will be a factor and help an immensely strong US team, but many of the Europeans play a lot of golf out in the States and won’t be fazed by the course set-up or the crowds.
One of Europe’s biggest strengths has to be the captain, Catriona Matthew.
I’ve got to know her a little bit and she can come across as a quiet, unassuming character, but underneath that is a steely, tough competitor who absolutely thrives on match play.
The team clearly want to play for her and that’s half the battle when it comes to a contest like this.
Pat Hurst for the Americans is a similarly popular figure and so I think it will be played in a great spirit.
One thing to note is the number of captain’s picks available to each team.
Covid has meant a limited schedule on the LET so Europe had the benefit of six picks, as opposed to three for the US.
Rookies are becoming less of an issue in the Ryder Cup these days – you can’t imagine two-time Major Champion Collin Morikawa being too overawed by the occasion this year – but it is definitely more of a factor for the women who don’t play in as many big events.
Sophia Popov may be the exception here as she comes in as a Major Champion herself, but the extra picks allowed Catriona to find that crucial blend of experience and form.
As for predictions, I’d have to go with the US to just edge it.
The Korda sisters will be a huge factor, as will Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson.
But, as we’ve seen so many times in the past, anything can happen once they get to that 1st tee.
Fingers crossed I’m wrong!
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