The great thing about being Solheim Cup captain is looking up at a leaderboard at a big tournament and seeing a bunch of your players doing really well. The difficult thing is when some names have popped up that you weren’t thinking about at the beginning of the year.
That’s a blessing because I have an embarrassment of riches to choose from and it’s a curse because with only two captain’s picks it makes my job harder. What I saw at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship thrilled me because of the talent at my disposal and it chilled me because I know some very deserving players will be left off of Team USA.
Take a look at the final leaderboard at Hazeltine National. Nelly Korda was T-3 with Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang at T-5. Megan Khang was T-10 with Brittany Altomare, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lang, Angel Yin, Jessica Korda, Lauren Stephenson and Sarah Schmelzel all in the top-26.
That’s a very strong showing by the red, white and blue. If you look at the top five of my eight automatic qualifiers off the points list they are all playing very well: Lexi, Nelly, Danielle, Jessica and Lizette. Nelly, Lizette and Danielle grinded it out to the very end at the KPMG. And those top five are players I can pair with anyone in any format – alternate shot or four-ball.
My next three – Megan Khang, Marina Alex and Brittany Altomare – all made the cut as did Cristie Kerr and Angel Yin, who are the two closest players outside the top eight. As of now, Yin and Austin Ernst would be the two qualifiers off the Rolex Rankings to join the eight points qualifiers.
When it comes to captain’s picks, Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller are a bit behind on both points and the Rolex Rankings because they missed time to start their families. But they have certainly played well enough in their returns to get my attention.
And two players who weren’t on my radar at the beginning of the year but are now are Ally McDonald and Kristen Gillman. Gillman is a good driver of the golf ball and a good putter and would be awesome in alternate shot.
I like everything about Ally and I think both of them would be great additions to the team room. When I am making my picks I have to factor in things like experience versus youthful energy and I have to consider who would play well in the various formats – alternate shot, four-ball and singles.
I also have to think about who will be able to handle the pressure of playing a road game. It’s going to be really hard playing overseas. The fans are going to be loud and loyal behind Europe and I need to find players who can handle that situation. It takes a special player who can take the cheers for her opponent and turn them to something that motivates her and not distract her.
The next couple of months will teach me a lot. Over the seven tournaments before qualifying ends I will see who performs well under pressure, especially since we have a couple of more majors coming up at The Evian Championship and the AIG Women’s British Open.
What you want to see as captain is not only who is playing well but also who is playing like they want to be on the team. I loved the way Nelly, Lizette, Danielle and Megan were grinding on Sunday at the KPMG.
I have played in the Solheim Cup nine times and this is my third time as captain. Let me tell you this: It never gets old. I loved playing in the Solheim Cup; I’ve loved being captain and I love being around this event. There is something about team golf that really amps things up.
And I love the way my team is shaping up. The problem is, I will have more players who deserve to be on the team than I will have spots available. Always, that is the most difficult part of being captain – calling those players who played well enough to be going to Scotland but won’t make the trip.
As much as the next two months are crunch time for my gals trying to earn a spot on Team USA, it will also be crunch time for me. What I know is this: I’m going to have 12 players who want to win the Solheim Cup and they will be going up against a dozen from Europe who feel the same way. And that’s what makes this so much fun.