It’s a year away but for golf fans it can’t come soon enough. The Solheim Cup at Inverness Club in Toledo will be a blessing after everything that has gone on (and a lot that hasn’t) in 2020. All of northwest Ohio is gearing up for the matches. And the captains and their assistants are already planning everything from uniforms to course setup to the players that will likely be on their teams.
“Having the (first) LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness was pretty cool,” said Angela Stanford, assistant captain for Pat Hurst of Team USA. “I had never seen that golf course, so to get to be there and then see Pat there, just to get to see the course and see the layout and see everything that they're doing to make the event amazing, you know, I think it's going to be pretty awesome. I'm excited. It’s been fun talking to all the girls on tour. So, I think everybody is really excited.”
COVID-19 precluded European Team captain Catriona Matthew from visiting Inverness at either the Drive On Championship or the One-Year-Out celebration, which is unusual. But, travel from Scotland is simply too tough. Matthew hopes to see the course in the spring.
“A real shame I couldn't come out to Toledo this year and see (Inverness) with everything that's going on,” Matthew said. “But obviously I’ve been watching. Now that golf has started, I’ve been watching, and I watched a lot of the Inverness event on television. The course looked amazing. I can't wait to get there and see it in real life. Talking to some of the players, they all seemed to love the golf course and think it's going to be a fantastic event there when we do get there. But seeing the golf course is an important part of the process.”
Travel is just one of the things the pandemic changed. According to Matthew, after consultation with the European Solheim committee, she will now have more captain’s picks.
“We actually have changed our qualification for this year because of the kind of impact on the schedule,” Matthew said. “So, we've actually changed it to two (players qualifying) from the LET points, four (players qualifying from the) World Rankings. And (then we have) six picks. We just felt that with the players not playing as much (because of the pandemic) and with all the schedules being up in the air, it was just nice to (change the selection process). It gives you more options on what you might do going forward next year.”
Half the European team will be chosen. That puts a lot of pressure on Matthew. But the captain has been there before. She made a controversial pick before the 2019 matches at Gleneagles when she went with her friend Suzann Pettersen. That selection might go down in history as one of the gutsiest and greatest in history as Pettersen holed the putt on the final green that won the Cup for Europe.
“It's obviously a great memory that will go with me forever,” Pettersen said about that winning her singles match against Marina Alex in front of the largest crowd ever assembled for a women’s sporting event in Scotland. “Some of those memories last a lifetime. I was just very fortunate and lucky to be part of such a great team.”
Now, she will be part of the process of building the 2021 team, which will have a fresh crop of players from which to choose. Sophia Popov, who won the 2020 AIG Women’s Open, will be watched closely over the next 12 months. As Matthew said, “I don't really know Sophia to be honest. But obviously just from hearing her story and reading it all, she was a fantastic college player. I think she was First-Team All-American for four years and then obviously struggled with Lyme disease, which knocked her career off. But obviously I played at Troon and watched a lot of it, and I think to win from the front -- I think she was leading for three rounds -- just shows that you've got the temperament. I’m very impressed by her, and obviously another solid week in Portland, so really excited about her, actually.
“It's just nice to see (Europeans) out playing and you can watch and see how people are playing and different things. So yeah, the excitement is definitely building.”
At the moment, Hurst has two captain’s picks with 10 players qualifying. Juli Inkster, who captained the last three U.S. Solheim Cup teams, wasn’t a huge fan of captain’s picks. Inkster believed in qualifying on merits. That didn’t stop her from raising some eyebrows with her selections, though. In Germany in 2015, Inkster put Paula Creamer on the team despite Creamer being well down the points’ list. It turned out to be a good move. Creamer went 2-2 for the week and won a critical singles match 4 and 3 over Sandra Gal.
Given the pandemic, Hurst would like a few more picks.
“I would love to (have more),” she said. “I think maybe we can propose that just because of what's going on, but time will tell if (the Solheim committee) is going to change that for us. I’m not in those conversations (at the moment) but it sounds like they don't want to change the points’ (system). Maybe we can have more picks, definitely more than two.“I think four (picks) would be great,” Hurst said. “I’m hoping for four. So, let's keep our fingers crossed and see if we can get four picks.”