The 16th Solheim Cup gets underway Friday at Gleneagles in Scotland. Golf Channel’s Randall Mell and Brentley Romine are on site and offer up some thoughts to four big questions ahead of the matches.
Which rookie will have the biggest impact?
RANDALL MELL: Bronte Law seems to have been born for match play, with an almost pugnacious approach to the format. “It’s kind of nice to look someone in the eye and think that you’re intimidating them in some way,” she said before the UL International Crown last year. She was the first player from Great/Britain Ireland to go 5-0 in the Curtis Cup. She ought to be fun to see on the Solheim Cup stage for the first time.
BRENTLEY ROMINE: Nelly Korda. The younger Korda sister is a future world No. 1 and figures to be a mainstay on this U.S. team. She’ll have sister Jessica to lean on early as she begins her Solheim Cup career, but make no mistake, she’s more than ready for the pressure. Wet conditions will benefit the longer hitters, and Nelly is one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the world. She should play every session and rack up points for the Americans.
The most important player for the U.S. is …
MELL: Brittany Altomare is basically taking Cristie Kerr’s place in the American ranks. Altomare looks as if she’s going to replace Kerr in the pairing alongside Lexi Thompson. Kerr and Thompson have been the most dynamic pairing in women’s international team golf. They’re 11-1-2 together in Solheim Cup and UL International Crown play, but Kerr didn’t make this year’s team. There’s a big hole to fill with Kerr owning the record for most Solheim Cup points (21) in American team history.
ROMINE: Lexi Thompson. It’s been a roller-coaster couple of years for Thompson since the last Solheim Cup, yet she’ll enter her fourth cup as the Americans’ highest-ranked player. She needs to continue to play like it, because there’s a strong correlation between her play and the play of her team at this event. She’s gone 4-0-4, not losing a single match, in each of the past two cups (both U.S. wins). However, she played just three times in her Solheim debut in 2013, going 1-2 for a losing American side.
The most important player for Europe is …
MELL: Suzann Pettersen is the heart and soul of the European effort. Somehow, some way, she makes a difference. She was the centerpiece when Europe needed to turn the tide with the Americans dominating the event with three straight victories in ’05, ’07 and ’09. Pettersen was cumulatively 5-2-1 helping the Euros win in Ireland in ’11 and in Colorado in ’13. She was even the focus of the epic American comeback in ’15, when Pettersen called out Alison Lee for picking up a putt that wasn’t conceded, spurring the ire of the U.S. team in its Sunday singles charge.
ROMINE: Bronte Law. At 26th in the world rankings, she’s the second-highest-ranked European here at Gleneagles. With Suzann Pettersen a huge question mark this week, Team Europe needs someone to be a table-setter when it comes to killer instinct and fearlessness. The confident Law is the best fit to have that torch passed to. She’s just a rookie, but her 5-0 performance at the 2016 Curtis Cup is an indicator of the type of match-play maven she can be.
What storyline will ultimately decide the Solheim Cup?
MELL: Six American rookies will dictate the U.S. fate. It won’t be all on them, of course, but with so many first-timers, there’s no way the Americans can win without their collective success. The Americans haven’t had so many rookies since the competition’s inaugural event in 1990, when everyone was a rookie. With these rookies playing their first Solheim ever on foreign soil, in Scotland, the challenge is even greater.
ROMINE: Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course may be located in Scotland, but it is designed by an American (Jack Nicklaus) and is far from the classic links test found so frequently over here. The course will be soft and long this week, favoring the longer hitters, which the Americans have more of, and making these undulating greens less tricky. We’ll see a lot of birdies this week, which also favors an American team that features slightly better putters across the board. Most signs are pointing to an American victory, but it will come down to how they handle the cold, rainy and windy conditions because the golf course is very much right in front of them.