|From left: Caroline Hedwall, Azahara Munoz and Caroline Masson|
Caroline Masson summed up the sentiments of all rookies at the start of Solheim week. “I’m so excited and super happy,” said the 24-year-old German. “It’s a dream come true to be here.”
All the Europeans were in buoyant mood as they looked forward to defending the Cup at Colorado Golf Club – and making a bid for history by becoming the first European team to win on US soil.
“That’s our goal, to beat the Americans and keep the Cup,” said Caroline Hedwall, who made her debut in the winning team at Killeen Castle in Ireland two years ago.
The start of the week is all about making the rookies feel at home, and Catriona Matthew and Suzann Pettersen, both veterans of six Solheim Cups, have been helping put the six newcomers at ease.
“There are so many spectators here and it’s only Tuesday,” continued a wide-eyed Masson. “Everything has been amazing from the moment I opened my hotel room door on Sunday and saw so many gifts.”
Matthew has no doubt that the six new names – Masson, Beatriz Recari, Jodi Ewart-Shadoff, Carlota Ciganda, Guilia Sergas and 17-year-old Charley Hull – will perform to their very best.
“They are rookies, but they have all played at the highest level,” said the Scot. “It’s not as though they are new to pressure and I know they will be fine.”
Azahara Munoz played with Matthew in the foursomes at Killeen Castle, and they won the first and halved the second. “The two years have passed very quickly,” said the Spaniard. “But now I can’t wait to get started.”
All the Europeans agree that form on the greens is going to be the key this week. Playing at altitude, Hedwall reckons the ball flies 10% further but she knows the club that is going to be the most important this week.
”You need to make birdies and you need to be hot with the putter,” she said.
HOME RULES FOR USA
Stacy Lewis, winner of the Ricoh Women’s British Open Champion at St Andrews in Scotland two weeks ago, made her Solheim debut on a losing USA side at Killeen Castle two years ago.
But the USA has never lost on home soil, and the two-time major champion believes she knows why. “There is so much red, white and blue out there and it’s going to be a huge advantage,” said the world No.2, who helped the US beat Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at St Andrews in 2008.
“Already, I can see a lot of differences in playing at home. I’ve actually played this course a lot on three or four visits. Length will be important but it’s going to come down to the greens. They are very tricky.”
Lewis said the 2011 Solheim changed her as a golfer and a person – and it was all for the positive.
“I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it hadn’t been for Ireland two years ago,” assessed the top American.
But she also had some scary news for the rookies. “There’s a certain feeling you get when you walk up the 18th with a lead in a major,” she said. “Well, at the Solheim, you get the same feeling on every hole.”
The USA has four rookies – Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda, Gerina Piller and 18-year-old Lexi Thompson – and Salas was another who was overwhelmed by the presents given to each player.
“When I got to my hotel room it was better than Christmas,” said the 24-year-old. “This has always been a goal of mine. I remember watching Cristie (Kerr) and Paula (Creamer) playing in the Cup when I was about 13 or 14 and thinking that I wanted to be part of the Solheim experience.”
Piller, who reckoned the best gift of the week was a pair of cowboy boots in red, white and blue, was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2011 and was invited to be a guest at Killeen Castle by Angela Stanford. This year they are team mates.
“Gerina is one of the young bombers in our team and she’s going to be great,” said Stanford, a veteran of four matches. “We have a great young team and I’m looking forward to a real birdie fest.”
Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel are both playing in the Cup for a fourth time. With Laura Davies missing from the European team for a first time and Juli Inkster, who played in 2011 at the age of 51, no longer in the US lie-up, there is a feeling this is a new younger era for women’s golf.
Hull is the youngest ever Solheim player and Thompson is the youngest in USA history. The USA average age is 26, the Europeans is 27.
“It does feel this time that everyone is way younger,” said 27-year-old Lincicome. “It is a shame that both Laura and Juli are missing but there will be a new youthful energy.
“The crowd is there to give us an extra push and we are so motivated by losing last time. This is going to be a very fun week.”