PARKER, Colo. – The Solheim Cup has a new look this year.
Missing from the European team is Laura Davies, who had played in every Solheim Cup since these matches between Europe and the United States began in 1990. Europe now has six rookies on its team, including 17-year-old Charley Hull of England.
Juli Inkster is not playing the Solheim Cup for the first time since 1996. She has a daughter older than two of the American players on this team – 18-year-old Lexi Thompson and 20-year-old Jessica Korda.
“This is great because you’re seeing the present and the future of the Solheim Cup,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon said Thursday. “And it’s kind of cool having these young players that are going to be a part of this event for a very long time. So I’m excited to see how they respond to this. They’re so fired up right now, and I’m not quite sure they know what they’re getting into.”
The majority of the rookies belong to Europe, which brings a new dynamic in other ways.
For years, the European side consisted mainly of Swedish and British players, with a few other countries sprinkled in. This team is represented by eight countries – three from Spain, two from England, two from Sweden, and one each from Italy, France, Norway, Germany and Scotland.
At stake this week is chance to win the Solheim Cup for the first time on American soil.
The matches get underway Friday at Colorado Golf Club, a sprawling golf course south of Denver with the Rockies in the backdrop. American flags were handed out to spectators coming through the gates even for a practice round.
Both captains are playing only two rookies in the opening session of foursomes.
Europe will have no choice but to lean heavily on its rookies, though they bring a fresh look and a spunky attitude.
“I think that these youngsters have enough to bring to the table even for us to kind of sharpen up our game and push each other,” said Suzann Pettersen, who even at 32 was feeling much older sitting next to Hull and 23-year-old Carlota Ciganda of Spain.
“We need as many points as we can get, and it’s fun to see these youngsters coming out because they’re just fearless, they’ really wanting it,” Pettersen said. “They really want it. And they just rock with you. ... I think it’s fantastic that Charley is here. She’s the future of ladies golf. And I’m sure she can’t wait to go and play.”
Pettersen is as fierce as any player in women’s golf, yet she was reduced to a head-shaking smile, and even outbursts of laughter listening to Hull. The English teen is thinking only of winning points, and spoke about the opening tee shot as if it were just another tournament at home.
Hull is so young that only two years ago in Ireland she was part of the Junior Solheim Cup team. So naturally, when this year’s junior squad had a chance to meet the European team, Hull made all the introductions.
Pettersen is playing in her seventh Solheim Cup, tied with Catriona Matthew of Scotland and Cristie Kerr for having the most experience among the 24 players this week. Someone mentioned that Hull was only 3 when Pettersen made her cup debut.
“I looked up to Laura, Catriona, Suzann ... just kind of weird,” Hull said, her shoulders upright and head high throughout her press conference. “But it feels right when you’ve been looking at them for so long, and they you’re on the team with them. But wow, 3?”
Hull hopes to lean on her own junior varsity experience from Ireland.
“It rocked my world when I went out there and won a couple of points,” Hull said. “And it would rock my world if I went out there this time and won a couple of points.”
Her confidence was reminiscent of Paula Creamer, who made her Solheim Cup debut in 2005 at 19, not long after she went through high school graduation. Creamer said in the weeks leading up to the matches, “All I can say is they had better get ready, because they’re going to get beat.”
She backed it up, going 3-1-1 and crushing Davies in the second of 12 singles matches in an American win at Crooked Stick.
Looking back, Creamer was more nervous than she was letting on.
“I thought I felt everything that you could feel, but I was very wrong,” she said.
Mallon is curious to see how the rookies will perform — her four, the six for Europe — though she is equally concerned about Europe’s quest to finally win the cup away from home. Even though Europe won two years ago in Ireland, it rarely is seen as the favorite in these matches.
Hull is the only player who is not an LPGA Tour member. Europe has seven players who have yet to win an LPGA event, and three players — Hull, Giulia Sergas of Italy and Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England — who have never even won on the Ladies European Tour.
Even so, Mallon has been preaching to her squad to expect anything in this kind of format, and with nationality driving the emotions.
“The player that doesn’t know anything is very scary,” Mallon said. “So we have to pay attention to that. We have to be aware that in match play, it’s anyone’s day. And so that’s going to be my job the next couple of days, to make sure that we take care of our business out there and know that they have a really young team. And they have nothing to lose.”