Making The Solheim Cup Bigger -- And Better
Ron Sirak has a way to broaden the scope of the biennial competition
The Solheim Cup teams for the United States and Europe were finalized Aug. 2, setting the stage for the 11th edition of the biennial competition later this month at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois. The Solheim Cup has grown in stature since it was first played in 1990, and the last three Solheim Cups -- two in Sweden and the 2005 battle in Indianapolis -- were wildly successful spectator events. This year's competition should have everything fans expect from a spirited team event, except one thing: Most of the best golfers in the world.
Five of the eight majors in the current Solheim Cup cycle -- the 2008-09 seasons -- were won by players not eligible to compete in the event: Eun-Hee Ji, Lorena Ochoa, Inbee Park, Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng. Of the top 18 players in the Rolex Rankings, 13 are not eligible, six being from Korea, three from Australia, two from Taiwan and one each from Mexico and Japan.
This is a problem that needs to be fixed. Here's what can be done: Create three vertical teams: The Americas (Canada, United States, Mexico and South America); Europe/Africa and the Middle East; and Australia and Asia.
The event would remain biennial, but every two years the losing team from the previous competition would sit out. That would make winning the Cup all the more important, and recapturing it after a loss all the more intense.
Based on the most-recent Rolex Rankings, here's how the three squads would be comprised, with each player's Rolex Ranking position in parenthesis:
The Americas: Lorena Ochoa (1, Mexico), Cristie Kerr (3), Paula Creamer (5), Angela Stanford (7), Brittany Lincicome (20), Kristy McPherson (21), Morgan Pressel (23), Michelle Wie (27), Angela Park (29, Brazil), Brittany Lang (30), Nicole Castrale (39) and Juli Inkster (40).
Europe/Africa: Suzann Pettersen (6, Norway), Helen Alfredsson (10, Sweden), Anna Nordqvist (19, Norway), Sophia Gustafson (33, Sweden), Maria Hjorth (35, Sweden), Karen Stupples (48, England), Catrionia Matthew (64, Scotland), Sandra Gal (69, Germany), Minea Blomqvist (76, Finland), Giulia Sergas (79, Italy), Janice Moodie (87, Scotland) and Laura Davies (94, England).
Australasia: Yani Tseng (2, Taiwan), Jiyai Shin (4, Korea), In Kyeung Kim (8, Korea), Karrie Webb (9, Australia), Eun-Hee Ji (11, Korea), Song-Hee Kim (12, Korea), Ai Miyazato (13, Japan), Lindsey Wright (14, Australia), Candie Kung (15, Taiwan), Na Yeon Choi (16, Korea) Seon Hwa Lee (17, Korea) and Katherine Hull (18, Australia).
Women's golf stands to gain in one other important way if it adopts a global Solheim Cup: It would one-up the men. There are indications the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup cycle is wearing on the top players, and it is only a matter of time before a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson decides not to play in an international team competition every year. But because of the rich history of the Ryder Cup -- and the even richer revenue stream it provides for the PGA of America -- the U.S. versus Europe format is unlikely to change.
Who would be most resistant to altering the Solheim Cup team structure? Probably the Ladies European Tour. But the current method of choosing the European team -- in which five players qualify off an LET points list -- is what most weakens the European squad, and the event. Three of the players on this year's team are outside the top 125 in the Rolex Rankings. No one on the U.S. team is ranked higher than 52. In fact, seven European team members are ranked higher in the Rolex Rankings than the worst-ranked American.
Europe could undermine one premise of this argument by winning at Rich Harvest Farm. But even if the U.S. versus Europe format remains competitive (the Americans have a 7-3 advantage), the questions remains: What is to be done with those other great players currently excluded from the Solheim Cup format?
And here's one final reason to add a third team into the mix: It could motivate all sides to put more emphasis into developing junior golf. Who's going to want to sit home every other year and watch the other two teams play? It will grow the game globally, and it will make the Solheim Cup even better.