Confession: Aside from the odd final round of a major, I don’t watch very much women’s golf. It’s not for any sinister reason—I always enjoy it when I make the effort. It’s just that I didn’t grow up watching it the way I watched, say, women’s tennis, and now I’m at the time-deprived point in adult/parenthood where I’m shedding sports (bye, NFL!) rather than adding them. But even if you’re like me, and your televised sports diet doesn’t include more than a meager helping of women’s golf, let me implore you:
This week, you must watch the Solheim Cup.
It starts on Friday at Gleneagles, with the same format as the Ryder Cup, and the United States women are hoping to fare justttt a bit better than the men did at the same course under Tom Watson in 2014. (Luckily, “abject humiliation plus outright rebellion” isn’t a high bar to clear.) So here's why you should be getting up early and catching the action from Scotland:
1. The Americans are actually good at this
For all the hype the Ryder Cup produces in the months leading up to the matches, the results are pretty predictable: For the past 25 years, Europe wins every home Ryder Cup, and every other Cup in the U.S. Yet while it’s been beatdown central for the American men, not so for the Solheim Cuppers! Since the inaugural match in 1990, the U.S. is 10-5 against Europe, with a 7-1 mark at home and a 3-4 mark overseas. That’s good for two reasons: First, you know it’s going to be a battle in Scotland, and second, you can root for a competent, talented team that is unlikely to implode and leave you with that awful, sick feeling the American men seem to reliably produce by Saturday morning.
2. U.S. captain Juli Inkster is going for the unprecedented three-peat
Unlike the U.S. men, the women are content to ride it out with a victorious captain for multiple Cups, which is very smart. Inkster, a seven-time major winner and the third-highest scoring American in Solheim Cup history, won as captain in Germany in 2015 and then dominated Annika Sorenstam’s European team in 2017 in Iowa. If she manages to win again, Inkster will have accomplished something no other Solheim Cup or Ryder Cup captain has managed with three straight wins. In Ryder Cup history, European captain Tony Jacklin won two straight in 1985 and 1987, and then retained the 1989 Cup in a 14-14 tie. Sorry Tony, (pushes up nerd glasses), that last one is not technically a win.
The last time the Solheim Cup was in Europe, four year ago in Germany, there was controversy when Europe’s Suzann Pettersen basically stole the 17th hole from the Americans in Saturday four-ball (which was being played on Sunday morning). Pettersen claimed a very short putt wasn’t conceded despite the fact that she and her partner seemed to walk off the green and the walking official announced the updated score. You can read Sam Weinman’s excellent recap here, and I also recommend watching the video in that post just because it’s so unbelievable. (Is it too soon to call this Kuchar-ing?) Everyone on both sides was upset, Pettersen’s partner burst into tears, and Pettersen apologized the next day. But it was too late—that afternoon, the infuriated Americans rallied from a 10-6 deficit to take the Cup, 14½-13½. That was the best Sunday comeback on foreign soil in Solheim Cup history, and tied with the European Ryder Cuppers, who pulled off the same feat at Medinah in 2012. Tough act to follow, but then again, kind of a great act to follow … especially because Pettersen got a captain’s pick for 2019!
4. Europe is an enormous underdog
If you’re looking to pull for the home team, the Euros have an extremely compelling David versus Goliath story, with just one player—Spain’s Carlota Ciganda—inside the top 20 in the Rolex Rankings. To be fair, the U.S. has only five (10 of the top 15 spots are taken by golfers from Asia, not eligible to play in the Solheim Cup), but the average ranking of the Americans is 30.5, and the average European ranking is 54.1 without Pettersen and 103.3 with her. (Pettersen was chosen by European captain Catriona Matthew after taking almost two years off and then missing two cuts this summer. To call this an “experience” pick is a massive understatement.) To add to the underdog narrative, Europe has only two major winners on the team, and one of them, Pettersen again, is in shaky form.
5. That said, Team USA is heavy on rookies
In fact, the U.S. also has just three major winners (Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang, Morgan Pressel), and six of its 12 golfers are first-timers in the event. That’s what happens when stalwarts like Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis, Christie Kerr, Paula Creamer and the Brittanys (Lincicome and Lang) drop off the roster in the same year. Remember what happened when Darren Clarke tried to win a visiting Ryder Cup with six rookies in 2016? Answer: A 17-11 loss that could have been worse. But it doesn’t always go bad for the rooks—Europe won the Solheim Cup by an 18-10 rout in 2013 with six rookies. It’ll be fascinating to see how the youth revolution works for Team USA, whose oldest player is 31.
6. The format is perfect
The more I watch sports in my life, the more I realize that the Ryder Cup hit on the perfect combination of sport and format for a short event. March Madness comes close, but the Ryder Cup tops it because it requires a bit more creativity than a simple single-elimination bracket. The Solheim Cup was wise to adapt the same thing, and to some extent it’s a can’t-miss event in terms of pure theater. Even if it’s a 17-11 blowout, you know something exciting will happen along the way, and there will still be a moment on Sunday when everything seems possible.
7. It’s always fun to watch European fans in action
Why don’t we sing more here in America? In terms of things I would love us to copy from European fan culture, the creative singing is a yes, the mob violence is a no. I think we should be safe from the latter at Gleneagles, but the vocal fans could play a big role in intimidating the American team, especially with so many rookies making the trip.
8. It has some excellent “wager potential”
If there was a hypothetical world where you and some friends set up an odds-based system whereby you wagered non-monetary items purely for fun, here’s what I’d advise: Europe is great value as an underdog, and you gotta love England’s Charley Hull at around +1600 as the top point scorer. Just in theory …
9. Morning weekend sports are the best
Unless you watch European soccer, weekend mornings tend to be a dead zone for sports, and the only solution is to do something boring like mow the lawn or spend time with your family. Lucky for us, we can avoid those nightmare scenarios this week, as the action will start in the pre-dawn hours and run through about 1:30 p.m. Eastern, just in time to switch to college football on Saturday.
Whether you hail from the nation of America or the nation of “Europe,” I like to think that professional golf is a safe space for a limited form of nationalism (although some of the fans at Hazeltine National in 2016 certainly called that into question). You can root for your country without becoming a frothing maniac, and that is an opportunity not to be missed.
So in conclusion, I say, go Juli, go Lexi, go rookies, go USA! (Unless I stand to win my totally hypothetical Euro-centric wagers, in which case nationalism can wait for the Olympics.)