Pat Hurst chooses charging rookies over experience with U.S. Solheim Cup captain's picks
Mina Harigae has played on the LPGA Tour since 2010 and hasn't yet won an event, but her solid play in 2021 impresses U.S. Solheim Cup captain Pat Hurst.
The pod system has worked well for the United States in Solheim Cups past. When Pat Hurst was announced as captain for the 2021 match, to be held over Labor Day weekend at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, she decided to continue to pair players based on their personalities.
Nine players automatically qualified for Team USA on Sunday after the conclusion of the AIG Women’s Open: Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Ally Ewing, Austin Ernst, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Megan Khang, Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho. The last three spots were up to Hurst, who worked to balance who’s playing well and who will best fit in with the rest of the team. To try and find those players, Hurst got players together at team bonding events over the last two years to see how everyone worked together.
On Monday, Hurst made her decision, ultimately chosing Brittany Altomare, who played in the Solheim Cup in 2019, Yealimi Noh and Mina Harigae.
It was a chance invite to one of those bonding events that helped Harigae, who first joined the LPGA Tour in 2010, has never won an LPGA event and is a Solheim Cup rookie, get on the team.
In 2020, while the COVID-19 pandemic had LPGA Tour events paused, Harigae went to the Cactus Tour for competition. In April, she won an event by nine shots. In June, she went back-to-back, winning by 14 and 16 shots respectively. Dominating a mini tour isn’t the same as winning on the LPGA Tour, but the confidence she gained with those wins stayed with her when LPGA Tour events began again in 2020. After the restart, she had three top-10 finishes. Captain Hurst had been watching.
“[I] noticed Mina back in the beginning of the year in Arizona playing some Cactus events and playing well, and she was kind of on my radar back then,” Hurst said. “I kind of went out on a limb and invited her to one of our team-bonding deals, and she was all-in for that. It was a lot of fun. She was totally part of the team and that was great to see.”
Since mid-June, Harigae has finished in the top 10 three times on the LPGA Tour and finished T-13 at the AIG Women’s Open.
Noh, also a Solheim Cup rookie as well as a LPGA rookie, has played consistently strong in the second half of this season. The 20-year-old has finished in the top 15 in her last five events. Brittany Altomare will be playing in her second Solheim Cup, after going 2-1-1 in 2019.
Along with the announcement of the captain’s picks, Hurst revealed that Stacy Lewis will fill the final assistant captain’s spot. Hurst said Lewis has been involved in Solheim Cup team conversations over the past year, and she will join the other two assistants, Angela Stanford and Michelle Wie-West, at Inverness. The role is bittersweet. While Lewis is excited to be an assistant, the 36-year-old 13-time LPGA Tour winner had hopes of qualifying for the team to compete in her fifth Solheim Cup.
“It was a little tough, but I also didn’t play good enough. If you want to be on the team, you can’t rely on a pick,” Lewis said of not making the team. “I’m really looking forward to the other side of it and working with these girls.”
Lewis made the team in 2019 but wasn’t able to play, when a back injury flared up days before competition. She was onsite in Scotland and helped the team where she could. Europe defeated the Americans with a dramatic putt on the 18th from Suzann Pettersen.
“[I’m looking forward to] actually being able to help a little more,” Lewis said. “Just felt like I was there watching in Scotland, but [I] did get to see behind the scenes what goes on and was involved a little bit, like Pat said, over the last few months.”
There isn’t an overwhelming amount of experience on Team USA. There are three rookies, Harigae, Noh and Kupcho. Meanwhile, Altomare, Nelly Korda, Khang, Ewing and Ernst have each only played in one Solheim Cup.
Hurst isn’t worried. If playing experience was a real concern, she wouldn’t have gone with three captain’s picks who have a total of one Solheim Cup between them.
“In 2019, we had six rookies, so I didn’t really have to worry about if we were going to be -- if we had enough experience or not, or if we needed more experience on the team, because everyone’s pretty much played.”
More important than experience, she has a group of women who she can pod up and play together, confidently.