As fortnights in sport go, the next two weeks are huge for the game of golf, beginning this weekend with the 2023 Solheim Cup.
This year, for only the second time, the biggest team events in golf, the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup will be played on opposite weeks.
With the men duelling at Marco Simone in Rome next weekend, first up, the women take the stage for the 18th Solheim Cup at the spectacular Finca Cortesin in Spain.
Europe arrive in Andalusia as reigning champions, looking to break ground and win the tournament for the third successive time.
A feat achieved by the US twice before, if Europe retain the famous crystal trophy once more they will replicate the feat of the European Ryder Cup team between both 2002-2006 and 2010-2014.
Pettersen takes the torch
Think Solheim Cup royalty and one name springs to mind: Suzann Pettersen.
In 2023, after Catriona Matthew led Team Europe to retain the Solheim Cup for just the second time two years ago in Ohio, the Norwegian veteran of nine Solheim Cups takes her rightful turn to lead.
Winning the trophy four times, Petterson saw the early days of the Matthew era and famously sunk the decisive putt over Marina Alex at Gleneagles, sealing a dramatic 14 1⁄2–13 1⁄2 win.
🤩 Team 🇪🇺 win the Solheim Cup 🤩
It all came down to Pettersen’s final putt 🤯
Team 🇪🇺 14.5 – 13.5 Team 🇺🇸
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) September 15, 2019
A tournament considered the greatest Solheim, Europe have been underdogs for the last two tournaments, but on home soil, are Pettersen’s charges now the favourite?
Two-thirds of the European team have played in at least two Solheim Cups, whilst Leona Maguire in just her second was the star of the show in 2021, remaining unbeaten, as the Cavan native claimed 4 1⁄2 points.
Celine Boutier is arguably the form horse of all 24 players, coming here with two wins this summer, including the Amundi Evian Championship.
For seasoned Solheim pro Carlota Ciganda, meanwhile, a sixth Solheim Cup on home soil will be a special occasion having been part of the last two wins and again back in 2013.
Team Europe: Celine Boutier, Maja Stark, Linn Grant, Charley Hull, Carlota Ciganda, Georgia Hall, Anna Nordqvist, Leona Maguire. Captain picks: Caroline Hedwall, Madelene Sagstrom, Gemma Dryburgh, Emily Pedersen.
Lewis leads US rookie charge
The 2023 edition of the Solheim Cup is not only a new era for Europe, but also for Team USA.
After three tournaments skippered by Juli Inkster, defeat at Gleneagles in 2019 then saw Pat Hurst take the baton for the Americans.
Following her side suffering their own narrow 15-13 defeat on home soil for just the second time in Ohio, Stacy Lewis takes up the captaincy, with a fresh-looking US team.
The 38-year-old, a two-time major winner herself, Lewis won the Women’s Open in 2013 and hopes to bring her experience on European soil to Spain.
Lewis played in four successive Solheim Cups between 2011 and 2017 and tasted Team victory twice, however, only won five of 16 career matches.
The US are spearheaded by Solheim regulars Nelly Korda – boasting an impressive 68% win ratio – Danielle Kang, Megan Khang and Lexi Thompson – the latter, her sixth competition.
However, five of the 12 are debutantes, including two-time major winner this season, Lilia Vu, and captain’s pick and winner in Michigan in July, Cheyenne Knight.
Team USA: Lilia Vu, Nelly Korda, Allisen Corpuz, Megan Khang, Jennifer Kupcho, Danielle Kang, Andrea Lee, Lexi Thompson, Rose Zhang. Captain picks: Ally Ewing, Cheyenne Knight, Angel Yin.
Unlike in previous years – on paper – one only needs to glance at the Rolex World Rankings to see that Solheim 2023 is a more level playing field.
The US have a relatively paltry four players inside the top 15, with Europe retaining three.
If we delve into the stats, six of Europe’s returning eight from two years ago hold a winning match percentage of 50% or more; for the US returning seven, just four.
Bringing into account recent European dominance, home turf advantage and the numbers, the hosts are still a very decent 10/11 with BoyleSports, with Linn Grant 11/10 with Betfred to be Top-Scoring European Rookie.