Scottish-based coach Kevin Craggs, whose workload has doubled this week since Catriona Matthew joined Mel Reid in a playing capacity, believes Europe can upset the odds in the 15th Solheim Cup over the next three days thanks to Annika Sorenstam steering the visitors’ ship in Des Moines.
On the back of having triumphed six out of seven times on home soil in the biennial event, coupled with them being the holders following a thrilling one-point victory at St Leon-Rot in Germany two years ago, an American side being led by Juli Inkster for the second match in a row are red-hot favourites to prevail on Sunday here in Iowa.
However, Craggs has seen more than enough, both on and off the course, over the three official practice days to make him feel quietly confident that Europe can repeat an historic victory in Denver four years ago, pointing to the woman captaining the side for a first time as the main reason for his optimism.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in the team room this week and there is a definite determination in there,” said Kingsfield Golf Centre-based Craggs, the former Scottish national ladies’ coach who is now concentrating mainly on his work with both Matthew and Reid. “They are not just here to compete. They are here to bring the trophy back. When you look at the dynamics of the team, it’s fantastic. Annika, pictured, has done a terrific job and she has involved everybody.”
Matthew, of course, had come here as one of the Swede’s three vice-captains but is now a member of the 12-man team after Norwegian Suzann Pettersen injured her back at the weekend. Craggs is delighted to see the Scottish No 1 making her ninth playing appearance –an competitor in the process at 47 years, 11 months and 22 days, just four days older than Laura Davies – and feels equally proud that Reid, his other star pupil, is locking horns with the Americans for a third time.
“Catriona had a lesson with me at Kingsfield on Saturday and we got back to business in preparation for her playing in next week’s Canadian Women’s Open,” said Craggs, who lives in Bonnybridge. “Then, as I was coming in here for the first time earlier in the week on the bus, I saw her hitting balls and said, ‘hang on, what’s going on’.
“Then I heard what might be happening due to Suzann’s unfortunate injury and I am very proud and delighted that Catriona has stepped in because I don’t think there is anyone better to step up to the plate in a situation like this.
“It’s her ninth Solheim Cup. She has a massive presence in the team room and an incredible presence on the golf course. She has every skill set that’s required.
“She’s been here and done it before and match-play in itself could really suit her this week. You can be a bit more aggressive and mistakes aren’t as punishing as they are in stroke-play.
“This is the biggest stage for female golf. It just doesn’t get any bigger. But someone like Catriona has a great ability of being able to manage her emotions impeccably. She’s got a game style that she is in control of and I am confident she will embrace this better than anyone could.”
On Derbyshire’s Reid, he added: “It has been an interesting journey so far with Mel. This is her rookie year on the LPGA at 29 and I like that rather than being out there at 18. We are learning as we are going on. There is a massively different level on the LPGA to the LET, where she’s won six times.
“We are learning what she has to do better, both on and off the course as the lifestyle is different. She revels in a team environment. She’s received lots of compliments from her team-mates and that’s maybe one of the reasons why she is going to be hitting the first tee shot tomorrow.”
Reid heaped praise on Craggs during the recent Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns, urging him to become a full-timer on the LPGA Tour. “My philosophy is that coaching starts with a personal relationship,” he added. “Mel and I and Catriona and I have that and we build that relationship.
“It goes beyond just giving golf advice. Mel’s journey is my journey, too. She has been kind to me and an inspiration to me and my family with what she has achieved (having overcome the death of her mother in a car accident five years ago). I’m glad she’s taking me with her.”
How the likes of Matthew, Reid, Anna Nordqvist, Charley Hull and Carlota Ciganda perform will be key in this contest, in which Europe head to battle with four rookies – English pair Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker, Swede Madelene Sagstrom and Dane Emily Pedersen – compared to three in the American ranks, namely Danielle Kang, Angel Yin and Austin Ernst.
When it comes to money, the LPGA and the LET are miles apart but the Europeans have overcome that handicap in the past to triumph in this event, including at Dalmahoy in 1992 and also Loch Lomond in 2000, and it would certainly be a timely tonic for the struggling LET if Sorenstam can indeed mastermind a victory here, where 125,000 advance tickets have been sold and the attendance could swell to as many as 200,000 spectators.
“They have complex issues,” said Craggs of the European circuit, where Ivan Khodabakhsh stepped down as chief executive last week in the wake of five events being lost from an already threadbare 2017 schedule.
“A win here will accelerate the importance of ladies’ golf. These girls are proper golfers. They play the game properly. Sometimes that is not appreciated.
“I’ve worked at all levels, from girls in the amateur teams to the tour and there isn’t a real appreciation. But it’s nice now that we see messages of support from guys off the European Tour or the PGA Tour.
“If we win this, or should I say when we win this, hopefully it can be a springboard for the Ladies European Tour because it needs to do something.”