They might be swapping golf gloves for boxing gloves by the time it comes round to Sunday’s singles in the 16th Solheim Cup. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but there can be no denying that things have been a bit heated in the build-up to the Gleneagles contest.
American Danielle Kang lit the touch paper with her comments about being here to make the Europeans “cry” and “take their souls”. And, though it may have been delivered in a jocular tone, you definitely sensed there was some truth in Suzann Pettersen’s response to that. “We’re just going to step on their necks,” said the Norwegian.
Sitting alongside her, team-mate Jodi Ewart Shadoff had already hit back at Kang, saying: “I think it just gives us extra motivation. I don’t think there’ll be any tears on our team. Tears of happiness [maybe].”
It would be wrong, of course, to give the impression that the 24 players set to do battle over the PGA Centenary Course at the Perthshire venue hate the sight of each other. That’s not the case because they actually spend a lot of time together, both on and off the course, at LPGA events. Indeed, when England’s Bronte Law claimed her breakthrough win on the US circuit earlier in the year, American Marina Alex was out watching the play-off.
However, there is definitely an edge to this encounter, the third Solheim Cup to be staged in Scotland after Dalmahoy (1992) and Loch Lomond (2000) and an event that is being held at the same venue where Europe, with Paul McGinley as captain, crushed a US side led by Tom Watson in the 2014 Ryder Cup.
That defeat led the Americans to set up a much-publicised “task force” to address a number of issues, including no real continuity in terms of captains. That’s not a problem when it comes to the Solheim Cup. Juli Inkster is at the helm for the third match in a row. She’s won the previous two – at St Leon Rot in Germany in 2015 and Des Moines in Iowa in 2017 – and will become the event’s most successful skipper if she does the trick again.
As a player, Inkster was a fierce competitor. One of the fiercest, in fact, when it came to this match. But even she stopped short of trying to “take souls” and make people “cry”. “No, I did not,” she said, laughing. Was she surprised, therefore, to hear Kang’s comments? “No, it’s the whole social media thing,” added the US captain in trying to defuse the situation. “Everything’s kind of blown out of proportion. She was just having fun with it. And it’s Danielle.”
But what about giving the Europeans ammunition? “I really don’t think the European team needs any ammunition,” insisted the 31-time LPGA winner. “We’re both ready to go. We both want to play. I’m not sure someone could say anything to me to make me want to hit a shot any better than I do tomorrow morning. Things are said, but the bottom line is it’s a golf competition. And we’re going out there, Catriona’s team is going out there, and we’re going to show them [the fans] some impressive golf.”
While that aforementioned comment may suggest otherwise, it seems as though Pettersen will have to let her clubs do the talking when it really matters. The 38-year-old conducted her pre-match press conference with a hoarse throat. “My voice is gone. So this is as good as it gets,” she said, laughing. “Her caddie is probably quite pleased that she’s not speaking so loudly,” joked Matthew while Inkster quipped: “It’s good for our side, too!”
In her ninth appearance in the event, Pettersen has a point to prove, having secured a captain’s pick despite playing just twice since 2017 before Matthew made that bold decision and twice since. “All I have to do is show up with my golf game and that is in great shape,” she said. “Being here it feels like I never left the game, which is kind of nice.
“I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere, the energy or everything that Solheim is all about that always kind of brings out the best of all of us. So this time around the team atmosphere has been the best I think I’ve ever been a part of. And it’s fun to be around all these new youngsters who are so energetic and really good golfers. It’s fun to see. I guess every team has different players. I just think these new youngsters on the European side have a lot of character. They’ve got a great golf game obviously. I think just their personalities are different, but they kind of go together so very good.”
The opening foursomes session will involve a total of six rookies – four Americans and two Europeans. “I really wanted to get my rookies out there playing,” said Inkster of her strategy, which includes sending out the Korda sisters – Jessica and Nelly – together. “A little bit the same,” added Matthew. “They are all ready to go and it’s just a ‘hang on’ if they wait to go any later.”
To borrow the traditional start of a boxing match, seconds out, round one!