Guid­ing Europe chal­lenges Soren­stam

For­mer top-ranked player in dif­fi­cult spot with team plagued by in­juries, ill­ness

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Luke Mered­ith

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA — Af­ter ac­com­plish­ing just about ev­ery­thing there is to ac­com­plish in golf, An­nika Soren­stam fi­nally got her shot as a Sol­heim Cup cap­tain.

Lead­ing Team Europe might prove to be a lot more dif­fi­cult for Soren­stam than play­ing ever was.

Veteran star Suzann Pet­tersen is out with a bad back.

Swe­den’s Anna Nordqvist, the team’s top-ranked player, re­cently dealt with a bout of mononu­cle­o­sis.

Four of Soren­stam’s 12 play­ers are mak­ing their de­buts in the bi­en­nial tour­na­ment be­tween Europe and the U.S. — and the Euro­peans are 1-6 on Amer­i­can soil.

But Soren­stam, the Hall of Fame player who served as a vice cap­tain in the three pre­vi­ous Sol­heim Cups, is con­fi­dent the un­der­dog Euro­peans can hang with the U.S. when play be­gins Fri­day at Des Moines Golf and Coun­try Club.

Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thomp­son will be the open­ing pair­ing for the U.S., while Team Europe paired Nordqvist with Ge­or­gia Hall. Amer­i­can cap­tain Juli Inkster also paired rookie Danielle Kang with veteran Lizette Salas, and Ca­tri­ona Matthew, Pet­tersen’s re­place­ment, will also open four­some play Fri­day.

“It’s been a lot of jug­gling, to put it mildly,” said Soren­stam, who won 72 LPGA Tour ti­tles, in­clud­ing 10 ma­jors. “I had a plan, I called it plan A. And then we started a plan B and when Suzann and I spoke (Wed­nes­day) morn­ing, I kind of threw out plan A, and now we’re stick­ing to plan B.”

Still, the Amer­i­cans will have the edge in ex­pe­ri­ence and with a home crowd that is ex­pected to eclipse 100,000.

Half of the U.S. field has played in at least four Sol­heim Cups, led by Kerr (nine), Paula Creamer (seven) and the resur­gent Michelle Wie (five). But Creamer was an al­ter­nate for Inkster un­til Jes­sica Korda hurt her fore­arm and with­drew.

The Amer­i­cans also have the top-ranked player in the event in Thomp­son, the 22-year-old Florid­ian who has three wins and 15 top-five fin­ishes since 2015.

Thomp­son, ranked sec­ond in the world, fought through a res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tion that lim­ited her prac­tice time this week. But Thomp­son said Thurs­day that while she’s been tak­ing it easy since land­ing in Des Moines, she’ll be fine by Fri­day.

“I’m not dy­ing,” Thomp­son joked. “I’ve been on every (med­i­ca­tion) you can think of.”

Soren­stam said this week that she was “not so wor­ried about” Nordqvist, whose sev­enth-place tie two weeks ago in the Women’s Bri­tish Open con­firmed her fit­ness.

But the Euro­peans might need a huge week­end from Nordqvist given how many ques­tions marks there are on the rest of the team. Team Europe has just four play­ers ranked in the top 30 in the world fol­low­ing Pet­tersen’s with­drawal.

Hall, Floren­tyna Parker, Emily K. Ped­er­sen and Made­lene Sagstrom are mak­ing their tour­na­ment de­buts. And though they’ve all es­tab­lished them­selves as pro­fes­sion­als ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing for wins, Sol­heim Cup vet­er­ans be­lieve that noth­ing can pre­pare a new­comer for pres­sure of play­ing in the most rau­cous en­vi­ron­ment in women’s golf.

“It’s lit­er­ally like no other ex­pe­ri­ence you’ll ever have, the nerves on the first tee. You know, back in 2013 I didn’t even think I could get the ball on the tee I was shak­ing so much. But every­body’s been in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions, in­di­vid­u­ally and as a team. So hope­fully the rook­ies can draw on that be­cause you need to. It will be fun,” Europe’s Jodi Ewart Shad­off said. Europe cap­tain An­nika Soren­stam watches dur­ing prac­tice for the Sol­heim Cup at the Des Moines Golf and Coun­try Club.


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