Pettersen puts neck on line with quip
Solheim Cup barb was ‘playful’ insist Europe Rookies handed an early taste of the atmosphere
As if the 16th Solheim Cup required any more hype, Suzann Pettersen decided to afford this match a razor-sharp edge anyway courtesy of an outrageous statement. “We are going to step on their necks,” Europe’s most experienced campaigner said.
Pettersen grinned as she uttered the words and the Europe camp insisted the Norwegian was “only being playful”. However, there was definitely zest in the jest and rancour in the banter as Pettersen was responding to the United States’ Danielle Kang exclaiming “we want to take their souls and expect to be booed”. Just imagine the outcry if these barbs had come from opposing players on the eve of the Ryder Cup. As it is, it all adds to an atmosphere that should reach fever pitch, with more than 100,000 expected here over the next days, making it easily the most attended female golf event ever staged in Britain.
Of course, it was Pettersen who played the starring villain role in the Solheim’s biggest controversy during Europe’s last home match. In Baden-wurttemberg, the former world No2 – and fifth-highest points scorer in the 29-year history of this Ryder Cup equivalent – created pandemonium by insisting she had not conceded an 18ins putt to Alison Lee. Tears ensued, as did angry condemnation from the visitors. Juli Inkster, who was the US captain and is again now, declared: “No way they can ever justify that. It’s just not right.” The US were duly pumped up for the singles and produced a stunning comeback reminiscent of the Miracle of Medinah to avoid losing their third match in succession. Flash forward to 2019, and now it is the US looking for a Solheim “three-peat” and yet again, Pettersen is in the spotlight.
This is the 38-year-old’s first Solheim since 2015 and, with her having missed the past season after giving birth to her son, Herman, many wondered why Europe captain Catriona Matthew selected her as a wildcard. Perhaps Pettersen’s words highlighted why.
Matthew, the Scot determined to prevail on home soil, does not want her outsiders to go down without at least a fight. Saying that, when it came to naming the pairings for the first foursomes last night, in an opening ceremony typically cringeworthy in its over-the-toppery, Pettersen was absent. As was Kang. Instead, the morning will have a heavy St George flavour. There are four Englishwomen involved – but bizarrely none of them are playing together. Bronte Law, the debutante, goes out first with Spain’s Carlota Ciganda – the only world top 20 player in Matthew’s ranks – against Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex, while Georgia Hall and France’s Celine Boutier face Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare. Jodi Ewart Shadoff is next alongside Germany’s Caroline Masson as they take on sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda, with Charley Hull and another Spaniard in Azahara Munoz tackling Megan Khang and Annie Park in the final contest.
Rookies will be everywhere on a first tee surrounded by an intimidating grandstand. Inkster is blooding five of her six, while Matthew is putting out of two of her three. “We wanted to try and get as many rookies out as we could,” Matthew said. “It’s a long hang-on if they play any later. Being the home side, a quick lead would get the crowd into it, so we’re going to go out and get some blue on the board.”
Inkster sounds confident, but home advantage counts for plenty as Paul Mcginley’s men showed here five years ago by crushing the opposition. America’s neck is once more on the line in Perthshire.
Stars and lights: The Solheim Cup has a typically over-the-top opening ceremony