CASARES, Spain — The Solheim Cup is upon us. For the first time all week, every player in the field has their golf clubs on-site — shoutout to Danielle Kang — and pairings are starting to take shape at Finca Cortesin in the south of Spain.
Here’s are 6 early happenings on the ground.
1. The Americans are officially underdogs
For perhaps the first time in the history of the Solheim Cup, the Americans are underdogs. Now, Vegas would have you believe that it’s an even match, and it just might be. But an important part of the mental jockeying before every major team event — you’ll see it next week at the Ryder Cup — is who gets to use the “underdog” title.
You may think this an unimportant moniker but it helps decide how the final results are perceived. If the Americans win on the road against a superior opponent, it’ll feel like an extra-significant win ahead of next year’s Cup back in the States.
European captain Suzann Pettersen started this discourse by declaring her team the best European squad she’s seen in all her time around the Solheim Cup. Coming from the winningest player in European Solheim history, that says a lot. Given the chance to rein in expectations Wednesday, she doubled down, saying, “I don’t think there’s anything to hide under a chair that if you look on paper, we have the strongest team that I’ve ever been a part of, and that’s based on great performances over the last few years from all the players.”
U.S. skipper Stacy Lewis pounced on the inverse, snatching the opportunity to be the plucky underdog no one expects much from. “No, I think Europe’s the favorite,” Lewis said. “They have won the last two, we’re on their soil, they have a great team that has a ton, a ton of experience in this event. So you look at history, you know, it doesn’t bode well for us. But I love our chances. I love these rookies. I think they’re going to have a great week and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”
2. Spain WITH the S
The host of this week’s Solheim Cup, Spain’s Costa del Sol, could well be heaven. On one side of the car, jagged grey cliffs shoot into the heavens like skyscrapers. On the other, crystal blue waters are interrupted only by white sand beaches that stretch on for miles. Spend a few minutes driving down the highway and you will no longer wonder why half of Europe travels here to vacation.
Rest assured, it’s tempting to view this tiny slice of coastline through the vacationland prism — but that, it seems, would be leaving out the best part: the golf.
Courses — about 15 of them — sprout from the earth every few miles from Malaga to Finca Cortesin and there is no shortage of variety in those options. Some feature the furry detailing and haphazard bunkering unmistakable of an ephemerally public track; some, like this week’s Solheim Cup host, feature the finely manicured trappings of golf glory. But all share in the same gorgeous view, and the same unbothered pace of life.
We didn’t bring our sticks with us for this week’s journey into the south of Spain, and are already regretting that decision. Once the good folks of the golf world feast their eyes upon the beauty at Finca Cortesin and, Spain’s Costa del Sol — “Coast of the Sun” — could have a fighting argument to add golf to that nickname.
3. Best opening Solheim/Ryder Cup hole ever?
At risk of exaggerating, we’re not well-versed in opening holes of Solheim and Ryder Cups. Mostly, we just know the buildouts of grandstands that tower behind the tee box and the thunderous noise that emanates from them as players begin their matches.
But as for the actual golf holes themselves, this week’s may be the best we’ve ever seen. On the scorecard, it’s a 280-yard par-4, which means it’s absolutely drivable for the longest women in the world. We’re talking about Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Linn Grant and Charley Hull — just to name some of the competitors who may try and drive the green this week.
“We’ve been talking about this,” captain Pettersen said Wednesday. “I don’t know if we’ve been trying to lay a strategy flat, because for some people it’s very approachable, for others it’s might be out of their reach to be comfortable to go for the hole in one or like go for the drivable par-4. So I think you’re going to see both. I have just told the players, let’s talk through this. Because, I mean, we had a drivable par-4 in 2017 in Des Moines which didn’t really turn into the European favor.”
That hole in 2017 measured 306 yards on the scorecard, and players have only gotten longer off the tee since then. But wind will be a major factor in the approach to kick-starting matches this week. The breeze was blowing straight into the tee Wednesday afternoon, making the 245-or-so-yard cover a bit more treacherous. Still, igniting a match like Bryson DeChambeau did at the 2021 Ryder Cup is in the cards.
4. The Bag Drop
The story of early Solheim Cup week has been the MIA clubs of Danielle Kang.
As seems to happen at least once a European-held tournament, the airlines lost Kang’s gear en route to Spain, and for a period of time on Tuesday believed they had lost her clubs all together. Kang could only watch her teammates practice on Tuesday as she waited for replacements to arrive, hitting chips and a few putts around the greens.
Thankfully, we were chuffed to rise on Wednesday to word that Kang’s babies had been recovered (both the originals and the backups). And when U.S. team captain Stacy Lewis stepped to the podium on Wednesday afternoon, she added yet another twist to the recovery story.
As Lewis explained, the Americans wrangled the help of dozens of staffers to assist in the great golf club rescue, coordinating with airlines and employees to help track them down.
“The number of people that were working on finding that golf bag the last two days is astronomical,” she said. “Danielle’s given us many hugs and thank yous. She was is very appreciative.”
But the real kicker is the person who dragged the bag across the finish line, literally, on behalf of team USA.
“My dad actually went and picked it up for us,” Lewis said with a laugh. “So Dad gets the MVP of the week.”
5. Hills, hills and more hills
They say you’ll never know how hilly Augusta National is until you see it in person. Well, you can say the same for Finca Cortesin. This is a golf course where you’ll want to take a cart, but players won’t have that luxury this week.
When asked about the aspect of the layout that may have surprised them, Cheyenne Knight immediately brought up the undulation. “People said it was hilly,” she said Wednesday, “but it’s definitely hilly.”
The course is built into the slope of the Sierra Bermeja Mountain Range, which runs along the backside of Costa Del Sol, a string of beach towns on the Alboran Sea. Unfortunately, for those in the competition — and the many spectators expected to be in attendance — what goes down here at Finca Cortesin must eventually come back up.
Caroline Hedwall offered the strongest truth of the week in her press conference: “It’s a tough walk for everyone, especially the caddies.”
6. Clowning around
It’s quite hard to glean much of anything from early-week press conferences at team events. With participants working in groups during press settings, most insight from captains and players is distilled into the same cliches: “Well, we don’t want to give all our secrets away…” and, “Yeah, I agree with what [previous speaker] said…”
Truth is, most of the information about the state of the Solheim Cup, the matchups, and the strategy will remain secret until the first balls go into the air on Friday morning. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth learning from the early-week pressers. No, quite the opposite.
This week marks one of the rare times we see players explore beyond the insular world of solo-tournament golf. Which means it also marks one of the rare times we hear an outsider’s perspective of their personalities, their competitive idiosyncrasies and perhaps, most notably, their ability to take a joke.
If the early week is any indication, there’s already a runaway leader in those categories on the European side.
“I guess there’s only one Charley Hull playing this week, if you [want to] talk about the class clown,” Pettersen said with a chuckle on Wednesday.
“I think Charley’s the obvious choice,” assistant captain Laura Davies agreed. “I don’t even think she knows she’s funny, but she is probably the funniest person you’ll ever meet. She keeps everyone on their toes.”
For the Americans, the answer appears to be equally as obvious: Angel Yin, who told reporters Wednesday she wrangled her American teammates into buying a few definitely real $25 Louis Vuitton scarves from a street hawker.