Solheim Cup Confidential: Best storylines, players to watch, picks to win and more

Jessica Korda at the 2019 Solheim Cup.

Jessica Korda is 4-2-2 in her Solheim Cup career.

Getty Images

Welcome to this special edition of Tour Confidential, in which we’ll focus exclusively on the 17th Solheim Cup, teeing off on Saturday and finishing on Monday at Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio. What should you know about the event, the storylines, the players and more? We got you covered. [Click the links for the TV schedule, U.S. roster and European roster.)

The 17th Solheim Cup begins at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, on Saturday and finishes on Labor Day Monday. The U.S. is trying to win for the third time in the last four meetings after Europe’s memorable 14.5-13.5 victory at Gleneagles in 2019. But lots has changed in the past two years. What storyline are you most looking forward to unfolding at Inverness?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): There are a lot of names on the European squad that the normal sports fan might not recognize. I’m excited to watch their coming out party. Celine Boutier? Everyone in golf should know her. She was 4-0 in 2019! Does she become even more of a Solheim Cup star this week? Leona Maguire has had one helluva summer. How will that continue — or stop — this week? We know many more of the American stories, but I’m excited to watch some Euros plant their flag.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): I’m intrigued by the American rookies. Everybody knows the top four women on Team USA — the Kordas, Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson — but the match may well hang on the debuts of Jennifer Kupcho, Mina Harigae and Yealimi Noh. Kupcho has been trending up, Harigae is playing in her first Cup despite a decade on the LPGA Tour and Noh has shown a knack for performing on the big stage.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): The names Sean and Dylan highlight are compelling for sure. But I’m also interested in the underdog theme. We’ve seen this story before in the Ryder Cup, where the Europeans have often appeared outgunned on paper, only to prove that world rankings and Q-ratings don’t guarantee you anything. There’s nothing like competing against a wave of expectation as motivation. On the other side, the Americans have the pressure of making good on a result that everyone assumes is preordained. Will the script flip? It will be fun to see.

Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): Can the Americans dominate like they should? On paper, the Americans are much stronger than their counterparts, but as Sean said, matches aren’t won on paper. I’m interested to see if the Yanks can play to their ability and make this the blowout it has the potential to be.

What’s one thing fans need to look for or be aware of while watching from home this weekend?

Zak: Just because Inverness hasn’t hosted a big-time men’s event in a while doesn’t mean that it’s some slouch course. It’s been hosting major events for more than 100 years! And the recent renovation has golf architecture nuts really hyped. The course rarely gets a lot of attention during team matches, but Inverness is deserving.

Dethier: The very most basic thing: The schedule! This tournament ends on Monday, Labor Day. That’s important for symbolic reasons — we’re marking the end of summer here, and you can still wear your white pants — but it’s also the perfect way to wind down your holiday weekend. The Tour Championship and college football will have wrapped up over the weekend, leaving the spotlight on the singles matches of these deserving women.

Sens: Inverness closes with a stretch of tough par-4s. Not necessarily the sort of half-par holes that make for the most strategic interest in match play. But how those holes get set up can make a huge difference. Will the tees be up? Back? What about the pins? All of those small differences can add up to a big influence.

Melton: Just remember how nice it is to have a big-time team event back on the schedule with fans. At this time last year, we had no idea if this would even be possible. Enjoy the little things we used to take for granted.

Danielle Kang at the 2021 Solheim Cup.
Danielle Kang has a 4-4-0 record in her two Solheim Cup appearances. getty images

Who will be the key player for the U.S., and why?

Zak: I hate to make this too simple, but I do think the answer is Nelly Korda. She’s the best player in the world. She’s going to play five matches. She should, at least. If she somehow doesn’t play well, that’s a huge hit for the American squad. If she plays like she’s played all year, that’s five matches the Europeans will be underdogs in.

Dethier: Danielle Kang. She has the potential to be the heart and soul of this American side, and she’s made it clear how much she loves team competition. But she’s just 4-4 in her Solheim career and lost a heartbreaker in 2019, which means she’ll be eager for redemption.

Sens: It’s cliche to say that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts in team play, but it’s true. That said, I’m with Sean. Korda. She’s the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. She will be key to setting the tone.

Leona Maguire at the 2021 Solheim Cup.
Leona Maguire will make her Solheim Cup debut this week. Getty Images

Melton: Nelly Korda is the obvious answer, but I’m gonna go with Lizette Salas instead. She’s made it clear all summer that the Solheim Cup has been THE event circled on her calendar, and I’m excited to see if she brings it like I expect her to. Also, she can putt the lights out.

Who will be the key player for Europe, and why?

Zak: Madelene Sagstrom has been so good, bordering on damn great this summer. And it’s led to no victories somehow. She’s quietly playing as well as anyone in the competition. If it continues, you could easily see her playing five matches and winning a majority of them.

Dethier: Leona Maguire. The former world No. 1 amateur has been playing up to her lofty expectations and is now the first-ever Irish native to play in the Solheim Cup. I think she seizes the opportunity and the big stage.

Sens: Anna Nordqvist. She’s the top player on the team, and the most experienced in this event. If Europe is going to make it close, she’ll need to be at her best.

Melton: Matilda Castren. She’s had a big summer with wins on both sides of the pond, and I think she has serious potential to be a stud for the Euros.

And… who wins?

Zak: Team Europe! They are sure-fire underdogs, and on foreign soil. But they’re arguably in better form than their opponents. That has to be worth something. Another 15-13 dogfight is on the way.

Dethier: Team USA! By a healthy 15.5-12.5 margin. The course favors them and the crowd will, too. If their stars take care of business, the Cup stays on U.S. soil, no problem.

Sens: Lopsided matches on paper don’t always yield the expected results. But in this case, I think they will. The U.S. has just too much of a firepower advantage, with the home crowd as well. In that sense, it’s like the Ryder Cup, though in that event at Kohler, I expect the Euros to win. More on that later.

Melton: Team USA. As my colleagues noted, this matchup is just a bit too lopsided for the Europeans to overcome. However, I do think it’ll be closer than it should be. 15-13.

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