2023 Solheim Cup pairings: Can the new U.S. approach lead to a win?
CASARES, Spain — The Solheim Cup gets underway Friday morning in Spain, but there’s already some level of surprise now that the first set of pairings were made official Thursday afternoon. Lexi Thompson, who has missed more cuts than she has made in 2023, will hit the first tee ball Friday morning.
Why? Perhaps it’s an experience thing. This is her sixth Solheim Cup, as many as any other player on the American team. That’s worth something. But then there’s her recent struggles, but apparently a rapid return to her former self brewing here at Finca Cortesin.
“You know, we started the week and I had a couple people, kind of within our team, between caddies and helpers, come up to me and just say, ‘You know, she’s hitting it really good,'” U.S. captain Stacy Lewis said Thursday. “And then it’s kind of every day there’s been more and more people telling me this, and with the data and the analytics that’s we have, I actually have their Strokes Gained from the practice over the last two days and she’s off the charts right now.”
Thompson is paired with Megan Khang, who just won the Canadian Open two weeks ago. They’ll be going against two Swedes — Linn Grant and Maja Stark — a duo that has been bothering captain Suzann Pettersen to send them out first for the Europeans. You can find all four opening foursomes (alternate shot) matches below. (Here’s how to watch it.)
8:10 a.m. local (2:10 a.m. ET) — Lexi Thompson, Megan Khang (USA) vs. Linn Grant, Maja Stark
8:22 a.m. local (2:22 a.m. ET) — Danielle Kang, Andrea Lee (USA) vs. Celine Boutier, Georgia Hall
8:34 a.m. local (2:34 a.m. ET) — Nelly Korda, Allisen Corpuz (USA) vs. Leona Maguire, Anna Nordqvist
8:46 a.m. local (2:46 a.m. ET) — Ally Ewing, Cheyenne Knight (USA) vs. Charley Hull, Emily Pedersen
As for the European pairs, there may be less surprise since Pettersen has had these selections locked in her mind for months. She even told her team of the locked-in pairings as early as Monday night. Kudos to them for keeping it a secret for three days, though we could have seen a bit of it coming. The two leading foursomes during Europe’s final practice session featured all four pairs that will go out Friday morning.
Lewis seems to be managing her team a bit differently, avoiding the oft-used “pod” system that has become popular in these team events. Rather than breaking her group of 12 into three four-person groups that practice together and spend more time together, Lewis is treating this team of 12 as an entirely interchangeable roster.
While Nelly Korda and Khang would appear to be a plausible duo — them being close and spending lots of time together on the road, even conducting their press conference together Thursday — Khang is playing with Thompson while Korda is paired with the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz. Even during the final practice round, rather than have three foursomes, the Americans went out in this sequence: threesome, foursome, threesome, twosome, with mini matches taking place during their final trek around the course.
“I think it’s a new approach,” Ally Ewing said earlier this week, of not using a pod system. “It’s a great approach. I think, if anything, it’s going to bring us together. It doesn’t really cluster us or categorize us to certain people that we’re around, for the most part, so I think we’re going to see even more strength in the team room as an aspect of it.”
Only so much can be gleaned about the rest of the Solheim Cup from these selections, but as with all pairings selections, there will be room for second-guessing. Rose Zhang, the upstart LPGA Tour rookie who won in her first event as a professional in June, will start her Solheim Cup career on the bench. So will Lilia Vu, the World No. 2 who has won two majors this season. When asked about the idea of sitting Vu, Lewis called for some patience.
“I don’t see anybody playing all five sessions,” Lewis said. “So they all needed some rest at some point and just wanted to give her the morning to just kind of regroup and get herself together. She somewhat asked for it a little bit, somewhat didn’t. It was kind of my idea. So, yeah, I mean, you’re going to see her a lot, other than that first session. You don’t win two majors and sit on the sideline for very long.”