WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Annika Sorenstam, captain of the European Solheim Cup team, was flying home to the U.S. from the Women’s British Open in Scotland last week with a plan in place.
Sorenstam knew for a long time what she believed would be her top eight qualifiers, the nucleus of Europe’s team for this week’s biennial Solheim Cup matches. During the past couple of months, she whittled her potential captain’s picks from eight to six to the four whom she eventually named Aug. 6 after the finish at Kingsbarns.
All along, Sorenstam, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who has played in eight Solheim Cups, outlined what she believed would be a winning formula. Her plan was crafted with the core eight qualifiers and the supporting cast in mind.
Plan A didn’t last a week.
During a jog Saturday morning in her native Norway, Suzann Pettersen irritated a disk that had ruptured in the past. Sorenstam’s plan evolved from having Pettersen serve as one of the team’s anchors to playing a limited role to, by Wednesday morning, not playing at all.
Pettersen pulled out of this week’s matches at Des Moines Country Club. She will be replaced by Scotland’s Catriona Matthew. Pettersen and Matthew essentially are changing places, with Pettersen taking Matthew’s role as an assistant captain.
Sorenstam went from Plan A to Plan B to now, as play begins this morning, Plan C.
“I mean, it's not extremely drastic, but it's kind of like you sit at a wedding, you move one, you have to move three, and that's kind of the same thing, Sorenstam said. “The dynamics within the team and who plays with who[m]. I mean, take Suzann. Her characteristic, her personality. Catriona. They're both veterans; that's not it. But just the personality, the playing style. It changes who[m] you partner with, and then you move one, you’ve got to move the other. So, it's not just erasing and putting her in.”
Playing in her ninth Solheim Cup, Matthew, who will turn 48 next week, is no stranger to the Ryder Cup-style competition. She has won 19 points while compiling a 15-10-8 record, ranking third on the all-time European points list, behind only Laura Davies (25) and Sorenstam (24).
Matthew has struggled this year, with her best finish being a tie for 30th in March at the HSBC Champions. She is a four-time winner on the LPGA and owns five more titles on the Ladies European Tour.
“It's funny how things just turn out,” Sorenstam said. “First, it was push the panic button, and then once you kind of surround yourself with a situation and you think about the scenarios and the options – and I'm going to tell you, when we made the decision, it was like some weight just lifted off my shoulders. It was like, this is it. … I mean, it's just shaping up.”
Sorenstam confirmed that the pairings announced for today’s morning foursomes matches were the same players whom she originally had planned, just paired differently because of Pettersen’s withdrawal.
The morning foursomes matches (Central Time):
8:10 – Mel Reid and Charley Hull (Europe) vs. Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson;
8:22 – Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson (Europe) vs. Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas;
8:34 – Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall (Europe) vs. Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst;
8:46 – Karine Icher and Catriona Matthew (Europe) vs. Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller (http://bit.ly/2wPLPTO).
So now it will be in the players’ hands, and Sorenstam will have to hope that the loss of Pettersen will be neither a distraction nor harmful to her team’s chances.
Sorenstam also will have to hope that Matthew finds her form and can win a point or two against a strong and favored U.S. contingent.
Sorenstam thinks she might hold a secret weapon that leads to only the second European victory on U.S. soil in a series that the Americans lead, 9-5.
“There's no doubt, the adrenaline will be pumping, but I feel like I have some young players that can step up to the plate,” Sorenstam said. “So, I don't have to ride the horses as hard as you might think I have to.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli