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A Primer on the Solheim Cup - Teams All Set for Matches in Mid-August
It's may not be like the Oscars, nor the Emmys, but the Women's British Open that took place this past weekend on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, had me on the edge of my seat.
The excitement of Stacy Lewis's birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to claim the title made history. But, quite honestly, my interest was not just on who was going to win the Open but how the top finishers would affect the selection of the two Solheim Cup teams. And they did!
To understand why the upcoming Solheim Cup in Parker, Colo., August 16-18, is so important in the world of women's golf, the following article is structured in a Q&A format. To experience the drama of this unique international golf competition, all women golfers (past, current and future) should make sure they watch the coverage of the tournament on the Golf Channel.
A. What is the Solheim Cup?
Q. Twelve golfers on Team USA will compete against 12 members of Team Europe. Yes, a very international contest! American-born players who have been playing side by side with their European and Asian-born friends - all of whom may live in the United States, will be playing against them in this prestigious tournament. The Solheim Cup is the women's counterpart of the well-known men's Ryder Cup. The Solheim and Ryder cups are biennial tournaments played in alternating years. This year it's the women's turn. I will be there to report on the tournament from inside the ropes.
Q. When did the Solheim Cup begin and how did it get its name?
A. The first Solheim Cup was held in 1990 and played at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla. The tournament is named in honor of the late Karsten Solheim, the founder of the Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, which makes PING golf equipment. The first Solheim Cups were not very well attended but are now among the most high-profile events for professional women golfers.
Q. Who is playing in this year's Solheim Cup?
A. Sunday night, at the conclusion of the Women's British Open, the final rosters of the two teams were determined.
For Team USA: Lewis - who topped the Americans' points list - was followed by automatic-point qualifiers Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda and Brittany Lang. Lizette Salas and Morgan Pressel earned the next two spots as the top-two qualifiers via the Rolex World Rankings. Rounding out the team are Gerina Piller and Michelle Wie, who were selected as Captain Meg Mallon's captain's picks.
The European automatic qualifiers are Suzann Pettersen, Catriona Matthew, Carlota Ciganda, Caroline Masson, Beatriz Recari, Anna Nordqvist, Karine Icher and Azahara Munoz. With four picks, European captain Liselotte Neumann chose Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Caroline Hedwall, Giulia Sergas and Charley Hull to fill out Team Europe.
Q. What determines whether a golfer plays for the USA or Europe?
A. Great question because many foreign-born female (and male) professional golfers live in America. But when it comes to the Solheim Cup, the 12 golfers on Team USA must be born in the United States and be a member of the LPGA Tour. Team Europe's 12 players must be current members of the Ladies European Tour (which includes a variety of nationalities as well) or live in or hold passports from a European country.
Q. How were the Team USA players selected?
A. The first 10 players are based on their tournament performances. But it's a little more complicated. The first eight players on Team USA are determined by points won during events played over the last two years through the Women's British Open. In addition, for the first time in Solheim Cup history, winners of LPGA "major" championships (like the British Open) earned double Solheim Cup points for their victory. The double-points element made it possible for a player to jump ahead of other players that had earlier looked like a sure bet for a place on the team.
Two additional players made Team USA based on the Rolex Golf Rankings - if they are not already qualified under "tournament points." And, the rankings were not finalized until the Women's British Open. Pressel, in fact, made the USA team because of her performance at the Old Course, which moved her up in the rankings and consequently ensured she'd be playing in the 2013 Solheim Cup.
Q. What about the two other "captain's picks?"
A. Mallon, a winner of numerous LPGA tournaments in addition to being a member of several Solheim Cup teams, is allowed to select two additional players based on her own personal criteria. You can be sure that she carefully observed the Americans at the British Open. In interviews about her captain's picks, Mallon frequently mentioned how carefully she studied the players' previous performances. Remember, this year's British Open was played in Scotland at sea level on a historic links-style course. The Solheim Cup will be played at the Colorado Golf Club just outside Denver, which is a five-year-old course that sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet.
Captain Mallon could not select her own picks until the British Open. When the last putt dropped on the 18th hole, Mallon knew who made Team USA based on points and only then could she choose two other golfers for Team USA. In those interviews Mallon described why she selected Wie and Piller. Mallon pointed out that this will be Wie's third Solheim Cup and she has done well in the past. With respect to Piller, Mallon sees something in this rookie that she likes and considers will round out her team both as to skill and personality.
Q. How were the Team Europe players selected?
A. Team Europe has a similar method for determining their team members. One major difference, however, is that the European captain has four picks.
Q. How is the Solheim Cup format different from other tournaments?
A. Most professional golf tournaments employ a stroke-play format, also referred to as medal play. A typical field begins with over 100 players and the player with the lowest number of strokes over three or four rounds (this year the LPGA has gone to many 72-hole events) wins. There is very little team play in most televised professional golf tournaments; it's every woman or man for her or himself. In a regular LPGA or PGA event, each player has 72 holes to total the least strokes to become the winner.
Every player in individual stroke play is playing against the course, not against a particular player. For example, three weeks ago the golf world watched Phil Mickelson win the British Open at Muirfield. On the final day of the tournament he came from behind with the help of a hot putter. Over four days Mickelson played 72 holes and took 281 strokes. At the end, he won by three shots over his closest competitor.
The Solheim Cup (like the Ryder Cup) uses a match-play format, whereby every hole is really its own match.
Q. So, does that mean that in match play a golfer may not have to play all 18 holes to win?
A. Yes. A little more about match play: If a match were just between two players for one round of 18 holes and if one player won the first 10 holes, he or she would be the winner and the match would be over. Even if the losing player were to win the next eight holes, he or she could not overcome the big deficit. If one player won the first nine holes and the other player won the remaining nine holes, the players would be tied and have to continue playing in extra holes until one player beat the other with the lowest score.
Q. Why are there two different formats for tournaments? And is one easier than the other?
A. The game of golf originally was contested exclusively in match play. It was one player against the other. But, as the game grew in popularity and more players wanted to compete over more days, the stroke-play format came to prominence.
As to which format is harder, that depends on the personality of the golfer. Some golfers excel at stroke play - others at match play. I'll try to explain it on a personal level as just a recreational bogey golfer. I've been playing golf for a long time; nothing really scares me. I have been in lots of water, bunkers and long grass and survived and recovered. I'm a steady golfer, but not someone that can bring everything together on a single shot when playing under win-or-lose pressure. I'm not good at making key puts to win a hole. For those reasons I am better at stroke play than match play in competitions. But I have to admit that match play is more fun and exciting, which is why I continue to participate in such competitions against teams in my local area.
Q. Why are there fewer match-play tournaments like the Solheim and Ryder Cup on television?
A. Because match-play tournaments involve fewer players, TV networks probably prefer stroke play where there are more participants and more opportunities to broadcast more dramatic moments. The USGA uses a combination of stroke play and match play in most of its amateur championships (both the men's and women's U.S. Opens are stroke play). In those national amateur tournaments, stroke-play "qualifying" is used to determine the finalists in the match-portion of the championships, with the winners making it through various brackets to reach the final match. If you watch these events on television, you'll feel the strategy, drama and excitement of each shot. At most golf clubs, the men's and women's championships are contested in match play.
Q. Isn't match play scored differently?
A. Yes it is and, because many recreational golfers don't play match play, the TV announcers have to explain just who is winning. For example, at a Solheim or Ryder cup match, the TV announcer might say, "Team USA is winning 3-up." What does that mean? Let's say the match has made it through the 15th hole, with three holes yet to go.
Let's play it out: If Europe wins the 16th hole, the match could be expressed as Team Europe being 2-down. And if Team Europe wins the 17th hole that match would put the Euros 1-down, or USA with a 1-up lead. If Europe were to win the 18th hole, the match would go to "all-square" and a sudden-death playoff hole would ensue to determine the match winner.
Q. How is the winner of the Solheim Cup determined?
A. There are 28 different matches played in the three-day tournament. Each match is worth one point - so the team with 14 ½ points at the conclusion is the winner of the Solheim Cup. The exception is that the winner of the previous Solheim Cup - Team Europe in 2011 - needs only 14 points to retain the Cup.
Here's the 2013 Solheim Cup schedule:
Friday, August 16th - Day 1 morning: four alternate-shot matches.
Friday, August 16th - Day 1 afternoon: four better-ball matches.
Saturday, August 17th - Day 2 morning: four alternate-shot matches.
Saturday, August 17th - Day 2 afternoon: four better-ball matches.
Sunday, August 18th: Day 3: 12 singles matches in which all 12 players from each team participate.
The key role of each captain is determining which of their players are most likely to succeed together in the two-person alternate-shot and better-fall matches, and to align their team members for the best success against opponents in the singles matches. There's a lot of strategy and leadership involved in being a Solheim Cup captain.
In my next article about the Solheim Cup, I will explain the different alternate-shot and best-ball formats as well as a little about leadership and that intangible and very important element: team spirit. Captain Mallon brings a lot of experience to Team USA, as does her counterpart, Neumann.
Don't miss the Solheim Cup matches. They won't come around for another two years.
Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.