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What to Watch for at the Solheim Cup - Seven Tips

By: Nancy Berkley


When most of us think of golf, we think of it as an individual sport - not a team game. Well, forget that. This weekend is your chance to watch the Solheim Cup team competition - a golf tournament like no other.

Twelve golfers from Team USA will compete against Team Europe over three days starting Friday, August 16th, and going through Sunday the 18th at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, just outside Denver. The Solheim Cup is match play where, in essence, every hole is its own contest. One way to think of it is as a tournament with many separate matches.

On both Friday and Saturday, the formats provide for two players on each team to compete against two players from the opposite side. On Sunday, the 12 players on each squad will play individual matches against the 12 players on the other team. See my article A Primer on the Solheim Cup at http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/a_primer_on_the_solheim_cup_teams_all_set_for_matches_in_midaugust.

The 2013 American & European Teams
on the Old Course's Swilcan Bridge
at the Recent Women's British Open at St. Andrews

Since most golfers are not as familiar with match play, especially in this biennial tournament, here are a few things to watch for.

Did the Captains select the right pairings?

It won't be until Thursday evening when Meg Mallon, captain of Team USA, and Europe's captain, Liselotte Neumann, announce which of their 12 players will play in Friday's matches. The Cup competition begins in earnest with four foursome matches at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, with the afternoon four-ball matches teeing off at 1:15 p.m. In foursomes, two players from each team compete against two opposing players, hitting alternate shots until the ball drops in the cup. Players also alternate who hits the tee shot. An interesting fact is that the player who hits the tee shot may use a golf ball of her preferred manufacturer, and that hole must be played out with that ball (or one of the same brand if a ball is lost or damaged).

The captain will face similar choices when she chooses who plays with whom in the four-ball format; the winner of a hole in these matches is the best score. On Sunday all 12 players must play individual matches, but who their opponents will be is undecided.

You can be sure that the team captains have thought a lot about their respective lineups. For example, in alternate-shot should a long hitter be paired with a player with a good short game? Should a rookie be paired with a veteran? Should an aggressive player be paired with someone more conservative? Should players who like each other be paired together? Complicating the captain's decisions is that they do not have a clue of their counterpart's line-ups.

Much has been written and discussed regarding both the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup regarding the best methodology for selecting pairings. At the extremes are captains who think that team spirit is more important than the pairings. At the other extreme are captains who peruse data and each player's strengths and weaknesses thoroughly in deciding the pairings. Let's see how these Solheim captains make their choices.

The captains will hold press conferences during the matches and I am sure that they will be asked about their pairings. Some are sure to be controversial and I will report on those.

Do the players demonstrate a "team" attitude?

Here's what I would watch for in the alternate-shot format. Do the players confer about their shots? For example, on a par-3, does Player A, who tees off (and hopefully can land it on the green), talk to her teammate about what part of the green is the ideal landing place since she will have to putt that ball? On a par-5, where Player A has hit a good drive and Player B now has a choice: go for the green or lay up and leave Player A with a chip shot?

In better-ball format, even though each player hits her own ball, do the two welcome advice from their teammate? If a player is not conferring with her partner it is a clue that that the captain may not have done her job in developing a team spirit.

Talk about spirit: TV viewers will be overwhelmed with the red, white and blue clothing designed by Antigua for Team USA and the same colors dominating the gallery. Playing on home soil has its advantages. Team Europe will be smartly dressed in Abacus Sportswear, which focused its fabrics on Colorado's variable climate and features a turquoise blue to complement the beautiful sky.

Will you ever hear "I'm sorry?"

Here is one scenario you will see. Player A has put the ball four feet from the hole, but her partner misses the putt. Does Player B say, "I'm sorry" to player A? Probably not. In fact, Player A's role is to tell her partner that she made a good try and will avoid placing any blame. That is what team play is all about. If it looks like players are thinking more like individuals than members of a team that will be a bad sign and reflect on the captain's leadership style.

I was in fact critical of the U.S. captain, Davis Love III, in last year's Ryder Cup matches. See http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/the_ryder_cup_understanding_leadership_loss.

Do you know what "dormie" means?

You will hear announcers use this term many times during these types of tournaments. It is a unique to match play, and comes from the French "dormir" - to sleep. It means that the leading golfer's margin is the same as the number of holes remaining. At the end of the 15th hole, for example, instead of saying "3-up with three holes to play," an announcer might say that the leader is "dormie." Lots can happen when a player is dormie: she can win all the remaining holes and force extra holes; or she can lose the next hole and fall to her opponent, who wins by a 2-up margin.

Expect the players to be very careful about not incurring penalties.

The penalties in match play are different from those used in stroke (or medal) play. In match play, most often the penalty is loss of the hole whether the infraction came on the first or fourth shots. In contrast, a stroke-play penalty is usually one or two strokes tacked onto the overall score of the round. Because penalties in match play are so harsh, expect players to be very careful and call in rules officials when in doubt. For example, if a player hits a manmade object like a TV tower, the players may summon officials to make sure where the player can take a "free" drop without penalty. Many readers may recall that Tiger Woods in the 2013 Masters was penalized for replacing his ball two yards further back than he should have after his approach went into a water hazard. If this had occurred in match play, he would have lost the hole.

In match play, a team (or an individual player) can concede a putt - or even an entire hole.

If you are watching the matches and see that a player does not hole-out her ball, it's probably because the opponent has simply said, "that's good." Or, in a worst-case scenario, where one team has had trouble, more trouble and even more trouble - for instance hitting from rough into a bunker, a missed bunker shot, then into rough - while the other team is sitting pretty with a one-foot birdie or par putt, it's likely the team in trouble would concede the hole. It's very bad form (and it won't happen in this tournament) if a player makes any kind of concession without conferring with her partner.

Use the websites to learn more about the players and the matches.

The coordinators of this Solheim Cup have done an outstanding job of providing information. Go to www.solheimcupusa.com, www.solheimcupeurope.com or www.lpga.com. You will see transcripts of interviews with players as well as a current leaderboard. But remember, the leaderboard will be reporting match-play results and look very different from those you're used to. Check your local TV stations for coverage.

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.