The European Solheim Cup team has been known for years as the underdog in the competition. But could that label finally be shed? Captain Suzann Pettersen certainly thinks so. As the team prepares to compete in Andalucia, Spain, Pettersen says this year’s European squad is the best it has ever looked.
Pettersen’s confidence is not unfounded. Eight members of her team are ranked inside the top 40 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, making them a force to be reckoned with. It’s a far cry from the early days of the Solheim Cup, when the Europeans lost eight of the first 11 editions of the event.
The shift in strategy by the Europeans became apparent in 2021 when they faced the Americans at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Englishwoman Mel Reid proclaimed that they were the strongest team they had ever assembled, and they went on to lead every session that week and successfully retain the Cup.
Now, as the Solheim Cup returns to European soil and is played in Spain for the first time, the Europeans are once again favored to win. However, there is a debate about whether this year’s team is genuinely the best they’ve ever assembled or if it’s just a strategic move to claim the favorites’ title.
On paper, the American team might appear to be stronger with an average world ranking of 25, compared to the Europeans who have several team members ranked outside the top 100. U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis acknowledges the strength of the European team but believes her side has what it takes to win.
While world rankings and recent form play a part, team competitions like the Solheim Cup often bring out the best in players, regardless of their rankings. Europe’s success in recent years, winning four of the last six meetings, suggests that they are no longer the underdogs they once were.
Team Europe boasts an impressive line-up this year, with nine returning members, eight worldwide wins in the last year, and three major champions. They have collectively competed in 31 Solheim Cups, winning seven of them. Three team members have even gone undefeated in the biennial event.
The American team, on the other hand, consists of seven returning members, eight worldwide wins in 2023, and six major champions. They have competed in a collective 17 Solheim Cups, securing 10 victories.
Ultimately, the success of each team will come down to the leadership of the captains. Pettersen and Lewis are both passionate and experienced competitors, and their approaches to captaincy differ. Pettersen relies on feel and wants to support her team without imposing herself on them. Lewis takes a more analytical approach, enlisting statistical analysis to shape her decisions.
As the European team is led by one of the strongest players in Solheim Cup history, it’s easy to understand why they would be favored. Pettersen, known for her excitement and tenacity, clinched the Cup for the Europeans in 2019 and immediately announced her retirement.
The Europeans are determined to be taken seriously and seen as legitimate contenders against the Americans. By assuming the role of favorites, they have embraced the expectations and pressure that come with it. They no longer want to be viewed as underdogs; at least, not this year.
In Spain, the Europeans have momentum on their side and the advantage of playing on home soil. But the Americans have a proven track record, having won on foreign soil three times before.
Regardless of who is favored, the Solheim Cup promises to be an exciting and fiercely competitive event. The Europeans have come a long way from being underdogs, and this year may be the moment they truly prove themselves as the team to beat.