BEDMINSTER, N.J. – The game within the game this week at the U.S. Women’s Open is the intense scramble for spots on the American Solheim Cup team. Double points are at stake at Trump National and with only three other events left to qualify, this tournament is huge.
At least 17 players are in the mix for the 10 automatic positions; eight will qualify off the Solheim Cup points list and two will earn a spot off the Rolex Ranking. Captain Juli Inkster will also have two wild card selections to fill out the 12-player squad.
Going into the Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller and Cristie Kerr – the top four on the points list – are most likely safe and the next two, Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang, are probably safe. Michelle Wie and Brittany Lang are in a tie for the final two automatic spots.
“Solheim year it's always very stressful,” Lang said Wednesday. “I haven't played super great this year. I think I need to take my eye off that Solheim list and play some golf and be a little bit more relaxed.”
As of now, the two players who would qualify off the Rolex Ranking are Brittany Lincicome and Mo Martin, but Austin Ernst and Lizette Salas are only 0.10 points behind Martin, while Angela Stanford lurks 0.14 behind.
On the points list, Ernst trails Wie and Lang by only 20, followed by Lincicome, Stanford, Salas, Martin, Marina Alex and Jennifer Song. On the Rolex list, Alison Lee and Angel Yin lurk less than 0.50 behind Martin.
“I'm look at players that are playing well right now; I'm not looking at 2016,” Inkster said Wednesday about what will affect her captain’s picks. “Right now I think my top six are pretty set. From there, you have Brittany Lang and you have Michelle Wie tied for seventh and then you have Austin Ernst and Angela Stanford.”
Inkster also gave every indication she might be willing to think outside the box. “You have Lizette Salas coming up,” Inkster says. “Then my two world rankings are Mo Martin and Brittany Lincicome, and I've got two great real rookies in Angle Yin and Nelly Korda that I'm not turning my back on them either.”
To earn points, you must finish in the top 20. The U.S. Women's Open and the last qualifying event, the Ricoh Women’s British Open, being majors, will offer 120 points to the winner, while the Marathon Classic and the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open will award 60 points.
Lang gets the boost of coming into the U.S. Women's Open as the defending champion. “As an American, it's your nation's Open and it's very special,” she says. “I'm excited to be back. I love U.S. Opens. I've been hitting it really good. Excited to get out there tomorrow.”
This year’s Solheim Cup at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa will have to go a long way to surpass the stunning come-from-behind 14.5 to 13.5 thriller in Germany in 2015, the closest of the 14 matches played. Trailing 10-6 going to Sunday, the U.S. won the last five singles match to take the Cup for the ninth time to five for Europe.
One thing the Americans know they will have on their side in Iowa is enthusiasm. When the U.S. Senior Open was held at Des Moines G&CC in 1999 the Saturday round set the all-time USGA single-day attendance record, which still stands, of more than 52,000. Solheim attendance records could fall Aug. 18-20. Sadly, it will be the first Solheim Cup played without Louise Solheim, the wife of the late PING founder Karsten Solheim, who died last week at the age of 99.
The magic of the Solheim Cup remains no matter how many times you’ve played in it. “There's nothing like it, standing on that first tee, teeing it up with a partner, you know, maybe it's a rookie this time,” says Kerr, who will be playing her ninth Solheim Cup. “To be able to help them and make them feel comfortable, play as a partner.”
Also, for the first time in 15 years, the competition will get network TV exposure on Sunday. Golf Channel, which will broadcast the Friday and Saturday team formats, will air the singles matches from noon until 4 p.m. on the final day and then NBC will pick up the coverage to conclusion.
If it’s anything like Germany, it will be well worth the watching. And this weekend it will be well worth watching as well to see who picks up Solheim Cup points at the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s the game within the game.