GLENEAGLES, Perthshire, Scotland | A very young United States Solheim Cup team got even younger on Tuesday when veteran Stacy Lewis withdrew because of a back injury and was replaced by Ally McDonald.
The loss of Lewis adds more inexperience to the U.S. roster, replacing her four Solheim Cup appearances with a sixth rookie. But McDonald, ninth in the race for the eight automatic spots, likely would have been one of Juli Inkster’s two captain’s picks if not for the fact she already had five rookies. McDonald's name was in the envelope as the alternate.
“Stacy called me last Thursday and said she had some back issues,” Inkster said Tuesday at Gleneagles. “We decided we would decide [today]. It’s a hard decision. I picked Stacy because of her leadership, but I think I have the best of both worlds – a healthy player and a leader.” Lewis will stay on to help.
The strength of McDonald’s game is her consistency. She’s No. 20 in accuracy off the tee on the 2019 LPGA Tour, No. 34 in greens in regulation, No. 29 in putts per GIR and No. 39 in scoring. Those are the kinds of numbers that make her a good partner in foursomes play where the competitors alternate taking shots. She also comes in with a great attitude.
“It means a lot to me,” McDonald said about representing her country. “I was aware of the situation coming into the week, so I came in here prepared to be a player or to be a supporter. Hopefully, I can contribute a lot.”
For Lewis, who earned one of Inkster’s two captain’s picks based on a strong early showing this year in her return from maternity leave, it was a bitter disappointment.
“It’s been a tough week,” said Lewis, who says an MRI, X-Rays and ultrasound have not been able to isolate the problem.
“It started in Portland," she said. "I thought it was going to be a couple of days, but yesterday didn’t go well. I didn’t want to make this decision, but I wanted to do what was best for the team. I didn’t want them to have to play on Sunday with 11 players.”
Asked the degree of her disappointment, Lewis said: “It’s up there pretty high. This is my favorite tournament.”
McDonald has been especially good in the biggest events. She had six top-10 finishes during the two-year Solheim Cup qualifying period, including top-10s in two points-rich major championships this year, a tie for sixth at the ANA Inspiration and a tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open. She was also T11 at the Evian Championship and T21 at the AIG Women’s British Open.
“It’s a tough blow for them, but we went through it with Suzann Pettersen last time,” said Catriona Matthew, this year’s captain for Europe who in 2017 was a last-minute replacement for Pettersen and went 3-1-0. “Ally McDonald is a good player, a solid player, so they have an able replacement.”
When Lewis and Morgan Pressel were added to the team as the two captain’s picks, it doubled the number of Solheim Cup appearances for the U.S. squad from nine to 18. Substituting McDonald (26) for Lewis (34) lowered the average age of the U.S. team to 25.5 and now 10 of the 12 American players are younger than Hayley Inkster, Juli’s oldest daughter.
Who would have thought that at 31, Pressel, who won the 2007 ANA Inspiration at 18, would be the oldest player on the American roster? Lizette Salas, 30, and Lexi Thompson, 24, are Inkster’s two most-experienced Solheim Cup players with three appearances. They will be called upon to supply veteran leadership.
And Lewis will still be around to provide leadership as well. One of the reasons Lewis was made a captain’s pick is because of the intensity she brings into the team room. She will be very much involved in the team building during the week and if controversy should arise, count on Lewis to weigh in with an honest assessment.
As always seems to be the case at the Solheim Cup, it’s good to expect the unexpected. For Salas, that meant waiting a day for her golf clubs to finally arrive. For Angel Yin, it meant scrambling in the equipment trailer to build a set to replace her sticks that have yet to make it to Gleneagles.
For Inkster, it meant adjusting to a last-minute change in her roster. Losing Lewis, a feisty veteran of Solheim Cup competitions, is a blow. But in McDonald, Inkster has a more than able replacement. And for McDonald, it is a dream deferred that has finally come true.