GLENEAGLES, PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND | Maybe all this talk about rookies in the Solheim Cup is much ado about nothing. Sure, Captain Juli Inkster has six newbies on her U.S. team but history says that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may very well be a blessing in disguise.
Solheim Cup rookies have had success and they’ve proven they can win a road game, which is what Inkster’s squad will have to do at Gleneagles. The last time there were six first-timers was for Europe in 2013. All they did was go a combined 12-5-3 and nab Europe’s first victory on American soil 18-10 at Colorado Golf Club.
Carlota Ciganda was undefeated in three matches; Beatriz Recari went 3-1-0 while Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Charley Hull were both 2-1-0 and Caroline Masson was 2-1-1. Only Giulia Sergas at 0-1-1 failed to win a match, but did earn a halve.
Of those 2013 rookies, Ciganda, Hull, Ewart Shadoff and Masson are back this year as stalwarts for Europe. They’ve proven their staying power. Much like that European group in Colorado, the American rookies this year come into Gleneagles with strong pedigrees. They are a glimpse into the future.
Nelly Korda, Marina Alex, Megan Khang, Brittany Altomare, Annie Park and Ally McDonald may be playing their first Solheim Cup, but they are all firmly established on the LPGA. Korda is No. 10 in the Rolex Rankings and the others are between No. 32 and No. 51.
“You know what?” says Inkster. “We've got six great rookies. They've made the team. They've qualified.”
The experienced players have helped the rookies in a variety of ways, one of which is making all the outside demands easier.
“The veterans have been very good about laying out the plans in terms of where to be and what to wear,” said Khang. “So we don’t have to think. We just read their texts and do it.”
The other bit of wisdom concerns how to handle the pressure.
“Just embrace it,” Park said when asked what she’s been told. “Enjoy the crowds, the pressure the anxiety. The more you enjoy it the better you will do.”
Inkster thinks her youngsters will benefit from playing on the road, even though the United States lost in Dalmahoy in 1992 and Loch Lomond in 2000, the only two times the Solheim Cup was in Scotland.
“I think it's a lot easier to play away your first Solheim, because you're really not expected to win and you can go out there and play a little looser,” Inkster said. “You don't have the USA crowd pumping you up, and you just rely a lot on your teammates and your team. I think it's easier to bond over here.”
The rookies also have six veterans to show them the ropes. Morgan Pressel is making her sixth Solheim Cup appearance while Lexi Thompson and Lizette Salas are in it for the fourth time. Danielle Kang, Jessica Korda and Angel Yin are competing for the second time.
“Our team is embracing the fact that we have a lot of rookies,” Salas said Wednesday. “I think they are doing just fine and the fact that there are so many of them they are helping each other out.”
Inkster’s vast experience will also be a steadying influence. She wasn’t on the 1996 team that won in Wales, but she went 2-0-2 when the U.S. won in Sweden in 2007 and was captain of the American side that had a dramatic comeback win in Germany in 2015. Her career record is 15-12-7, including 1-1-1 in 1992, her rookie Solheim Cup at Dalmahoy.
“Juli's been incredible,” says Alex. “She brings such a passion and an energy to the team room. She's a fierce competitor. I've played with her several times the last couple of years. Even to this day every time she steps out on the golf course she's expecting to win a golf tournament. And she brings that fire to the team room.”
Laura Davies, who played the first 12 Solheim Cups, says the advantage of having been there is knowing what the nerves feel like. The last Solheim Cup match for both Davies and Inkster was singles in 2011 at Killeen Castle against each other – appropriately, a halve.
“I think you try and learn the first tee is not as terrifying as you thought it was the first time around,” says Davies. “But that doesn't go away. So you're more used to what's coming.”
The bottom line, as Inkster sees it, is that she has a very good team that is going to need to play well to defeat a talented squad from Europe. But the American captain is very happy with the hand she’s been dealt.
“They're not rookies,” she says. “They're veteran golfers. I mean, they're good. They're really good.”
They are going to need to be good. This should be an epic battle between two very strong teams. But six years ago in Colorado, six rookies for Europe were more than good – they were great. Don’t be surprised if the American rookies this year produce a similar effort.