The team the United States takes to Scotland in September to defend the Solheim Cup will be a talented, young squad that represents a changing of the guard for the Americans and in Juli Inkster it has a perfect bridge from the past to the future. The U.S. Captain has been there from the beginning.
The first U.S. team in 1990 included legends like Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Betsy King and Patty Sheehan who, along with Brandie Burton, Rosie Jones, Meg Mallon, Dottie Pepper, Kelly Robbins and Sherri Steinhauer were the core for the Yanks during the first decade of the competition. Inkster made the first of her nine Solheim Cup appearances in 1992.
Inkster last appeared as a player in 2011 as the torch was passed from that first generation of stars to a new group that included Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Gerina Piller, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford and Michelle Wie. Of those nine players with a combined 50 Solheim Cup appearances only Pressel and Lewis will compete at Gleneagles as they were named as Inkster's two Captain's Picks on Monday.
Of those nine, Wie is out because of injury and Lincicome because of maternity leave. But Pressel, Creamer, Lewis, Kerr, Stanford and Lang all missed the cut at the CP Women’s Open and Piller finished T-48, not good enough to make a case for herself.
The two most-experienced Americans in terms of Solheim Cup experience to automatically qualify for this year’s team are Lexi Thompson and Lizette Salas with three appearances each. Five players will be immersed in the intense competitive cauldron of the Solheim Cup for the first time with three for only the second time and they will be playing an away game at that.
Danielle Kang, Jessica Korda and Angel Yin have each played in one Solheim Cup while Nelly Korda, Marina Alex, Megan Khang, Brittany Altomare and Annie Park will be playing in their first.
Because of that, when it came time to make her two Captain’s picks, Inkster reached into the vast pool of experience she was fortunate to have at her disposal. In Pressel and Lewis, Inkster has two players with a combined nine Solheim Cup appearances, the same as the other 10 players combined.
“A lot of stability, a lot of experience,” Inkster said Monday when asked what Pressel and Lewis bring to her team. “I have a lot of rookies. I needed veteran leadership. They both bring that.”
And in Pressel and Lewis, Inkster also has a pair of players with a lot of fight who will be great presences in the team room. Dottie Pepper was the face of that first generation of American Solheim Cup players, a competitor of such intensity that Europe placed her face on a punching bag and took shots at it. Creamer, Kerr and Pressel replaced Pepper as the players Europe loved to hate, a trio that oozed red, white and blue.
“I’ve just been trying to play some good golf,” said Pressel, who was fourth at the AIG Women’s British Open. “I’m excited to be back on the team.”
When making her Captain’s picks, Inkster was looking not only at playing records in the Solheim Cup but also what the player brings to the team room. One of the roles Pressel and Lewis will play on this year’s team is to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.
“She picked us for our leadership,” Lewis said. “I was a little bit surprised but I’m super excited.”
The changing of the guard for Europe began with its 16½ to 11½ loss to the United States at Des Moines Country Club in 2017. That young team was mowed down by an American squad that simply outplayed them, even though Europe played well. Now Europe has a deep, talented team.
At only 23, Charley Hull is playing in her fourth Solheim Cup. Georgia Hall, who teamed with Anna Nordqvist to go 2-0-0 in foursomes in 2017, is on the team for a second time while Jody Ewart Shadoff is making her third appearance. Carlota Ciganda, Caroline Hedwall, Azahara Munoz and Caroline Masson have all competed three times previously while Nordqvist has made five appearances.
This will be Suzann Pettersen’s ninth consecutive Solheim Cup appearance but she was a bold pick by captain Catriona Matthew’s having played only three tournaments over the last two years after playing at least 19 times the previous 12 seasons. Anne van Dam, Celine Boutier and Bronte Law are Solheim Cup rookies.
In all, the 12 players for Europe have appeared in 31 Solheim Cups with a combined record of 59-48-15. The 12 Americans have played 18 Solheim Cups with a record of 29-27-11. That plus the fact the competition is being played in Scotland in front of what will be a large, loud crowd would seem to make Europe the favorite to keep American from winning its third consecutive Cup for the second time
The 13th player for the Americans is Inkster, who has been the captain of the two previous U.S. teams, both winners, including a stirring comeback in Germany in 2015. Inkster knows how to motivate and understands the mindset of team play.
She’ll make pairings she feels will give the team the best chance to win and she has the tough-love that can get players to buy into her message and do what’s best for the team.
This will be a fascinating Solheim Cup. Inkster takes a young team on the road against a European squad that is deep and experienced. It’s a new day for the Americans, but in Inkster the team has the perfect leader to bridge the past with the present. Now she tries to become the first captain on either side with three victories.