There’s something to be said for showing up in big moments. Netting the game-winning three-pointer as the seconds tick off the clock. Sending one over the fence with two outs and the bases loaded. Converting the penalty with a well-aimed kick that sails by the goalkeeper.
In golf, the biggest moments are the majors - five chances to solidify your place in history, to etch your name amongst the Whitworths and Lopezes and Sorenstams who have made this game great. The delineation of “major winner” separates journeywomen from Hall of Famers and makes even the most unknown of players instantly a topic of conversation.
There’s only one other accomplishment that has the same effect and that’s earning a spot on a Solheim Cup team. Though the biennial event is only 31 years young, it’s become a make-or-break distinction for the careers of American and European professionals alike, almost meaning as much as actually winning on tour.
The qualifying process for this year’s Solheim at Inverness Club began back in 2019 at the Cambia Portland Classic and concludes at this week’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. This major marks the last opportunity for players to make a bid for a place on each faction’s squad and is their final chance to prove themselves to Captains Pat Hurst and Catriona Matthew.
Mina Harigae currently sits at No. 11 in the American Solheim Cup standings heading into the weekend at one of the game’s biggest championships. The fact that she is 7-under par and tied for the lead with Georgia Hall going into the weekend means so much more with so much on the line. With a lot of golf left to play, the idea of the Monterey, California native coming up clutch to win her first LPGA Tour title and effectively vaulting her onto Team USA is a tantalizing possibility.
Carding a 5-under par 67 in the second round with four birdies in her last seven holes, Harigae has quite a lead over those ahead of her in the Solheim standings. She knows there’s potential for things around Carnoustie to become increasingly more demanding over the next two days. But after taking advantage of the gettable conditions on Friday, Harigae has a bit of a cushion at the moment.
“It looked like there was going to be rain. But it definitely was a little softer out there and I thought it was a little breezier than when I played yesterday afternoon,” said Harigae. “I didn't think the conditions were easy but also I know it can be a lot tougher.”
While hers isn’t a name that you would expect at the top of a major leaderboard, Harigae has been quietly making hay this season, carding four top-10s, most recently finishing T-5 at the ISPS Handa World Invitational last month. Though she’s still searching for that elusive first victory, she’s got plenty of experience in the winner’s circle—including a four-win season on the Cactus Tour in 2020—to help propel her forward in Scotland.
“I'm a much better golfer the last 12 months,” Harigae said. “I’ve been playing well. So, I just feel like I'm in a good place.”
But don’t be fooled by her cavalier attitude. Like any athlete perched on the precipice of a career-changing juncture, Harigae knows exactly what’s at stake this week. A win, especially of the major championship variety, is certainly at the forefront of her mind. That’s job security and notoriety and puts her name in the history books. Plus, the odds are her in favor considering the recent trend of players winning their first LPGA Tour event at a major.
However, securing a spot on the Solheim Cup team is just as important. And while winning can be everything, having the chance to represent your country on one of golf’s biggest stages is once in a lifetime opportunity.
“That's obviously the goal but I think if I just keep doing what I'm doing, stick with my game plan, hopefully, it all works out for me.”