TOLEDO, Ohio | The wait is almost over. After a week of preparation, including one extra day of practice with the Solheim Cup starting on Saturday and ending on Labor Day Monday rather than the typical Friday through Sunday format, the opening-match pairings, which will be foursomes (alternate shot), have finally been announced.
Given the thousands of fans who came out and cheered tees shots during practice rounds over the last three days, it’s hard to imagine how big the moment will be at 7:35 on Saturday when the first four players walk through the tunnel beneath the horseshoe-shaped grandstands and onto the first tee.
Those players will be:
7:35 – Representing Europe: Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren vs. the USA duo of Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst
The last major champion of 2021, Nordqvist, who captured the AIG Women’s Open last month, will pair with the hottest rookie in the world, Matilda Castren, winner of the MEDIHEAL Championship and author of one of the best golf stories in 2021. Needing a victory on the Ladies European Tour just to be eligible for a captain’s pick, Castren went to her home country of Finland, won the Gant Ladies Open by three shots, charging from behind on the final day for her second worldwide victory of the year.
They will take on two of the fieriest players on the U.S. side in Kang and Ernst, the former of whom won the first Drive On Championship on this golf course in 2020 while the latter has won twice in the last 12 months, once at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2020 and again earlier this year at the Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala.
“I think for us, obviously, Matilda has been playing really well this year, winning the MEDIHEAL,” European captain Catriona Matthew said. “Winning on the LET, knowing she had to do that to be part of the Solheim Cup, I think that's a really strong pairing. And we have great confidence in her.
“And Anna is experienced in the Solheim Cup. I think this is really her -- I would hate to get it wrong -- but her fifth or sixth Solheim Cup, so I think she is one of our team leaders. I think it's a great honor for her and Matilda to go out first.”
Pat Hurst was equally confident in her picks for the opening foursome match. “Danielle played well, obviously winning the Drive On here,” Hurst said. “We feel like she is confident out here, so we wanted to put her out with Austin first group out.”
The second group off No. 1 is:
7:47 - Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall (EUR) vs. Ally Ewing and Megan Khang (USA)
The dynamic duo of 2019, Hall and Boutier, who went undefeated at Gleneagles, will take on two American players who feel as though they have something to prove. Khang didn’t win a match in 2019, while Ewing could have captured the winning point for the United States, leading her singles match against Bronte Law until Law went on a birdie run.
This will be one of the most competitive matches of the weekend.
“I think we connect very well, and our games complement each other very well,” Hall said of her partnership with Boutier. “Maybe on paper it doesn't (look great) but on the course it fits great. Even when I was paired with Celine the first match at (the 2019) Solheim, we didn't know each other that well. I was slightly surprised. But as soon as we teed off, we gelled so much.
“I'm extremely confident playing with Celine and I know she always has my back. I really enjoy playing with her, and couldn't have wished for a better partner in foursomes.”
Boutier agreed, saying, “I think it was really helpful the first time I played in the Solheim Cup because she obviously had the experience. She was really able to calm me down and make me feel very confident. I completely trust her and her game. I think that helps a lot because sometimes I just know that she's going to put up the shot.
“I don't know how to explain it. It just works.”
7:59 – Mel Reid and Leona Maguire (EUR) vs. Nelly Korda and Jessica Korda (USA)
Only one U.S. group requested that they play together. It was the sisters Korda, a dynamic duo who went undefeated together in the 2019 Solheim Cup. And that was before Nelly became a major champion, Olympic gold medalist and the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings.
They will take on the self-proclaimed team leader of the European side in Mel Reid, who will be playing with someone she didn’t really know before Tuesday of this week.
“I don’t know Leona very well, to be honest,” Reid said on Monday before arriving in Toledo. “I’ll be hopefully having some dinners with her and doing my best to make her feel comfortable.”
They’re obviously comfortable enough that Captain Matthew felt good about putting them together.
“Leona is obviously fairly new on the LPGA. It has been difficult (to get to know everyone),” Matthew said. “They've not been able to go out and they don't see as many different people.
“We're all together as a team. And they've played the last couple of days together and they've got to know each other. They're getting on great.”
8:11 – Charley Hull and Emily Kristine Pedersen (EUR) vs. Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare (USA)
Each duo features power. Thompson sits fourth on the LPGA Tour in average driving distance at 279.437 yards, while Pedersen ranks sixth on the Ladies European Tour (274.25). The two will put on a show at Inverness Club.
“I always say I'll play with anybody that doesn't give up. I want to go out there and enjoy every bit of the experience and fight until the end,” said Thompson, a five-time member of Team USA. “If I'm struggling or they're struggling, I'm there to pick them up, they're there to pick me up and that's what team events are about. I think that's the most important thing, to never give up and keep on fighting.”
There’s also versatility. Hull has proved she can partner with anyone. Just look at her 9-3-3 overall record in four Solheim Cup appearances. Time and again, Altomare has demonstrated a knack for making big putts at the right time.
“In 2019, Nelly [Korda] and I were 4 down and we came back to tie. We never gave up,” said Altomare, who is set to make her second Solheim Cup start for the Stars and Stripes. “I think that's such a great attitude to have in these types of events because it's match play. You honestly never know what's going to happen. It's never over until the last putt drops. I think that's super important in these events, and you've got to keep fighting, like Lexi said.”
Put it all together and the final Saturday foursomes match is sure to be a doozy.
Grab your coffee and settle in.