The faux friendliness that often attends the grand golfing showpiece melted away the moment an advantage was glimpsed. America start the Solheim Cup here a woman down after Alison Lee contracted a vicious stomach bug that might yet rule her out of the contest.
If the US captain, Juli Inkster, was expecting sympathy from her European counterpart Carin Koch it was not forthcoming. Unlike the Ryder Cup, where the captain will withdraw a player if an opponent cannot contest the singles, the Solheim Cup states the match must be forfeited, a position that did not unduly discomfit Koch.
“I’ve had the stomach bug before, but I’ve played without eating for a few days. If you have to play you go out and play,” Koch said. “Of course, all of us are hoping that she would be fit to play at some stage before Sunday and for the sake of the matches to play on Sunday. But I haven’t thought of that. It’s a long ways away to Sunday for me. She’s young. If you are young you recover pretty fast.”
So there we have it. You would not want to run home from school to Koch asking for a plaster on your sore knee. Lee had not eaten for 48 hours before Inkster named her pairs for the opening foursomes. She was initially penned in to play alongside Michelle Wie in the second match out against Charley Hull and Mel Reid, but after passing another uncomfortable night on Wednesday was unable to practise and spent much of the day connected to an intravenous drip.
Though she took her place on the stage during the opening ceremony, and even waved the Stars and Stripes, the 20-year-old looked fit for little. “I expected to put her out but she is still sick,” said Inkster. “She just can’t shake this bug. We just have to see how it evolves. She thinks she’s getting better and as soon as she starts eating something it doesn’t sit well with her. We will see how she goes tonight, if she can keep some food down.
“What I’m worried about is her strength and being able to handle not only the mental aspect, but the physical aspect. That’s a lot on your body. She wants to play and I want to get her out there. She’s a great player. I was planning to ride her pretty hard. We just have to play it by ear.”
Lee is the only rookie on either side but an obvious loss, having played her way into the American team despite making her debut on the LPGA Tour only this year. As expected, both teams have loaded up with the power hitters in the opening foursomes.
Out first for Europe are Suzann Petterson and Anna Nordqvist against Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer. Brittany Lincicome replaces Lee alongside Wie in the second match against Hull and Reid. Karine Icher and Azahara Munoz for Europe take on Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson and, in the final match, Sandra Gal and Catriona Matthew face Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas.
Heidelberg has been cloaked in grey all week, and for the past 48 hours wetter than a weekend in Wales. The hosts are seeking to make it an unprecedented hat-trick of victories for Europe. The visitors are equally keen not to be the negative filling in that statistic.
With the Walker Cup prised from American hands last week and the Ryder Cup serially in European possession this past decade, there is a trend developing that both perplexes and offends a naturally occurring idea of American superiority.
The Americans can hardly be blamed for the sense of entitlement acquired. The LPGA Tour is economically three times the scale of the Ladies European Tour. The competition each week is stiffer and their players sit higher in the rankings.
Four of the first five meetings, which began 25 years ago, were won by the US. Successive wins by Europe, including the first on American soil two years ago in Colorado, have pegged the scores to a more respectable 8-5 but attitudes are slow to adapt.
Asked if there was an air of redemption about the tie in Germany, Kerr said: “I think definitely, it’s on everybody’s mind. We are very singular in our mindset of putting our work hats on and getting it done. Winning on foreign soil is always an incentive.”
There is a sense that Europe have stolen the initiative here, reinforced by the black leather jacket and heels combo in which they bowled on to the stage for the opening ceremony. By comparison the American team appeared as if they had stepped out of the 20th century dressed by mum in staid red cardie and white pumps.
They must hope it’s a case of style over substance.
Solheim schedule: How it works
The Solheim Cup follows the same matchplay format as the Ryder Cup.
Over three days there are eight foursomes (alternate shot) matches, eight fourball (each plays her own ball) matches, all over two sessions, and 12 singles, yielding a total of 28 points.
Each player must play at least once before the singles unless injured or ill. If a player cannot contest the singles the match is forfeited.
As holders, Europe need score only 14 points to retain the trophy.
The away team chooses the starting format. The Americans elected to begin with foursomes this morning. Four fourball matches follow in the afternoon.
The format repeats tomorrow, with the contest concluding with the singles on Sunday.Reuse content