Not long after Paul Azinger and I began working on his book, Cracking the Code, about the pod system that he implemented to bond his 2008 American Ryder Cup team, it dawned on us that Europe had been doing the same thing for years, probably without their captains realizing it.
It wasn’t because European tour players were chummier than the Americans – the whole notion of a 12-man, 12-private-jet team was rubbish, as the Brits would say. And it wasn’t because Europeans grew up playing alternate shot – not many of them did, really.
It was because they had a built-in pod system: nationalities. Ryder Cup captains put the Swedes together; the Irish together; the Spanish (Ballesteros and Olazábal), the English. They paired up naturally based on a common language, culture and community pride. The only exceptions were when best friends like Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke played together.
It has worked. The European side has won the Ryder Cup 11 of the past 15 times.
This Solheim Cup set up perfectly for a similar outcome. The Americans are favored. They’re deeper, longer (and Golf Club St. Leon-Rot is a bomber’s paradise) and ranked higher than their European counterparts.
But consider this: Carin Koch has two Swedes, Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall; two Frenchwomen, Karine Icher and Gwladys Nocera; two Germans, Sandra Gal and Caroline Masson; two Englishwomen, Charley Hull and Mel Reid; and two Spaniards, Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Muñoz. Those pairings should be layups, especially since Nordqvist and Hedwall were undefeated in Colorado in 2013.
So, it raised more than a few eyebrow, especially among the German and Swedish press corps, when Koch announced the Friday morning pairings with only one duo from the same country – Reid and Hull – paired together.
The morning foursome groups are as follows:
8 – Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer vs. Nordqvist and Suzann Pettersen
8:15 – Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome vs. Hull and Reid
8:30 – Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson vs. Icher and Muñoz
8:45 – Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas vs. Gal and Catriona Matthew
When asked, Koch said, “We are all Europeans and we don’t think about the nationalities. We are just going to go out as a team and try to win for Europe.”
The glaring absence for the Americans is Alison Lee, who is still battling a stomach bug that kept her away from the gala dinner on Wednesday night and off the course on Thursday.
“She would have gone out with Wie,” said U.S. captain Juli Inkster. “I intended to ride her hard … right now it’s just wait and see. She gets to feeling better and then she eats something and it doesn’t settle well.”
No provision has been made to replace Lee if she remains ill and unable to play throughout the competition.
“It’s too hard to get somebody over here from the states,” Inkster said. But Lee not only hadn’t hit a shot, she hadn’t eaten for 48 hours prior to the opening ceremony.
“We all want her to play,” Inkster said, “but I don’t want her to be out on the course giving it the old heave-ho, either.”
UPDATE (1:05pm EDT):
After the ceremony, Lee said she was hopeful about feeling well enough to contribute.
“Right now, especially with all the adrenaline, I feel pretty good,” she said. “I didn’t feel too good this morning, I threw up twice but I went back to the hotel and took like a two-hour nap. It was a great nap. I really needed it.
“I haven’t been sleeping well the past couple of days. After I woke up I felt brand new. … I’m really disappointed that I can’t play tomorrow morning – I was really hoping to, but I will be fresh and ready for tomorrow afternoon.”