WEST DES MOINES, IOWA | Nobody cheers an injury. Nobody wants a player to be anything other than her best. But when Suzann Pettersen informed Annika Sörenstam on Wednesday morning that an old back injury that flared up again during morning run last Saturday back home in Norway would keep her from being 100 percent, Sörenstam named Catriona Matthew to the team as a replacement and immediately bolstered Europe’s chances of regaining the Solheim Cup.
For starters, Matthew is universally liked and respected. No one has ever heard an unkind word from her or about her. Whomever American captain Juli Inkster puts out against Matthew will play against a friend.
Also, Matthew is a stalwart in this competition. Her record is 12-9-8 and would be better but for some dodgy partners. She’s 5-1-1 in singles. Match play is her wheelhouse. She could go undefeated this week.
But maybe the biggest benefit this last-minute change has for Team Europe is the fact that America no longer has a villain to rally against. With Pettersen out there, you can bet the American rookies who didn’t know what happened at the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany – where Pettersen was a central figure in a concession controversy that helped Europe gain a critical point but ultimately galvanized an historic American comeback – would hear all about it in the team room. And you can bet that, just as Angela Stanford did in Germany, American players would be cheering and chomping at the bit the second they knew they drew Pettersen as an opponent.
That rallying point is gone, as are the questions about Pettersen’s role in the 2015 controversy and how it might carry over to this year – questions that had already come up in press conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Again, nobody likes injuries. Nobody wishes for them or is gleeful when they come. But given the facts, this one couldn’t have worked about better for Sörenstam and European fans.