Stacy Lewis, Lizette Salas lead off
PARKER, Colo. -- There will be fast greens and loud fans and a lot of eager young (and not-so-young) players. The Solheim Cup will get underway Friday at Colorado Golf Club as the United States begins its attempt to wrest the trophy back from Europe.
And which four players will have the honor of getting the event going in the foursomes (alternate shot) format? For Europe, it will be the Swedes, Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall. They'll go against world No. 2 and recent Women's British Open champion Stacy Lewis, who is paired with Lizette Salas.
Nordqvist is playing in her third Solheim Cup, Hedwall and Lewis their second. Salas is a Solheim rookie, and U.S. captain Meg Mallon wanted her to go out first because she's a bundle of energy ready to get started.
Lewis didn't play particularly well (1-3-0) in her Solheim debut in 2011, when the Americans lost the Cup to Europe. But the United States is 6-0 in Solheim competitions on American soil.
"The fact that we haven't lost here is not really talked about much among us," Lewis said earlier this week. "I think we get asked about it more, but we don't really think about it much."
Maybe not, but it's definitely been on the Europeans' minds. Team Europe captain Liselotte Neumann and assistants Annika Sorenstam and Carin Koch are all Swedes who felt the sting of never winning the Cup as players when the competition was held in the United States.
"I mean, you've got to win in the U.S. at some point," Neumann said, as if she's sure it's inevitable for Europe. "Let's just do it this time."
Neumann joked she was putting the "Swedish vikings" out first Friday. Asked why, she cited the friendship between Nordqvist and Hedwall and how comfortable they are with each other.
"I feel the two of them have such a strong connection, they're just strong players," Neumann said. "I just figured to get the Swedes out there and lead our troops."
The second group out will pit fellow Texans Angela Stanford and Brittany Lang against Norway's Suzann Pettersen and Spain's Beatriz Recari. In the weeks leading up to the Solheim, Stanford talked about how much she enjoyed playing with the upbeat and good-humored Lang as a way to balance out her more serious demeanor.
Playing in her fifth Solheim, Stanford has a 3-7-3 record and is one of the more motivated players to atone for past poor performance in this event, according to Mallon.
"Brittany is one of the funniest human beings on the planet, and Angela tends to get intense," Mallon said. "They've very good friends, and they play a lot of golf together at home. So to me, that was one of my easiest foursome pairings to put together."
Initially not as easy was the USA's third pairing, Morgan Pressel and Solheim rookie Jessica Korda. They are both Floridians with high-octane personalities, but they play with different types of golf balls, which is one of the things that has to be considered for alternate-shot play.
"They worked it out for me over the weekend, which was great," Mallon said. "And they are really excited to play together."
When Mallon was asked if Korda may have gotten some tips from her father, Petr Korda, on how to handle this competition since he played Davis Cup tennis, Neumann jokingly interjected, "Wait a minute, isn't he European?"
Indeed, Petr Korda played for his native Czechoslovakia, but his golf-playing daughters, Jessica and Nelly, were born in the United States. Jessica Korda was a bubbling pot of energy when she spoke with the media earlier this week, talking about how excited she was to watch this event in person in 2009 outside of Chicago when she was on the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team.
"Yup, that was me in the crowd saying, 'Hey, Michelle, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind,'" Korda said of the serenade she helped lead for Michelle Wie, who is on this year's team, too, but won't be playing in the Friday morning session.
Said Mallon, "There's not a player that's embracing this moment more than Jessica Korda right now. I'll be excited to see how she handles it when she actually tees off."
Facing Korda/Pressel will be the Great Britain pairing of Scotland's Catriona Matthew -- at 43, the oldest player in the competition -- and England's Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
In the final morning pairing will be two of the most experienced Americans -- Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr -- versus Spain's Azahara Munoz and France's Karine Icher.
Creamer just turned 27 but has played on four previous Solheim teams and has an exceptional 11-3-5 record. This is Kerr's seventh Solheim team, and she'd like to improve on her 11-12-3 record.
Kerr was injured throughout the 2011 Solheim competition and ultimately had to withdraw from the singles on Sunday. The Europeans won the singles 7-5 and took the Cup 15-13.
"It was very difficult the last time," Kerr said. "Nobody knows but me how much I gave that week and how much I played through. So it was very disappointing. Everybody has incredible motivation, but I have a little extra. So I am looking for some special stuff out here this week."
The atmosphere at Colorado Golf Club already has been special, with large crowds even before the competition has started.
"I don't think we've ever signed this many autographs in the practice rounds," Kerr said.
The Solheim Cup sometimes brings the "kid" out of older players, while conversely revealing the maturity in younger ones. Creamer was an example of the latter when she played on her first Solheim team in 2005 and went 3-1-1.
A "kid" came out in a veteran Thursday afternoon when Europe's Pettersen came into the media room with the youngest player in Solheim history, 17-year-old Charley Hull of England.
Pettersen had a hard time keeping a straight face every time the exuberant and fearless Hull answered a question and much of the time dissolved into laughter.
Just to clarify, the 32-year-old Pettersen was the one giggling way more than the teenager.
"I think it's just fantastic to listen to, because we probably all were like this once back in the day," Pettersen said of the apparently carefree Hull, who said she wasn't worried about being overwhelmed by the moment. "It's so genuine, and I don't blame her. Why should you go out and be intimidated on a golf course?"
That said, Hull -- who is sitting out the first session, as is the youngest American, 18-year-old Lexi Thompson -- hasn't hit her first tee shot yet in front of the boisterous Solheim crowds. Creamer proved a big success in her Solheim debut, but she had to get over unexpected nerves despite her initial proclamation of being ready.
"Paula said all that at our first press conference [in 2005]," Mallon said, smiling. "And then when it came time to go to the first tee, [fellow player] Beth Daniel had to go get her on the green. Paula said, 'I knew it was going to be like this, but … I didn't know it was going to be like this.' She was frozen on the green. So it will be interesting to see how [the youngsters] respond."