Solheim Cup 2017: Europe on 'Plan B' for US match, says Annika Sorenstam

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Lexi Thompson
The USA are the current holders of the Solheim Cup after winning 14½-13½ in Germany in 2015

Europe captain Annika Sorenstam admits her team will be employing "plan B" as they seek to regain the Solheim Cup from the United States in Iowa this week.

The visitors were already underdogs for the match at Des Moines Golf and Country Club, which starts on Friday, before the loss of Suzann Pettersen, through injury.

The Norwegian is a talismanic figure for Europe, having played in the eight previous competitions, winning 57% of her matches, but her influence will now be restricted to a vice captain's role.

A back problem aggravated by some light jogging last weekend has effectively prompted a job swap with 47-year-old Scot Catriona Matthew, who had been preparing for a week as Sorenstam's assistant.

"It's been a lot of juggling, to put it mildly," the European captain admitted. "I had a plan, I called it Plan A. And then we started a Plan B."

Sorenstam also has fitness worries over her highest ranked player, world number 13 Anna Nordqvist. The tall Swede has been suffering glandular fever and is still prone to periods of exhaustion on the course.

The skipper says she hopes there will be no need for a "Plan C" but Nordqvist admitted she found it hard work in her last tournament outing at the Ricoh Women's British Open at Kingsbarns.

"It was definitely a bit of a struggle getting through 18 holes in the weather," she said.

"But since then I've had a lot of rest and the last two weeks have been a lot better but I haven't been able to do as much practice as I usually do."

Captain, Annika Sorenstam of Europe speaks with Florentyna Parker and Ann-Kathrin Lindner
European captain Annika Sorenstam (left) became a US citizen in 2006

Nordqvist has been playing practice rounds punctuated by heavy thunder storms here in Des Moines. "Walking up a few hills I have to take a few extra breaths because I was a little more tired than normal," she added.

Pettersen was at the heart of the bad blood between the two sides in Germany two years ago, failing to concede a short putt picked up by American opponent Alison Lee, in an incident dubbed 'Gimmegate'.

There seems a better spirit between the teams in the build up to this match, with the US skipper Juli Inkster allowing Matthew to practice ahead of Pettersen's withdrawal on Wednesday.

"It was nice of Juli," Matthew told BBC Sport. "Normally the reserve or a vice captain wouldn't be able to play the golf course. So it was nice to get out there and play."

This is Inkster's second match as US captain after using 'Gimmegate' to inspire the American comeback from 10-6 down in the last contest.

Now Europe are seeking their own lift and avenging the loss of that dominant position is being used as a source of inspiration.

"I would say it motivates us quite a lot," said Kettering's Charley Hull, who at the age of 21 is already playing her third Solheim Cup, having won six of the eight matches she has played.

"We've got good memories from being back in America from four years ago," Hull added. On that occasion Europe thrashed the home team by a record 18-10 at Colorado Golf Club.

Europe will have four rookies on duty including Englishwomen Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker as well as captain's picks Emily Pedersen, of Denmark and Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom.

With 120,000 tickets already sold and record crowds predicted, they face a potentially hostile reception from American fans.

"We're not expecting any heckling, within reason," said Melissa Reid, another of the English contingent.

"We're there to embrace the crowd whether they're for us or against us, just embrace the crowd, be very respectful of the crowd.

"That's kind of the main message that Annika is getting across to us, is just enjoy this week.

"You're going to have a little bit of a hot head because you've got 190,000 Americans shouting 'U.S.A.' at you.

"But you need to respect that and just accept that that's going to happen and the quicker you adapt to that, especially for the rookies on our team, the easier it's going to be when it comes to it on Friday."

Given the current power balance, it would be wrong to bill this as a match between the best women players in the world.

Of those on show, American world number 2, Lexi Thompson, is the highest ranked player from the Asian dominated global standings.

But that will be forgotten over the three days of intense competition which still constitutes the most compelling spectacle in the women's game.

"Once the sun comes out and the matches get going, it's going to be packed," Sorenstam observed. "It's going to be an atmosphere we've never seen before."

The visitors are competing amid a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of the Ladies European Tour, which has lost seven tournaments from its schedule this year.

Their chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh has left his post and rumours abound concerning potential takeovers by the LPGA or the men's European Tour.

Sorenstam says she does not want to be distracted by such talk.

Europe's greatest female golfer has enough on her plate using alternative strategies to try to win back this much coveted trophy.


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