History, most possibly, awaits. And as Europe’s captain Suzann Pettersen threw down the gauntlet straight away to the Americans by entrusting a pair of rookies – Swedish debutants Maja Stark and Linn Grant – to get the ball rolling in the morning foursomes in a quest for a historic third straight win in the Solheim Cup, there was too further trust placed on the shoulders of Leona Maguire.
Maguire – the “MVP” of the 2021 win, as team-mate Emily Kristine Pedersen put it – has been paired with veteran Anna Nordqvist in the third of the opening day’s foursomes against world number three Nelly Korda and world number nine Allisen Corpuz, a pairing of steadiness and sure-footedness against power.
“She’s kind of like a silent assassin,” Pedersen had observed of Maguire in advance of the great reveal of foursomes pairings; and, in truth, there was little surprise that the Cavan golfer was partnered with Nordqvist as the pair had played all practice sessions in each other’s company.
And while USA captain Stacy Lewis, who has left world number two Lili Vu sitting out the morning foursomes but with a promise that all 12 of her team would see action in the first day which has the foursomes followed by afternoon fourballs, there was no such commitment from Pettersen who claimed to have a “Plan A, B, C and D” awaiting whatever the morning brought with it.
This is a Solheim Cup that enters unfamiliar territory with Europe’s recent dominance holding out the prospect of a hat-trick of wins. And Pettersen, who told her players in confidence of her foursomes pairings last Monday night, and admitting they’d been in her head for months, claimed it wasn’t used as any planned motivation: “I think it is always great to have a possible dream to chase ... this is not something I am pushing on the players,” said Pettersen of not pushing the history-makers agenda, knowing they all know what is possible.
The youthful Swedes – Stark is 23, Grant a year older – face Lexi Thompson, primed to hit the opening tee shot with the Americans having the honour as visitors, and Megan Kang in the first foursomes match; followed by Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall against Danielle Kang and Andrea Lee; then Maguire and Nordqvist against Korda and Corpuz, with Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen facing off against Ally Ewing and Cheyenne Knight in the anchor match.
“They had a big desire to play and I am just going to let them go,” said Pettersen of unleashing the big-hitting Stark and Grant from the off.
Maguire’s final act in a nine hole practice session played with Nordqvist, Hull and Pedersen yesterday was to hole out from off the ninth green, which brought a huge roar from those gathered in the grandstands and a precursor of the noise set to play out in this mountainous terrain over the next three days, which will finish with 12 singles on Sunday.
Maguire, making her second Solheim Cup appearance, and Nordqvist, her eighth, are playing together for the first time. In Toledo, Maguire – who earned four and a half points from five in stealing the show then – had Mel Reid (who didn’t make the team this year) and Hall as partners.
Of pairing Maguire and Nordqvist, Europe’s captain said: “They have similar games. They are very steady and they know each other really well ... Leona, you just want to get her on the first tee and just keep her on the course as much as you can.”
The biggest surprise of the foursomes pairings was the exclusion by Lewis of Lilia Vu, the world number two and winner of two Majors this season, the Chevron and the AIG Open. Perhaps her omission from the early fray will serve to make her prove a point when she does inevitably get her chance.
With five rookies in the team, this is a new, younger American side. The average age is 25 to Europe’s 29. It can work one way or another, and certainly there are fewer players with mental scars from the last two matches which saw Europe triumph narrowly at Gleneagles in 2019 and then again at Inverness in Toledo in 2023.
Europe, though, seem poised to do what legendary pioneers like Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies failed to do. That third straight win by a European team, a feat achieved twice by the USA (1994 to 1998 and again in 2005 to 2009), is within reach on a tough, physically demanding course set in the Andalusian mountains near Casares. It’s a region with a rich history. Time, perhaps, for Europe’s women to add to the lore.
Solheim Cup Friday morning foursomes pairings
7.10am (Irish time): Linn Grant/Maja Stark v Lexi Thompson/Megan Khang
7.22am (Irish time): Celine Boutier/Georgia Hall v Danielle Kang/Andrea Lee
7.34am (Irish time): Leona Maguire/Anna Nordqvist v Nelly Korda/Allisen Corpuz
7.46am (Irish time): Charley Hull/Emily Pedersen v Cheyenne Knight/Ally Ewing