With just a few weeks to go until the women’s 2011 Solheim Cup competition tees off in Ireland, we provide a primer on all that you need to know about the 12-year-old team tournament.Once every two years, professional golf becomes a team sport. For the men, it’s the Ryder Cup, held under the auspices of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America and the PGA European Tour. Last year, the biennial matchup played through rough October weather at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales, and the USA team bowed to the European Ryder Cup team.
For professional women golfers, the international team match-play competition is the Solheim Cup, which pits the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) against the Ladies European Tour (LET). It takes place this month (Sept. 23 to 25) at Killeen Castle in Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland. Over a two-year qualifying period, members of the LPGA on tour in the United States rack up points in individual wins and top-20 tournament finishes in the hopes of making the 12-person team. Only 10 U.S.-born players can qualify for slots on the U.S. Solheim Cup team; the captain — this year’s choice is Rosie Jones — then selects the remaining two players. Across the pond, members of the LET calculate their own scores and rankings to accumulate the necessary numbers to do the same for eight places on the 2011 European Solheim Cup Team. The European team captain — Alison Nicholas MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) won this year’s coveted position — then selects the other four golfers. Nicholas is a six-time European Solheim Cup team member, a two-time assistant captain and 2009 European captain, and she has claimed 18 professional titles in her storied career.
Since the competition began in 1990, the American women lead 8-3. Defending the Cup that they won in 2009 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., while snaring their ninth win is one of the most exhilarating victories of Jones’ career. “Playing professional golf on the LPGA [tour] was a very rewarding career and lifestyle in itself,” says Jones, who has garnered 13 tournament wins during her LPGA career and played on seven Solheim Cup teams. “[But] when you have the unique opportunity to play in a team event like the Solheim Cup, representing your country, it becomes the most exciting and thrilling event in women’s golf.”
Follow the Cup:
Tune in Sept. 23 -25
on the Golf Channel in the U.S. and on Sky Sports in the U.K. and Ireland. Check local listings for time in your area.
Jones’ passion would not have been lost on the Cup’s mentor and title sponsor, Karsten Solheim. An engineer by trade, Solheim was the founder of Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, which produces golf equipment — including the Ping brand that Solheim started after tinkering around in his garage to make a better putter. He believed in women’s golf and, during his lifetime, Solheim supported many golf tournaments for women before helping to develop the concept of the Cup with both the LPGA and the LET.
The competition launched in 1990 at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla. Today, the rivalry named in his honor is the most celebrated international competition in professional women’s golf. “The Solheim Cup is like our Olympics,” Jones says. “Each player prepares her game and her life to perform at her best when the Cup is on the line.”
Nicholas agrees. “It is one of the best events on the ladies’ professional tour,” she says. “You’ve got 24 of the world’s best players playing against each other, so it’s a pressure-packed, exciting contest. The event is the biggest in ladies’ golf.”