Even U.S. captain Stacy Lewis says ‘Europe’s the favorite’ at this year’s Solheim Cup

The Solheim captains aren’t shying away from the obvious in Spain.

This is the strongest team Europe has ever fielded, and with the momentum of winning the past two Solheim Cups and the advantage of a home crowd, Suzann Pettersen’s team comes in as the favorite at Finca Cortesin.

“I don’t think there’s anything to hide under a chair that if you look on paper, we have the strongest team that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Pettersen, “and that’s based on great performances over the last few years from all the players. So with good results, there’s also expectations, but these girls are so up for it, so we can’t wait.”

While the American’s average Rolex Ranking of 25 is actually lower than Europe’s 43, two of Pettersen’s captain’s picks ranked outside the top 100 – Emily Pedersen and Caroline Hedwall – are experienced Cuppers with plenty of years on the LPGA. Hedwall, in fact, went 5-0 a decade ago in Colorado.

There are a combined eight rookies between the two teams and of the 16 players with experience in this competition, only nine have a winning record. Six of those are Europeans.

“I think Europe’s the favorite,” said Lewis on Wednesday. “They have won the last two, we’re on their soil, they have a great team that has a ton, a ton of experience in this event. So you look at history, you know, it doesn’t bode well for us. But I love our chances. I love these rookies. I think they’re going to have a great week and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”

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Both teams have been doing a lot of winning of late on the LPGA with five players on Team USA combining for seven titles in 2023. The Europeans, led by France’s Celine Boutier, have a combined five titles among three players.

“I can’t remember another time, another year, where so many Americans and Europeans were winning leading up to the Solheim Cup,” said assistant captain Angela Stanford. “I can’t remember a time where it just felt like all year long it was back and forth.”

Angel Yin of Team USA reacts during practice prior to the Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin Golf Club on September 21, 2023 in Casares, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

When asked if the team vibe felt different this year with so many considering Europe the favorite, American Angel Yin said that was the first she’d heard of it.

“I think we’re just going to kill it,” said a smiling Yin. “I mean, I haven’t heard anything other than that, other than we’re just going to kill it.”

Do they feel like underdogs?

“Honestly, I think both teams are stacked very well,” said Megan Khang. “I know – I think we have a little more rookies on our team …”

“Our rookies also have three major championships,” Nelly Korda quickly added, referring to Lilia Vu (Chevron, AIG Women’s British) and Allisen Corpuz (U.S. Women’s Open).

It’s no doubt a changing-of-the-guard year for Team USA, with so many top players making their debut. The last time the Americans went into a Cup on foreign soil off two losses was 2015 in Germany. Lexi Thompson is the only American player on this year’s team who was part of that historic comeback at St. Leon-Rot.

Juli Inkster introduced Paul Azinger’s pod system to that 2015 team, and they bought in. Lewis, however, isn’t carrying on the pod tradition, relying more instead on a new stats system backed by KPMG.

“It’s been my start point for everything,” said Lewis.” It’s not the be all. There’s certainly personalities of people do or don’t want to play together, maybe it’s a golf ball issue, but analytics are a huge part of what we’re doing and it’s helped justify things to me in my head and it’s helped justify things with the players as well.”

Pettersen, meanwhile, has been the most transparent captain to date, according to players, asking especially for input on pairings.

“I do think she’s taking communication to a whole different level within Team Europe,” said the team’s eldest player, Anna Nordqvist, “discussing with players what everyone feels comfortable with and who wants to play with who. So I feel like this week it’s been a big team effort.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek