TOLEDO, Ohio - There’s nothing that can truly prepare a Solheim Cup rookie for the 3,000 cheering fans they’ll encounter when they walk onto the first tee for the first time at the Solheim Cup at Inverness Club. Amongst the rookies competing this weekend, stepping onto that first tee is the one moment that has them all anxious.
“I'm not sure anyone can fully be prepared for what's going to happen on the first tee and what the feeling is like and all the butterflies in your stomach,” said Matilda Castren, a rookie for Team Europe. “I'm going to be so nervous.”
Castren is one of seven first-timers competing in the Solheim Cup at Inverness Club. She’s also one of three true rookies, in addition to Europe’s Leona Maguire and American Yealimi Noh. These three players have the rare distinction of competing in their first Solheim Cup while also being a rookie on the LPGA. However, that distinction comes with one caveat. Due to the pandemic, these rookies were also rookies in 2020. Their status carried over to 2021, making them rookies once again, but with a year of Tour experience already under their belt.
“We were really lucky as rookies to get that extra half-season last year and just kind of get an experience of what it's like on Tour,” said Noh, who received one of U.S. captain Pat Hurst’s three picks. “Being on the Solheim Cup was a big goal of mine, and just being here is really exciting.”
While it’s not unusual to have a true rookie as a member of either team at the Solheim Cup, the fact that there are three in 2021 is rare. The last time there were three competing in a Solheim Cup was in 2011. Since then, just one rookie has qualified for either side.
But the challenge that rookies once faced of trying to qualify for a Solheim Cup team in their first year on Tour doesn’t seem like such a challenge anymore. Throughout the week, both members of Team USA and Europe repeated the same refrain that the rookies don’t seem like rookies at all. They’ve competed against the best players in the world, they have performed in pressure situations and are comfortable competing on a big stage like the Solheim Cup.
Take Maguire. She held the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for a record 135 weeks. She twice competed in the Olympics representing Ireland. And she won multiple times on the Symetra Tour before earning her LPGA card.
“The rookies this year they've played on the LPGA, they've won on the LPGA, they've played fantastic golf on the LPGA against these American girls,” said Mel Reid, a four-time veteran for Team Europe.
And yet, despite all that Maguire has accomplished, she still anticipates feeling the nerves on Saturday morning.
“Everybody talks about the first tee, so there's definitely going to be some butterflies I'm sure,” said Maguire. “It's going to be like nothing else I've ever played before I'm sure.”
There are few moments in the game of golf that can rival the first tee of the Solheim Cup. Where else can you find several thousand fans gathered together before 8 o’clock in the morning, bedazzled in the colors of their favorite team, chanting and cheering as they dance to the greatest hits of the 70s and 80s.
It’s a moment unlike any other in women's golf – and one that the rookies of the Solheim Cup will experience for the first time on Saturday morning. (Well, except for Noh; she'll sit out the first session.)
Nothing can truly prepare the rookies for what it will be like stepping foot on the first tee, but it’s a moment they’ll never forget, one way or another.