Captain shares insight on Preparations for the 2023 Solheim Cup
Near the beginning of several Indiana Jones movies, there is a moment when the globetrotting archaeologist is part of a discussion about a quest to rescue someone or procure some ancient or historical artifact in the process. With apologies to Indiana Jones, listening to Stacy Lewis discuss her ideas on how to recapture the Solheim Cup is sort of reminiscent of those discussions.
There was a time when the Solheim Cup felt like it was in the permanent possession of the American team, having prevailed on 10 of the 17 occasions in which the Cup was contested. However, the European team has had its grip on the Cup since 2019 with its stunning victory at Gleneagles. Coming from behind on Sunday’s singles matches, Suzann Pettersen rolled in a testy 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th green, winning the Cup for Europe.It was the first European victory in three contests.
With the venue shifting to Inverness in Ohio for the 2021 event, the Europeans defended the Cup, prevailing for the first time in a decade on American soil and the second ever since the inception of the competition in 1990.
Against this backdrop of recent history, the former No. 1 ranked player in the world has set the goal of winning the Cup at Finca Cortesina Country Club in Malaga, Spain. However, before a single shot is fired (or played), plenty of work remains to be done behind the scenes for Lewis, starting with decisions about assistant captains. Morgan Pressel, erstwhile LPGA veteran and a regular in the broadcast booth, was recently appointed as the first of what is expected to be three assistant captains. Her regular work with the Golf Channel as an analyst in the broadcast booth brings an additional benefit to Lewis and the American team.
“Morgan was honestly the first person I thought of. She’s somebody I’ve played lots of golf with – we’ve kind of been on tour at the same time. I have always loved her competitiveness and the fire that she played with, especially at Solheim Cups. She’s still doing TV so she’s going to be watching a lot of golf. She’s going to be looking at stats and so she’s going to be really helpful when it comes to pairings and things like that.”
With a total allotment of three assistant captains, Lewis still has two open spots to announce with one being filled, but unannounced. She had been speaking with another person about taking on the role, indicating that an announcement would probably come in the next couple of weeks and definitely within a month or so. Until then, Lewis will respect her privacy, naming her only at the time of announcement.
“She’s already agreed to it, (she’s) somebody that I’ve really trusted throughout my career. She’s been a great friend of mine and I didn’t even have to twist her arm.”
As for the third assistant captain, Lewis is strongly leaning towards waiting until next season to fill the last spot. “I’m actually going to wait a little bit and kind of see how the team kind of falls together and see what I need – what kind of person I need in that role. If it does come to the possibility of me playing, I’m definitely going to need a third assistant so that will be something we do next year.”
Doing it Differently
Ever since Phil Mickelson issued his criticisms of captain Tom Watson’s philosophy with the 2014 Ryder Cup team, there has been considerable energy and attention expended on the “pod system” concept for cup competitions. The American teams at the Solheim Cup have largely escaped such scrutiny as then captain Juli Inkster fashioned together a winning team and strategy employing a pod system. Winning the Cup in 2015 and again in 2017, Inkster assembled 3 groups or pods consisting of 4 players each.
The idea or philosophy underpinning this system is that players play within their pods, working together to practice and play so that there is a level of comfort, predictability, and effectiveness when it comes time to tee it up in competition. This approach allows the players to focus on playing with only three other players rather than the entire team of 11-players. This familiarity between the players is intended to match similar players together when it comes to the team components of the competition such as Four Balls (Best Ball) and especially with Foursomes (Alternating Shot).
Being of a new generation of Solheim Cup captains for the American team, Stacy Lewis is not willing to just accept something simply because that was the way it had been done. She is a competitor and a person not afraid to consider newer ideas so long as they contribute to achieving her goals. As a player, Lewis was a fan of the traditional pod system, but not so much as captain, preferring instead, a variation of the pod system where she will have two groups consisting of 6 – players each.
Her rationale behind the variation is quite simple – it is easier as a captain to find stronger or more competitive and complementary pairings from a pool of 6 players than it is in a pod of 4 players. The idea is that when the competition begins, it provides the captain with more options in her pairings so that she can anticipate or respond to the circumstances as they evolve throughout the 3 days.
“I like the pod system as a player. But I don’t like it as a captain because you’re really limited on your pairings. If somebody gets hurt or isn’t playing well, it’s really hard to move people around and shift people in there. There are certain people that you know will never play together . . . their personalities are on opposite ends of the spectrum. So, I see it more as a six and six type thing.”
Lewis also intends to bring some additional ideas or methods into her team. With the idea that a more positive and fun environment contributes to better golf from the players and ultimately success, she intends to make the team room the cornerstone of that strategy. The team room is the common room where the players can congregate, relax, lounge, and generally decompress from the pressure of the competition. Rather than seeking the solace of their individual rooms, Lewis wants to encourage the “togetherness” that the team room can provide.
“I have to win the team room ultimately. I kind of realize that with this generation, they’re about having fun. They want to go have fun, they want to hang out with their friends. We’ve got to have a lot of games, TVs, and music and just fun stuff for them to do (like) ping pong. If I can keep them in that team room as long as possible, then I did my job. If they’re running off to their rooms to go hide out, then I didn’t do my job.”
Another element in her strategy will be introducing a whole new level of player communication and consultation, seeking player’s thoughts and ideas about things such as pairings, potential practice times, and more. It is something that should fit quite well with her modified pod system.
“We’re going to communicate really well – they’re going to know what the schedule is going to be every day and how it’s going to work. They really want to be part of things. They want to be part of the pairings, they want that open communication. They know their games the best, they know who they’re going to play well with, so we just have that open line of communication. . . . I think one thing that has not helped the girls prepare is being told – ‘Hey, buses are leaving at seven and we’re coming back at two’.
“Not everybody prepares the same. Some people like to stretch and workout, then go play at 10 or 11 o’clock. Some like to get up even earlier than seven to play, so we’re going to try and put more flexibility in their practice times just to let them prepare better and with a six and six (pod system) you can do that a little bit more.”
The Cup competition is still some 18 months away and there remains much to be done in preparation. But at this early stage, Stacy Lewis is meeting the challenge head on and with a focus and purpose similar to that which helped propel her to become the No. 1 ranked player in the world at one time.
Four Balls or Best Ball format is a form of play (in either match play or stroke play) involving partners where: Two partners compete together as a side, with each player playing his or her own ball, and a side's score for a hole is the lower score of the two partners on that hole (or the Best Ball).
Foursomes or Alternating Shot format is a form of play involving partners (in either match play or stroke play) where two partners compete as a side by playing one ball in alternating order on each hole.