Every other year, two teams of women golfers do battle in a transatlantic competition named the Solheim Cup. The teams are comprised of top-ranked American tour players from the Ladies Professional Golf Association and top players from the Ladies European Tour. The event takes place over three days in early autumn and alternates between United States and European courses. In format, the Solheim Cup is similar to the men's Ryder Cup, also played every other year.
The Solheim Cup, held for the first time in 1990, was started by the founder of the Ping golf equipment company, Karsten Solheim. He invented the Ping putter in 1959 in his California garage. Two years later, he moved his family and golf equipment manufacturing company to Phoenix, Arizona. Solheim, a longtime supporter of the LPGA Tour, began sponsoring women's golf events in the United States starting in 1975. The Solheim Cup realized his goal of bringing additional recognition to women's golf through an international team tournament.
Each team has 12 players and a non-playing captain. For the U.S. team, 10 players are selected based on their victories and top-20 finishes in tournaments over a two-year qualifying period. Two additional players are selected by the U.S. team captain. The European squad is made up of the top four points leaders in the LET standings, four more LET members that appear at the top of the worldwide Rolex Rankings and four players who are selected by the European captain.
The Solheim Cup is decided by match play, meaning that a player or team seeks to post the lowest score for each individual hole, not just the lowest cumulative total of strokes for the entire round. The lowest score wins the hole. The player or team that wins the most holes wins the match. Foursomes and four-ball matches are played on the first two days. In foursomes, two teammates take turns playing the same ball in an alternate-shot format. In four-ball play, both team members play their own ball, with the best of the two scores counted. The third day features singles matches – with each U.S. player playing against a European counterpart, again in a match-play format.
Eight foursomes and eight four-ball matches are played over the first two days. On the final day, 12 singles matches are played. A total of 28 points can be earned, one point for each match. In the event a match ends in a tie, a half-point is awarded to each team. To win the Solheim Cup, a team must accumulate 14 1/2 points. The defending champion from the previous Solheim Cup can retain the cup by earning 14 points.
Through the 2011 Solheim Cup, the U.S. had won the event eight times, the Europeans four. In the 12 events, the United States never lost the cup on its home soil. As with the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup fosters a healthy spirit of competition between the Americans and Europeans and, along with it, considerable fan interest. With 12 of the 28 points up for grabs on the last day, it can make for a tense finale, as the team that trails after the first two days can quickly make up ground.