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“I’m such a super-fan!”

By her own admission, Henni Koyack can’t wipe the grin off her face at the mention of Rose Zhang.

The tour pro turned broadcaster is just like the rest of us: fascinated and flabbergasted by Zhang’s stunningly seamless transition from amateur to professional. It has created a buzz around the women’s game seldom seen before.

This week, Zhang will transfer her talents to a new stage, and one of the biggest in the sport, when she represents the United States in the Solheim Cup.

One of five rookies on captain Stacy Lewis’ side, 20-year-old Zhang will have been a professional golfer for just 120 days when the first competitive blows are struck in this latest edition of the biennial showpiece.

Despite that, Koyack is excited – very excited – about what she might do at Finca Cortesin.

“There’s no reason why she can’t go out there this week and be a dominant force for the US side,” she tells bunkered.co.uk. “I get so excited talking about her because you can’t help thinking about the prospect of a Sunday with Rose versus Leona [Maguire], or Rose versus Charley [Hull] and it’s exciting that we’re talking about individual match-ups because that was a point of difference between the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup that used to really frustrate me.

“With the Ryder Cup, it has almost always been about the players whereas, with the Solheim, it felt like the conversation struggled to get past the USA and Europe. Now, though, we’re talking about the individuals and that’s an exciting place to be.”

Rose Zhang

Koyack has experienced the transcendent and sudden star-power of Zhang up close.

“It was at the AIG Women’s Open this year,” she says. “I was asking lots of young girls turning up at Walton Heath who they were most excited to see and the three names that came up were Charley Hull, Nelly Korda and Rose Zhang. I mean, that tells you a lot, right?”

Koyack will be part of Sky Sports Golf’s coverage of this week’s event and, despite her high hopes for Zhang, she is confident Europe can do something the ‘Blue & Gold’ has never previously managed: winning the Solheim Cup for a third match in a row.

“I personally think this is the strongest European side we’ve had in my lifetime,” she says. “When we talk about young, up-and-coming talent, we tend to use the word ‘potential’. You know, “They’ve got so much potential” and so on.

“But my reasoning as to why this is the strongest team we’ve had is, for me, over the last 12 to 18 months, all these young, up-and-coming players have started to realise their potential.

• Solheim Cup: Preview, betting tips & how to watch

“Take Charley Hull. She’s winning and she’s also up there in major championships. That’s why I’m excited, because you’ve got all these incredible, young, talented players who have Solheim Cup history and are starting to peak.”

In Suzann Pettersen, they also have an inspiration captain. The Norwegian contributed 21 points to the European cause across nine matches as a player, the most memorable and decisive of those coming courtesy of the final putt, of the final match, on the final green of the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.

That eight-footer sealed an extraordinary victory for Europe and signalled the end of Pettersen’s playing career. She announced her retirement minutes after the putt had dropped.

She has, though, been tempted back into the fold with the offer of the captain’s armband for this year and next year’s matches.

Suzann Pettersen

Koyack believes that she’ll be as inspirational as her predecessor Catriona Matthew was.

“I think, and this is especially true in the Solheim Cup, that there’s such an emphasis now on what players need to go and play their best,” she explains. “Never mind all the hoo-ha. Back in the day, it was all about motivational videos and all this stuff in the team rooms and talks, but was that for the players or was it so the captains could say they’d done everything and been a great captain?

“The success of Catriona – and I think it will be very similar for Suzann – came from stripping away her ego and wanting to do what’s best for the players. There was no ‘I’m the captain, look at me’.

“I think Suzann will be very much like that, too, and as far as the players go, I think they’ll want to play well for her. Everybody knows what she’s achieved and so there’s that natural level of respect that I think the players have for her.

“Suzann’s a mother and has a soft, nurturing side to her that I don’t think people see all that often, and I think that’s going to be key. I think she’ll fill the players’ cups up with everything they need.”

• 2026 Solheim Cup host venue announced

These are undoubtedly boom times for women’s golf and, in a much broader sense, women’s sport. The success of the Lionesses, in particular, has helped propel mainstream media coverage to uncharted heights.

Koyack believes that this, in addition to the ongoing globalisation of women’s sport, is creating a new and bigger platform for the world’s most talented female athletes.

“I think we can all agree that women’s sport is in this incredible ‘moment’ right now across the board, and women’s golf is no different,” she says.

“I remember six to eight years ago, for example, when you were looking at the rankings and who was going to be picked for the Solheim Cup, you’d kind of discard five or six players because they were just coming from the LET rankings.

Solheim Cup 2023 - Team Europe

“But now, when you look at the LET rankings, you’ve got Gemma Dryburgh, Linn Grant, Maja Stark and so on. There are world-class players who can take their games from Europe and win on the LPGA immediately, and they’ve proven that. We’ve never seen that before. We’ve seen players try to make it on the LPGA but struggle.

“Take Gwladys Nocera, for example. She was dominating in Europe, winning pretty much every year, but she couldn’t win on the LPGA.

“Now, we’ve got Linn and Maja going straight over there and winning. We’ve got Celine Boutier winning back-to-back. The depth has been steadily growing and now we’ve got this really exciting pool of young women who are raising each other’s levels.”

Television coverage clearly helps, too. Unlike publicly funded broadcasters – who have a responsibility, if not a mandate, to ensure fair and proportionate representation – Sky Sports is a commercial entity with no such obligations.

It’s to its credit, therefore, that it has championed the cause of women’s sport, the Solheim Cup being a particular example. According to Koyack, it’s a sincere mission, too.

“We regularly have conversations about how we can elevate our coverage of women’s golf and how we can get it out there in the most authentic way possible,” she adds. “I’ve been part of those discussions at a wider Sky Sports level, so I can assure you there’s a real amount of care there.

“We talk about putting stuff out there on YouTube or Sky Sports Mix so we can reach a wider range of people and an audience that perhaps wouldn’t have a subscription. It comes from a really genuine place and, for me, that’s exciting to be part of.

“Our coverage of events like the AIG Women’s Open and Solheim Cup has really grown. It’s cool because it’s not unusual for me now to turn the television on at home and for women’s golf to be on. I love that. It’s become the norm now.

“A few years ago, it wasn’t like that. You had to go and actively find it. Now, it’s right there and I think the conversation has shifted away from ‘Oh look, there’s women’s golf on the telly’ to talking more about the characters and the personalities and, for me, that’s really exciting.”

• The 2023 Solheim Cup will be shown exclusively live in the UK on Sky Sports. Find out how to watch the action here.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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