GAILES, SCOTLAND | Suzann Pettersen, the European Solheim Cup captain, paid a short visit to last week’s Freed Group Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire. This week, at the Women’s British Open hosted by Walton Heath Golf Club, she and Stacy Lewis, the U.S. captain, will be in evidence, and Lewis will be able to do as Pettersen did last Wednesday in bringing us up to date with how she is faring ahead of the match at Finca Cortesín in Spain on September 22-24.
A Scottish wind was stirring Pettersen’s mix of excitement and angst.
“Up until now,” she said, “I feel it’s all been at arm’s length. Now, I can feel it getting closer. I talk enough to the players, so I know the inside scoop. The vibe is already there. People are chit-chatting about how the team is starting to look.”
That much is all good. However, it is not too difficult to understand why she would have said to her friend, Catriona Matthew, Europe’s winning captain in 2019 and 2021: “Why on earth didn’t you go for the three-peat?!”
Already Pettersen has had the conversation she needed with Carlota Ciganda following the Spaniard’s angry refusal to accept a penalty for contravening the pace-of-play regulations at the Amundi Evian Championship. Essentially, Pettersen told Ciganda that she had to accept where she was at fault and speed up.
Though the captain has two children, aged 4 and 2, it would seem that her latest batch of sleepless nights has revolved around the four wild cards she must choose ahead of August 22, the day when she will announce her side. All she knows for sure is that it will be someone whom she omits who will start shooting the lights out in the days ahead of the match: “It’s something that’s just bound to happen,” Pettersen said, before closing with the cheerful addendum: “And it’s going to kick me in the butt.”
Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh is on the borderline, and it goes without saying that half of Scotland wanted to know what Pettersen was thinking about her. The captain’s answer was promising enough to be relayed to the player: “Gemma’s elevated her position via some great golf, especially her win in the ’22 LPGA’s Toto Japan Classic.” She also touched on Dryburgh’s “bubbly personality" and an omnipresent smile, which would work well in bad times as well as good.
“What I need,” Pettersen said, “is for the borderline cases to start sticking their heads out over the next few weeks. People tell me to follow my gut feeling, but I am looking for a bit of hard evidence as well.” If only in passing, she mentioned that a youngster might catch her eye, always assuming that whoever it was would be a good fit with the other 11.
GGP wanted to know whether, in preparing her players, the Norwegian had reminded them not to do as she had done in the match of 2015 in St. Leon-Rot, Germany. To recap, she waited for too long before she and Charley Hull pulled up America’s Alison Lee for failing to wait for a “That’s good!” before doing as she might do in a friendly game in picking up her ball.
“What I need is for the borderline cases to start sticking their heads out over the next few weeks. People tell me to follow my gut feeling, but I am looking for a bit of hard evidence as well.”
When, on the 17th green, Pettersen was asked by the referee if either she or Hull had given Lee the “gimme” putt she had left, she answered in the negative. As a result, the Europeans won the hole to go 1-up and completed a 2-up victory at the 18th.
The Americans retaliated. Feeling, as they did, that Lee was the victim of an injustice, they staged a fury-driven recovery, seizing 8½ points in the 12 singles, and the match itself by a single point. “The moral of the story,” Laura Davies said at the time, “is that you should never risk winding up the opposition.”
Pettersen was not upset by the question. In her eyes, everything in life is a learning experience, and, in what came across as a little crack at herself, she added that some learned more than others. She was confident that all of her players would know the story. And, she was confident that if there were to be a problem in Spain – something she deems unlikely when the last three matches have been relatively friendly affairs – she would be able to leave them to sort things out for themselves. If, on the other hand, they wanted her advice, she would be there for them.
“I respect my players, and I will protect them,” Pettersen said. “That’s my role, right?”
At Dundonald, it was not surprising to learn just how much of an impact the 6-footer which Pettersen holed at Gleneagles to win the match of ’19 has had on the latest generation. Dryburgh was among those who had chased onto the 18th green as Pettersen followed Bronte Law in turning what had seemed like an American win into the finest European victory in the history of the contest.
“It was one of the best sporting moments I’d ever witnessed,” Dryburgh said.
Linn Grant, a member of Europe’s ’17 Junior Solheim Cup side at Des Moines, Iowa, felt much the same.
“I was out there watching Suzann and, when she holed that putt, I was in awe,” said Grant, winner of the recent Dana Open for her first LPGA title. “It hit me that I was seeing a great star, a star that was shining.”
America's Angel Yin, who was making her second match appearance that year and had defeated Azahara Munoz earlier, was another witness to that never-to-be-forgotten Pettersen putt. It has made her doubly determined to get back in the U.S. team after missing out on the contest of ’21 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. “Hopefully,” she said, “we can snatch that cup back.”
By the time Stacy Lewis has had her say this week, we could be leaving Walton Heath with the feeling that the 18th Solheim Cup is already under way.
Top: Suzann Pettersen (right) evaluates players, including Anna Nordqvist, at the Women's Scottish Open.
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