Content provided courtesy of Rolex, an international partner of the Solheim Cup since 1994
Suzann Pettersen, the captain who will lead the European team this week against the U.S. in the Solheim Cup, spoke with Rolex about her longstanding relationship with the Swiss watchmaker and her preparations for the match on September 22-24 at Finca Cortesín in Casares, Spain. Pettersen won 15 times on the LPGA, including two major championships, and added six more titles on the Ladies European Tour. She played in nine Solheim Cups, and her 21 career points on an 18-12-6 record ranks fourth all-time for Europe. Here is a portion of that conversation:
Rolex: As captain, you have to lead a team of the top European golfers to try and defend the Solheim Cup on home soil. How excited are you by this challenge? And how do you see the European team faring?
Pettersen: There is definitely an advantage when you are competing on home soil as one is surrounded by the home crowd, and the atmosphere is truly electric and motivating. It can be described as having a 15th club in the bag. However, at the same time, it is a lot of pressure as we need to continue the winning momentum of Team Europe. We all want to make history with claiming a third win. This creates an expectancy and can result in extra pressure on the players. … Between Team Europe and Team USA, it may be quite equal in terms of the playing this year. I remember back in 2011 in Ireland, we played the course (Killeen Castle) during the European Tour, so the majority of us were very familiar with it. … I am truly excited for this event, but it is definitely different being on the captaincy side despite having been a vice-captain previously. I remember supporting the captain in her decisions, so this time around I will definitely be more involved in every decision, which is exciting. It will definitely be a learning experience. It was recently announced that I am captain for the 2024 Solheim Cup, so this provides me with longevity, and an opportunity to engrain my philosophy.
Rolex: As captain, how important is it for players to feel comfortable during such an intense and thrilling week? How do you intend to go about achieving this and creating a harmonious environment that will enable the players to go out and perform to the best of their abilities?
Pettersen: Previously, when attending past Solheim Cups, my mentality remained quite tough and focused on the game. As a captain, I would like to be approachable, so it is important to remain open-minded and communicate openly with the team with the approach. It is important for players to feel involved as it is a team competition, and it promotes initiative from every individual. I really want to emphasize the importance of players sharing their opinions, whilst placing them on the right track. The team’s success at the Solheim Cup relies on effective communication; how messages, advice are delivered to every player has an important effect on how matches can play out. At the end of the day, whilst being a captain, it is important to remain yourself and stay true to your beliefs and communication style. I have a little bit of humor, so if people are a little bit tense I may be able to crack them, and I think being a little bit funny is only going to help.
Rolex: What is it about the team competition format that you particularly enjoy? Can you describe the emotions and feeling of representing Team Europe?
Pettersen: There is nothing that can be compared to working as a team toward a common and shared goal. The atmosphere is completely different as one feels that you are fighting for each other, friends and your continent that you are representing in this case.
Annika Sörenstam was a great role model, I learnt a huge amount from her whilst having several opportunities to play with her. We remained undefeated. I remember that no matter how we were playing, Annika remained determined in trying to advance our game. I truly love that aspect regarding her mentality. It is important to transfer this philosophy down to up-and-coming players. I feel like I have successfully done so since Annika’s retirement. As a team, you go through such highs and lows, so even through the tough times, you bond and create memories that will last a lifetime.
There is such a special bond, and you create significant memories with other players. The game of golf and the results are only one aspect of the experience, but the journey that you experience together and the common goal truly marks in a positive way the tournament. To this day, I remember every Solheim Cup that I have attended, and that is truly special.
Rolex: You have been part of five triumphs, including the past two victories, at Gleneagles in Scotland (2019) and at Inverness Club in Ohio (2021). Is there one particular win or playing experience that stands out for you?
Pettersen: My memory of the victory in 2002 at Interlachen Country Club, Minnesota, USA, remains vague as I was nervous throughout the tournament as I was a rookie. It was my first time taking part and being assessed at such an event that can be described as the pinnacle of the game. The win at the 2003 Solheim Cup at Barsebäck Golf & Country Club (in Sweden) remains very memorable as it was where I truly fell in love with the atmosphere, drama and scale of the event. I remember being paired with Annika during the Friday morning; she was most likely at the peak of her career then. This was her moment. The crowds were rolling in to see her. It was foggy, so play was immediately suspended. Despite this small hiatus, the rest is history. We had a fantastic journey together. I am truly grateful for being able to compete alongside her as a competitor but as a teammate as well. This provided me with a brilliant learning opportunity to understand her mentality and her way of life.
The 2011 Solheim Cup, which was held at Killeen Castle in County Meath, Ireland, was an extremely fun experience. The 2015 Solheim Cup at the Golf Club St. Leon-Rot in Germany was the greatest defeat for Team Europe in history.
Unfortunately, the event did not occur as planned. However, the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles with Team Europe claiming victory again was the perfect way to say goodbye to competitive golf on that elite level. The Solheim Cup will always hold significant importance to me as you are representing your continent whilst forging some incredible relationships. All my experiences have been valuable and fun.
Rolex: At the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, following an 18-month maternity leave, you were chosen as a captain’s pick and, when the match came down to a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole on Sunday under the ultimate pressure, you famously holed it to bring the cup home to Europe for the first time since 2013. Can you talk us through this moment? How special was this moment? How proud are you of this achievement?
Pettersen: The pressure was extremely high, but I remained focused. During the competition week, I felt that I had not really been away from the game of golf as it felt very natural for me. I felt extremely comfortable coming down to the course on Sunday morning despite the pressure suddenly being high. One is aware that every shot is important. I remember walking up the 18th fairway feeling tense and nervous. My approach onto the 18th green, but particularly the third shot as it was a tricky pin position, and any error left or right would have resulted in missing the green. In the end, the shot came out perfectly. The rest is history. It was a relief seeing the ball go into the hole, which made me look like a hero but it could have definitely gone the other way. Coming back from maternity, it was important to prove to myself that I could compete once again at a high level in women’s golf. I am very grateful that I decided to make a comeback. I would have regretted not doing so for the rest of my life. It would have resulted in a constant questioning. The Solheim Cup has definitely defined me as a player, and has played a huge part in my professional career.
Rolex: With your experience as a Solheim Cup player and vice-captain throughout the years, what is the best advice you heard, gave, or have been given?
Pettersen: There is one brilliant piece of advice that I have received from Kathy Whitworth who sadly passed away not long ago, and that was 2012 in Palm Springs ahead of the first major of the year. I remember that we were sat next to each other in a restaurant, and we were introduced. She had this great and important demeanor about her, so it was such a special occasion to meet her. Kathy looked at me and said that it is of the utmost importance to not allow your passion of the game to get in your way. This meant that it is important to trust the process and to allow things to develop without stressing over the outcome. This statement will remain with me for years to come. I always try to communicate this advice to new rookies of the game, as one’s golfing career is a long journey and one must pace themselves.