Solheim Cup: We speak to Suzann PettersenSeptember, 2015
She’s feisty, focused and feared by the Americans. Mark Townsend meets our continent’s golden girl
Suzann Pettersen is mildly terrifying. Even in a pre-arranged sit-down interview she gives me mild jitters.
On the face of it you wouldn’t describe her as mellow but, as the conversation begins to flow, she is funny and more than entertaining.
The great thing is that she is ours and never more so than when the Solheim Cup comes around. Pettersen, though she might not admit as much, has become the conductor to Europe’s winning tune in recent years. The Americans fear her, and she knows it, and hers is the first name to pop up from all sides when singling out our continent’s golden girl.
Four years ago in the anchor match of the first morning’s foursomes in Ireland, playing alongside Sophie Gustafson, she came to the 18th hole all square with Brittany Lang and Juli Inkster. The Americans had won the last three matches and were already a point ahead.
Pettersen remained measured and unhurried and went through her very precise pre-shot drill. The fairway was split, Gustafson played her approach in to around 10 feet and her partner rolled it in dead centre. It was as clinical as you could get.
A few hours later she would come up Killeen Castle’s final hole, this time with Anna Nordqvist, and add the finishing touches to another win, this time against the might of Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr. It doesn’t matter who she plays, or plays with, Pettersen will keep knocking them over.
. . .
THE FIRST TIME
I made my debut in 2002 at Interlachen in Minnesota and it was nerve-wracking, the entire build-up was nerve-wracking. My body felt completely random and nothing like anything I had felt before.
I was 21 and still felt like I had a lot to learn. I spent a lot of the time with the veterans of the team, like the older Swedes and Laura. I didn’t anticipate playing all the matches, I played three times that year, and my first match was foursomes where I played with Helen Alfredsson which was a bit of a comfort zone. I had spent a lot of time with Helen. Getting that ball on the 1st tee was a tough task. I just remember trying to hit it.
In my first singles I won the last five holes for a half with Michele Redman. I was dead around the turn and remember telling myself that you ain’t going to give this up and you’re going to fight for every hole.
I have a mentality of never giving up, emotions were running high and I dropped the F-bomb live on NBC.
You don’t get drained by the other players. Everyone knows you are trying your best At the time it looked like a crucial half point, Annika was playing behind and looked like she was going to win (she halved). We were 9-7 up after the first two days but in the end it turned out their way.
It has changed since then as the more you deal with these situations the more you know how to deal with them, and what the body is going to feel like, so you don’t waste as much energy as before.
It is still a great thing and you live for it but you manage your energy levels in the lead up to the week. It will be fun to defend and go for a third win.
THE FIRST WIN
Two years later we won in Sweden and I played all five matches and won the first four, two of which were with Annika Sorenstam.
Playing in every match is tough. If you close it down on the 13th it’s fine. But it’s a massive energy drain if you are going to the last each time. At Barseback I was down in the singles but got it back to even with three to play against Cristie Kerr and I think I was one up with two to play and then it was unplayable as the crowds were all over the place.
I learned a lot from the best. Annika and I were undefeated in all our matches and I fed off her mentality and strength and tried to carry that on to the newer members.
That is a big part of the team now. They don’t care who they play and they never give up and fight for the team. What goes on inside the team room is not to be made public. It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of history, a lot of laughs and that brings out the best on the course.
You fight for every point and that’s all you can do, you can try and motivate and be an inspiration but, if you play five matches, then you have to bring five points to the table. A lot of times I have fought really hard and lost but I don’t get too down by that.
You can get upset but someone will give you some shit in the team room and you move on. You don’t get drained by the other players. Everyone knows you are trying your best.
THE FAMOUS COMEBACK
In 2011 in Ireland Aza (Munoz) was new to the whole thing and I don’t know what she anticipated coming into the week. You don’t get pep talks, you know what you have to do, it’s right there in front of you.
All week she was ’we need to have a pep talk, we need to have a pep talk’ and then there were two rain delays. By the first delay Catriona Matthew had already crushed Paula Creamer and she was in the team room drinking and some players were still warming up.
On the second delay there was me, Aza and Caroline Hedwall and we were either behind or level and we needed the points badly. We were sharing a cart and I said to Aza ’if you want a pep talk then this cart takes three points, and that’s the end of that’.
And I birdied the last three holes to beat Michelle Wie, Caroline won the last two holes for a half and Aza won on the 18th, it was a fairytale ending.
I think everyone kicks it up a notch at the Solheim, the level of golf, and putts holed, Anna Nordqvist closing her match by acing 17, it’s amazing golf and the atmosphere is incredible.
THE ON-COURSE LEADER
I don’t really think of myself as that, as long as I’m not the oldest on the team I’m never going to take that responsibility. As long as Beany (Matthew) is on the team we’ll be fine.
We don’t really look at the team like that, we’re all there to help each other. I don’t try to put certain players in a box of what they’ve done. You’ve got to get that team together and get the best out of everyone.
I like to wind all of them up. I know they hate to play me, Natalie Gulbis told me on a plane once. She gave me the entire secrets of their team and, when my name comes up and they ask who wants to play me, then nobody puts their hand up.
If that’s the case then I have already achieved what I wanted and it’s nice to know in the back of your head.
Look at Charley asking for Paula’s autograph after beating her 5&4, that is her in a nutshell. She’s a beauty, literally a kid on the team and she doesn’t care who she played or what she was doing.
We always have a speech to the captain on the Thursday night to show our appreciation and usually it is one of the older players to get it started and we thought Charley would be good.
She had us all on our knees crying the way she took it on, or didn’t take it on, but it was her way.
She didn’t care if it was a tradition or otherwise, she was a great addition to the team. She was fearless and doesn’t care who she was playing. She’s a beauty.
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