Solheim Cup captains Sorenstam, Inkster look to move past ugly 2015 controversy

2017 Solheim Cup captains Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Solheim Cup captains Sorenstam, Inkster look to move past ugly 2015 controversy

LPGA Tour

Solheim Cup captains Sorenstam, Inkster look to move past ugly 2015 controversy

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Suzann Pettersen’s surprising withdrawal from the 2017 Solheim Cup in Iowa feels a bit like serving an ear of corn without the butter. Pettersen, the intense, controversial figure of the 2015 staging in Germany was supposed to bring the drama, dripping in excess, full circle in Midwestern America, making amends (or stoking the fire) in front of what’s expected to be the largest crowds in Solheim history.

Instead, we’ll get a muted Pettersen in vice captain form, fist-pumping for the shots of others. (Only captains can give advice.) The steady Catriona Matthew, a calming force in contrast, will take Pettersen’s place this week at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. 

It has been an unprecedented year for last-minute substitutions, with both sides having to bring up their alternates. American Paula Creamer replaced an injured Jessica Korda last Monday. Lexi Thompson came down with a virus at the start of the week and has endured a fever but is expected to play.

“I don’t remember a Solheim without Suzann in it,” said a disappointed Michelle Wie.

Pettersen went for a morning run last Saturday in Norway ahead of a wedding and suffered an old injury, a ruptured disc, that flared up at the worst of times. She immediately called Sorenstam, the meticulous, ultra-prepared captain, who started a Plan B. 

“Needless to say, we have had a lot of plans back and forth,” said Sorenstam, who advised Pettersen to tell her teammates of the situation as soon as she got off the plane in Des Moines.

Pettersen made the final call on Wednesday morning, saying that if she couldn’t be 100 percent, it wasn’t fair to the team. Sorenstam said “a tear or two” fell as she and Pettersen made the difficult decision. 

“We told the team and we haven’t looked back,” said the resolute captain. “So the facts are what they are. And this is not going to stop us.”

Sorenstam knows what it takes to build a winning formula. The LPGA Hall of Famer won 72 times on the LPGA and ranks second on the all-time points list behind Laura Davies with 24.

“I don’t think there’s any stone unturned with Annika,” said England’s Mel Reid.

She faces a tall task, however, in preparing four rookies to take on a strong American contingent in raucous Iowa. Seven players on Sorenstam’s team have never won an LPGA title compared to two on Inkster’s team (Angel Yin and Gerina Piller). 

Sorenstam already got a list prepared for Pettersen, and told her put on a headset. Pettersen noted that she might regret having her voice in her ear.

“I said, ‘OK, you can listen. I’m going to mute you,’ ” joked Sorenstam.

While the European team took part in corn-dunking (not even the locals know exactly what that entailed), Inkster passed out hard hats to her squad, keeping up the theme from 2015 when she gave them each lunch pales.

The directive: Get to work.

When asked what kind of result she’d like to see at the close of play on Friday, Inkster said she’d recently studied the team’s results in foursomes and four-ball.

“We equally suck at both of them,” she said. To be tied going into singles play would thrill her.

When Inkster was asked about the controversial concession that took place two years ago in Germany, Carin Koch stood in the back of the interview room as a member of the media. Koch, of course, was captain for Europe two years ago, and even now has a different opinion of what transpired that Sunday morning. 

“We hear it now, everyone perceives it differently,” said Koch. “Juli sees a different thing than I saw and I was standing right next to her. … The way it was perceived in media was not that way it happened either.”

Koch didn’t have time to gather her team together to explain things as the action immediately rolled into singles play. Everything happened so quickly.

“If there was anything I could’ve done to stop that momentum,” she said. “To make sure my team knew that we didn’t do anything wrong. … A ball was picked up that wasn’t given. That was the end of it.”

The Americans, however, disagreed, and they rallied.

Europe led 10-6 going into singles play and ultimately lost by a single point. The riled-up Americans staged the largest come-from-behind victory in Solheim history.

“We can hash this all day long, but it’s never going to – it’s over with,” said Inkster. “It’s done. Our team is not even talking about it. And I’m sure the European team’s not talking about it. I’m not really sure why we’re talking about it.”

Koch feels the same, but knows that much like the famous re-chip Sorenstam had to play in 2000 after the Americans pointed out she had played out of turn, “gimme gate” will go down in Solheim Cup lore. (Sorenstam had chipped it in the first time.)

To keep the concession controversy to a minimum, Inkster said rules officials have instructed players to appoint a designated person in the group in charge of giving putts. 

“I think we’ve all learned our lessons from both sides,” said Reid. “And so I don’t think people will be picking up 18-inch putts anymore, that’s for sure.”

The competition turned ugly and heated two years ago, but 46-year-old Sorenstam, three times a vice captain and eight times a player, said ultimately she’s here to have fun.

“You know, I guess you mature, you grow up, you have kids, you realize what’s important in life,” Sorenstam said. “And I can look at things a lot differently now. This is about having fun, and I want to spread that through the team and just show them that I believe in them; that’s why I’m here.”

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