Pettersen gives Europe major presence at Solheim
ORLANDO, Fla. – On Day 1 of the 2005 Solheim Cup, Annika Sorenstam walked over to Suzann Pettersen and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. They’d just dropped another hole and were 4 down with six to play against a less-heralded U.S. team of Laura Diaz and Michele Redman.
“Can you count?” Sorenstam asked her partner. “Follow me. 4-3-2-1-0-1. . . . There are enough holes.”
The world’s most dominant player then walked over to the par-3 13th at Crooked Stick and lipped out her tee shot. Pettersen can’t recall whom they played six years ago or what day it was, but she remembers Sorenstam’s pep talk as if it were yesterday.
Golfweek photo shoot with Suzann Pettersen
LPGA's Suzann Pettersen sat down with Golfweek at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Lodge and Club for a recent photo shoot and interview about her participation in the 2011 Solheim Cup. View the many faces of Suzann Pettersen.
“We won the match on 18,” Pettersen said. “It was a typical Annika moment.”
Now, the player whom Laura Davies affectionately calls “Junior” enters her sixth Solheim Cup as Europe’s most dominant player. Pettersen, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, has won twice on the LPGA in 2011 and once in Europe – on the Solheim Cup track at Killeen Castle, fittingly. Meanwhile, a retired Sorenstam will serve as assistant captain in Ireland on Sept. 23-25, where her encouraging words will be counted upon to soothe the nerves of four European rookies.
Pettersen, 30, calls the Solheim golf’s most nerve-racking stage. She finds the anxiety far greater than being in the final pairing of a major on Sunday, even worse than a playoff. As the week goes on, she said, the feeling begins to come back to your arms and legs.
“The more you play, the more human you feel,” she said.
Imagine then what goes through the minds and bodies of lesser players when Pettersen stands across the tee box.
“I was on the plane with Natalie (Gulbis) the other day, and she told me that all the American players hate to play me,” Pettersen said. “Nobody wants to play me. I’m like, ‘Really? That’s good.’ ”
Sophie Gustafson believes Pettersen’s singles session against Redman in 2002 set the tone for the Norwegian’s Solheim career. Five down with five to play against Redman in Minneapolis, a rookie Pettersen clawed back to halve the match.
Ask Pettersen what she looks for in a Solheim partner and she mentions two things: A similar never-give-up mentality and the ability to handle trouble.
Like in Halmstad, Sweden, four years ago when Pettersen hit a rare hook off the first tee into the trees. She turned to Gustafson, her foursomes partner, and felt like apologizing (though she knew better).
“Suzann, don’t worry,” Gustafson said. “I’m usually way farther in.”
Judging by appearances, Pettersen might be the most intense player on the LPGA, though Gustafson said it’s “a face she puts on when she wants something badly.” Truth is, Pettersen demands perfection every day. Sorenstam believes Pettersen can be too hard on herself, and those in Pettersen’s inner circle concur.
Pettersen has Lorena Ochoa’s former caddie, David Brooker, on the bag and said she appreciates the insight he has into Ochoa’s mindset at her peak. Brooker told Pettersen that of all the times he saw Ochoa win, he can pick only a handful when she felt fantastic about her game. She often would warm up, look around and say, “Well, this is going to be challenging today. This is what we’ve got.”
“To accept that is kind of hard,” Pettersen conceded. “Being the competitor that I am, you always want to bring the best to the table.”
Pettersen hears it often from fans: “Why don’t you smile more?” Her stern face barely softens even when she makes a birdie. The dry, quick wit she displays off the course is a far cry from the tense jawline that’s set on the first tee.
“I don’t take myself serious for five seconds,” Pettersen said. “I can always bring a smile to people’s face. On the course, it’s the complete opposite.”
Friends have urged her to smile when she makes a putt, even if she doesn’t feel like it. Pettersen concedes she has “faked a few this year.”
“It’s something that I’m working on,” she said.
When Paula Creamer was asked if she considered Pettersen to be the most intimidating player on Europe’s side, she deflected by saying underdogs can be just as dangerous, with less pressure and nothing to lose. Creamer, incidentally, defeated Pettersen in singles two years ago, giving Pettersen a surprising career singles record of 0-3-2.
“We ride the horses pretty hard,” Sorenstam said. “Maybe at the end they get tired.”
European captain Alison Nicholas has drilled into her players that they can take down any American player on any given day over 18 holes. If the format called for play to be added up over three days, Pettersen said, the Europeans might struggle because the American team is more consistent overall. But again, it’s only 18 holes.
Pettersen prefers to play the underdog role, but Gustafson says this year’s European squad is particularly solid.
“The players from the points list in Europe are good, solid players that will be able to hold their own,” Gustafson wrote in an email. “That hasn’t always been the case.”
Europe has won the Cup only three times, and each victory came on home soil. The U.S. team has won the past three contests, including hearty four-point thumpings in 2007 and ’09.
Disappointed in her play last year (1-4) and her winless singles record, Pettersen claims she found the secret to singles play at the Sybase Match Play Championship in May, where she defeated good friend Cristie Kerr on the 18th hole in the final match. It’s a piece of information she’s keeping to herself. At least one player would like to see a rematch of Hamilton Farm.
Two days after Pettersen beat Kerr in New Jersey, the pair had dinner together in Brazil.
“(Kerr) is desperate to get her revenge,” Pettersen said. “She goes, ‘Suzann, you and me, first ball out Sunday morning. Tell your captain.’ ”