Juli Inkster is returning as captain of the American Solheim Cup team.
The LPGA announced Friday that Inkster will lead the United States against Europe at Des Moines (Iowa) Golf and Country Club in 2017. Inkster captained the Americans to a historic comeback victory in September at the Solheim Cup in Germany. Inkster’s reappointment marks the fourth time an American has been named to repeat her captaincy in the biennial international team competition, and the first time since Patty Sheehan was captain in 2002 and again in ’03. Judy Rankin (1996-98) and Kathy Whitworth (1990-92) also each captained twice.
“So many people have asked, ‘Would you do it again?’” Inkster said Friday during a news conference in Des Moines. “I have had a lot of exciting and memorable highlights during my time on tour but leading that team of 12 women was one of the biggest thrills of my entire golf career. So the answer was easy. And I wanted to have this announced as soon as I could because keeping a secret isn’t one of my strengths. I’m thrilled by the challenge of defending the Cup on home soil next summer and can’t wait to put on a show in Des Moines.”
Inkster helped the Americans make the journey from record-breaking losers to record-setting winners. Two years after enduring the worst rout in Solheim Cup history (18-10) in Colorado, an almost identical American roster mounted the largest comeback in the event’s history, coming back from a 10-6 deficit in Germany to win 14½ to 13½.
“I think each one of us had a little bit of Juli in us this week,” American Stacy Lewis said after the victory.
In Inkster-like, old school fashion, the American team overcame more than a staggering deficit and the dispiriting controversy surrounding a phantom concession at the end of fourballs. Inkster helped the Americans overcome the stinging sentiment that American women’s golf was losing its heart, with the country’s best players too caught up in the fame and celebrity of professional golf.
Criticized for caring more about style than substance, Inkster’s team took the stage for the opening ceremony in Converse basketball shoes instead of six-inch stilletos. It was an early sign this team was going to follow Inkster’s lead. She preached a blue-collar approach and at week’s start even gave her players lunch boxes that were painted red, white and blue. She got her team away from what she called excessive “rah-rah stuff,” including elaborate face paint and manicures. They were even shaking hands after winning holes instead of prancing or high fiving. She also got them focused more on pure golf amid the chaos of Solheim Cup week and did her best to get players to stick to routines that helped them week to week in their regular LPGA jobs.
After a controversy over sportsmanship engulfed the close of fourballs, with Norway’s Suzann Pettersen at the heart of a debate over whether Europe should have conceded a putt American Alison Lee mistakenly picked up, Inkster rallied her team before singles. The Americans used the controversy as fuel, winning 8½ of the 12 points available in singles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to win more in my life than for this team and for Juli Inkster,” American Cristie Kerr said in the victory celebration. “It’s been a great tourney and amazing how she brought us together.”
The LPGA doesn’t release names of other former American Solheim Cup players who may or may not have been considered for the captaincy. Major championship winners Dottie Pepper and Sherri Steinhauer brought the next best resumes to the table. They both have served as assistant captains, Pepper to Meg Mallon in 2013 and Steinhauer to Rosie Jones in 2011.