WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – This Solheim Cup seemed fated to begin and end with Suzann Pettersen.
The first tee is always wild in this event, with its boisterous traditions, from the patriotic celebrations to the creative chants, but Pettersen’s arrival this year promised to make it more awkward in its edgy, nervy and chaotic welcome to the week’s drama.
Nobody quite knew what we should expect when Pettersen stepped to the first tee Friday in foursomes, her first time back on American soil as a European in the Solheim Cup since that furor broke out in Germany two years ago.
Or a polite and respectful welcome?
For better or worse, Pettersen’s introduction on the first tee ranked as one of the most anticipated moments of this women’s golf season.
“I hope they don’t heckle her,” U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster said Monday. “I hope they respect her and respect her play.”
We won’t know what Friday would have brought.
And we won’t know how Pettersen would have handled the weight of this challenge.
We’ll never know.
The script’s torn to pieces.
With Pettersen’s withdrawal Wednesday with a back injury, this Solheim Cup goes in search of new theater, new heros and anti-heros.
Pettersen was a scriptwriter’s dream, because she was all of that. She was Europe’s hero, America’s anti-hero. Her shoulders seemed broad enough, her will fierce enough to carry that kind of weight.
“I don’t think anything really affects Suzann,” Inkster said before hearing news of Pettersen’s withdrawal. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”
It’s difficult to imagine that somehow, deep down, Pettersen might be relieved. There will be some folks who suspect that, but it doesn’t fit her M.O.
Pettersen, who said she slipped a disc in her back while running last weekend back in her Norwegian homeland, was asked if she was worried about getting a hostile reception on the first tee.
“No,” she said. “Very disappointed not to play, obviously. To be able to play for the crowds they say we are going to have this weekend, it’s probably going to be the biggest crowds we’ve ever had.”
Now that’s quintessential Pettersen.
Catriona Matthew is replacing her. Matthew is no slouch at 47. The Scot also gets a huge dose of the credit for helping the Euros turn themselves around against the Americans. She’s 15-10-8 in these matches. She was 3-1 in Germany as a 45-year-old.
Now Pettersen takes Matthew’s place as a vice captain. There’s some tiny consolation in that, in the notion that it will help prepare Pettersen to be a captain someday. She’ll bring everything to the captain’s job that she brought as a player.
European captain Annika Sorenstam told Pettersen Wednesday to grab a headset.
“You might change your mind once I start speaking,” Pettersen told her.
“OK, I’m going to mute you,” Sorenstam cracked.
Somehow, some way, you know Pettersen will still be trying to figure out some way to help the Euros win this week.
Even before she was at the center of the controversy that ignited in Germany two years ago, when American Alison Lee scooped up an 18-inch putt she thought the Euros conceded, a mistake that thrust Pettersen into the middle of a firestorm, Pettersen was the face of the European effort.
Pettersen was Europe’s heart and soul.
She was such a large part of Europe turning these biennial matches to its advantage, with the upset in Ireland six years ago, and with the record rout in Colorado four years ago, Europe’s first victory on American soil.
Pettersen, 36, made the Solheim Cup more competitive and more dramatic.
“Suzann is always one of the thorns in the side of the Americans,” Morgan Pressel said in Germany.
This Solheim Cup won’t be quite the same without her. She’s 16-11-6 in these matches. Nobody teeing it up this week has won more Solheim Cup matches on the European or American side.
Nobody teeing it up this week has won more points (19) in the Solheim Cup.
“It made me really sad,” American Michelle Wie said of the Pettersen news. “I don't remember a Solheim without Suzann in it. She has always been such a big part of the European team. I remember going against her, being really good friends, always. They were matches you knew were going to get intense, were going to be really fun.”
That’s why this week won’t be the same without Pettersen inside the ropes.