Pepper back in the U.S. Solheim Cup family

By Randall MellJuly 4, 2012, 8:00 pm

KOHLER, Wis. – They haven’t forgotten what Dottie Pepper said.

They haven’t all necessarily forgiven her stinging rebuke, either.

But Americans who played on the U.S. Solheim Cup team that Pepper blasted in 2007 are ready to embrace the return of one of history’s most dominant American Solheim Cup players.

They say they’re ready to move on with Pepper, 46, back in their ranks as an assistant captain for next year’s matches at Colorado Golf Club.

“I don’t think it’s all forgiven, but everyone deserves a second chance,” said Cristie Kerr, who was on that ’07 American team. “People say stupid things, sometimes. It is what it is. But you know what? She’s a damn good commentator. She does a lot of great TV, and she is one of the greatest American players who have played the game. She’s also human. I think it’s what makes her great. She’s going to be a great addition to the team. I’ve talked to some of the other players, and we’re all really excited about it.”

U.S. captain Meg Mallon couldn’t have welcomed Pepper back to the ranks on a more fitting day.

The Fourth of July was a red, white and Dottie day at the U.S. Women’s Open with Mallon making the announcement in the media center. Pepper once dyed her hair red for the Solheim Cup and used to paint her fingernails and toe nails red, white and blue. She played on six Solheim Cup teams and built a 13-5-2 record, 5-1 in singles. Pepper’s 14 career points are third most in the American ranks, trailing only Juli Inkster (18½) and Mallon (16).

“Dottie was arguably the face of the Solheim Cup in the ‘90s,” Mallon said. “She carried it very well and wore red, white and blue on her sleeve. She was unabashedly patriotic.”

Even the Euros will vouch for Pepper being the face of the American Solheim Cup team.

Back at the ’98 Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village, the Euros became so infuriated with Pepper that they put her photo on a punching bag and took turns whacking it.

Pepper’s place in the Cup’s annals, however, changed during the matches in ’07 in Sweden. That’s where she called the Americans “Choking freaking dogs.” She blurted the comment as a Golf Channel analyst believing she was off the air for commercial. She made the comment after Sherri Steinhauer missed a short putt that would have closed out a Saturday foursomes match.

Morgan Pressel was one of seven Americans on that ’07 team who also played in last year’s Solheim Cup and remains a factor to make next year’s team.

“Obviously, she made a mistake,” Pressel said. “We were all emotionally involved out there, and she was too, having been on so many Solheim Cups. I’m sure it was hard for her to be impartial, but it’s been five years. Time heals a lot of things.”

Pressel, whose temperament is often compared to Pepper’s, is looking forward to the chemical equation Pepper will bring.

“This is a good thing for golf,” Pressel said. “It’s good to hear her name talked about in a Solheim Cup again. She’s about as fiery as they come, so we will have a pretty pumped up locker room.”

Pepper’s alienation for so long included the feeling that she didn’t apologize enough, that she didn’t reach out to injured parties enough. Pepper believes she did.

“I put my head on a platter,” Pepper said. “There’s not a day, really, that goes by that I don’t regret that it happened.”

Hall of Famer Beth Daniel was an assistant captain to Betsy King in ‘07. Daniel, who captained the winning American team in ’09, believes there are still some tender wounds from the incident, but she believes Pepper’s return will work very well.

“For some people, there’s closure, but I think for other people there probably isn’t,” Daniel said. “It’s just one of those things. There are probably a few bridges to be mended, but the timing is good. And like Meg said, it’s time for people to give it a break.”

Daniel remembers the furor Pepper’s comment caused, but she never actually heard the comment until she returned home and watched the videotape replay.

“When I got home and watched the video, I just busted out laughing,” Daniel said. “When you heard somebody tell it there, it’s different than when you actually hear it. When you heard it, you realized Dottie was just so passionately involved in the match, it was just emotion coming out. It was like she was playing that match. I think if she had been in that match, she would have been the first one to come into the locker room and say, `I was a choking freaking dog.’ It was totally passion.”

Though Pepper’s comment added to King’s challenge as captain in ’07, she expressed no qualms about Pepper’s return to the matches.

“Obviously, Meg feels Dottie will make a great assistant captain,” King said in a telephone interview from her Pennsylvania home. “Dottie’s been a big part of a lot of Solheim Cups, and I think she will be a great assistant.”

So does Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, a two-time U.S. Solheim Cup captain.

“Meg and I had a long talk, and I was all for this,” Rankin said. “I don’t want to say it was all silly, it wasn’t silly, but any of us can get overly emotional watching any competition we really care about. I think most of us say something that we wouldn’t like heard when we are rooting or we are frustrated. But, it’s over and out and done.”

When Pepper stepped off the stage Wednesday in the media center, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan gave her a hug.

“Welcome back,” Whan said.

Whan’s words usher in a new chapter in Pepper’s Solheim Cup legacy.

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