ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster was wearing her game face Tuesday when she met the media here for her first news conference before Friday’s start to the biennial competition.
“My team is anxious to get out on the golf course and get going,” Inkster said. “I know I’m anxious to get going. I wish Friday would come quicker.”
Inkster said she wanted her players to “bring their lunch boxes” to Germany, to go to work trying to wrestle the Solheim Cup away from the Europeans, who have beaten the Americans the last two Solheim Cups. Inkster’s taking a businesslike approach to the competition, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t having fun with her team. That’s how Inkster built her Hall of Fame career. While she was known as intensely competitive, she was also able to endear herself to fellow players with her sense of humor.
“You just hear Juli laugh so much,” Lewis said. “That's the thing I can't get over. You can hear Juli laughing from anywhere in the hotel, or in the bus, or on the golf course. I just think the amount of fun we've had so far this year, not to say we haven't had fun in the years past, but Juli has made it so light and so much fun. There's no pressure. There's no stress at all. I don't know, it's just been great.
“Juli is super competitive, and that I think, more than anything, is what separates her from the other captains I've played for, how competitive Juli is.”
When she was named the American captain, Inkster warned everyone that she wasn’t the most organized person. That’s why she brought on Pat Hurst and Wendy Ward as her assistant captains, to handle details. She showed why Monday when she took the team out for dinner.
“She forgot her credit card,” Lewis said.
Inkster, 55, hasn’t forgotten how to win, though. She won her first Legends Tour event three weeks ago in Indiana. She is among the game’s most accomplished winners. She has won 31 LPGA titles. Her seven major championship victories rank seventh on the LPGA’s all-time list.
In Solheim Cup play, Inkster is the greatest American winner. She has won more matches (15) and more points (18½) than any other American. She was 15-12-7 in nine Solheim Cup appearances.
“I feel as though Juli Inkster is the right captain at the right time,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “I think they are going to get down to business. I think she’s very aware of things like rest, things like just really doing everything so that you can do the job at hand. She is such a respected person that this team will in every sort of way respond to, I’m sure.”
Inkster has done her homework preparing for this week. She has reached out to accomplished leaders in other sports seeking to understand team dynamics the best she can. With her West Coast upbringing and ties, she has reached out to San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti and former San Jose Sharks hockey players Jamie Baker and Ray Whitney. She also had conversations with former U.S. Ryder Cup captains Paul Azinger and Corey Pavin, and current U.S. Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas. She even sought out Phil Mickelson, who was in the midst of the controversy between American captain Tom Watson and his players in the last Ryder Cup.
“I'm a sports junky,” Inkster said. “I love talking to them about sports, even if I wasn't captain, about teams and how you get certain individuals going, if they're struggling. Or how do you manage 40 guys on a roster and you only play 12? It's just fascinating how everybody does it kind of differently. In hockey, the mentality of playoffs compared to just the regular season. I love that type of stuff.”
Inkster also has adopted the team pod system Azinger used when he led the U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory in 2008, though she says she’s using her own variation of it.
“She’s definitely a leader,” American Lizette Salas said. “She is leading by example, but at the same time she trusts in each one of us and knows that we can – knows that we can pull this off and play the best golf that we can. And I think that's what makes a great captain.”