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Mallon names Pepper Solheim assistant captain

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KOHLER, Wis. – Dottie Pepper’s back in the fold.

Once an outcast in the American Solheim Cup ranks, she was welcomed back Wednesday in an emotional announcement at the U.S. Women’s Open.

U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon named Pepper her first assistant captain during a news conference in the media center at Blackwolf Run.

The announcement comes five years after Pepper alienated American Solheim Cup players and supporters when she blasted the team in Sweden in 2007 as “choking freaking dogs.” The comments were inadvertently aired with Pepper working as a Golf Channel analyst and believing she was off the air.

Pepper, 46, was in tears Wednesday saying how grateful she was for this opportunity to return to the team.

The announcement opens the door to the possibility Pepper will one day become the U.S. Solheim Cup captain. For a time, that didn't seem possible.

“I just felt it was enough,” Mallon said of the alienation of Pepper. “It was just Dottie’s passion; it wasn’t ill will. I felt like Dottie needed to stop carrying this burden around.”

Pepper regrets her comment caused such a maelstrom.

“I don’t know if any broadcaster in sports hasn’t said something they regret, whether they intended it for air or not,” said Pepper, who is currently an on-course reporter for Golf Channel on NBC. “It was hurtful. It hurt both ways. I was hurt, players were hurt.”

Pepper’s LPGA and Solheim Cup records eminently qualify her for captaincy. She won 17 LPGA titles, two majors. She played in six Solheim Cups, compiling an impressive 13-5-2 record, 5-1 in singles. Her 14 points are third most for an American in Solheim Cup history. Only Juli Inkster (18 1/2) and Mallon (16) scored more.

As good as her record is, Pepper’s fiery and patriotic reputation as a Solheim Cupper trumps it. She dyed her hair red before the ’94 matches. Her leadership in so many victories made her appear to be a lock as a future captain before the debacle in Sweden. While Americans loved Pepper at the Solheim Cup, Europeans despised her. Back in ’98, at Muirfield Village, Europe’s Annika Sorenstam was so annoyed at Pepper’s spirited demeanor, she put Pepper’s photo on a punching bag. The European team took turns socking Pepper’s face.

Still, there was begrudging respect.

Mickey Walker, who captained the first four European Solheim Cup teams, admired Pepper’s spirit.

“Dottie Pepper, without a doubt, has been the greatest Solheim Cup competitor,” Walker once said. “I remember at The Greenbrier [in ’94], looking at her face. I had never seen such intensity. She said there that for two years she ate, slept and dreamed about being on the team and getting the Cup back.”