RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Liselotte Neumann inspired a nation of young Swedish women to take up the game.
Now, she’ll try to inspire a continent.
Neumann, 45, was named Wednesday as the European Solheim Cup captain for next year’s matches at Colorado Golf Club. She faces a daunting challenge. The Euros have never won on American soil. They’re 0-6.
Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson believes that challenge makes Neumann the right choice at the right time.
“I think she’s the perfect captain to lead us to our first win on American soil,” said Gustafson, an eight-time European Solheim Cup member. “She broke through in the United States to become the first Swedish player to win a major. This is her time.”
Back in 1988, Neumann won the U.S. Women’s Open at Baltimore Country Club. It was the first of her 13 LPGA titles and helped her win LPGA Rookie of the Year that season. She also won the 1994 Women’s British Open for her second major and has claimed 25 worldwide titles.
“Liselotte winning the U.S. Women’s Open had the same effect in Sweden as Se Ri Pak’s winning the U.S. Women’s Open had in South Korea,” said Sweden’s Pia Nilsson, the ’98 European captain. “People had doubts whether you could grow up in Sweden and become a world champion in golf. Liselotte broke the barrier. She was a huge influence in what happened to women’s golf in Sweden.”
Neumann inspired Annika Sorenstam, who broke ground becoming the first Swede to reach No. 1 in the world rankings, but Neumann was in need of some inspiration when the search for a new captain seemed pointed to Sorenstam last winter.
Originally on the Ladies European Tour short list of prospective candidates to succeed Alison Nicholas, Neumann withdrew her name. With Neumann’s mother, Ingerd, enduring health issues, with speculation Sorenstam was a lock as the next captain, Neumann questioned the timing.
Neumann said an outpouring of encouragement from family, friends and players changed her thinking.
American Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon called last winter to urge Neumann to reconsider. So did Gustafson, who wrote an email Neumann said had a powerful impact in changing her mind after Sorenstam turned down the captain’s offer. Gustafson wrote the email on behalf of European players supporting Neumann.
“I thought, `What am I doing? This is crazy. I might never get this opportunity again,’” Neumann said.
Gustafson pushed the right buttons in her email.
“I think Liselotte just needed a little push,” Gustafson said. “She needed to know the players wanted her.”
Neumann played on six European Solheim Cup teams, compiling a 6-10-5 record with a 2-2-2 singles mark. She has some unique insight on trying to beat the Americans. She's one of them. She gained American citizenship two years ago and makes her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She has lived in the United States since her rookie year on tour.
“Liselotte is a quiet leader, but she commands a lot of respect,” Mallon said. “This is the right time for her.”