PARKER, Colo. – Suzann Pettersen is the unequivocal leader of Team Europe. She just won’t admit it.
“It’s not an individual tournament,” Pettersen proclaimed Thursday at Colorado Golf Club, suggesting she doesn’t want to be singled out for her role.
With veterans Laura Davies, Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth not qualifying, the 32-year-old from Norway is the heart and soul of her continent. She’s playing in her seventh consecutive cup, has assembled a 12-8-5 record during that span and has more fire in her belly for this stage than you can imagine.
Just look at Pettersen’s closing stretch two years ago in Ireland. With the Solheim Cup in question midway through the Sunday singles, Pettersen birdied the 16th and 18th holes to close out Michelle Wie. That match completely changed the tone of the afternoon, which ended with an epic European victory.
Pettersen’s rookie Solheim Cup performance was legendary, too. Twenty-one years old at the time, she was 5 down with five holes remaining against Michele Redman in singles and won each of the last five holes to scratch out a half-point. Europe ultimately lost those matches in Minnesota, but a star was born. (Some may remember that as the match where a fresh-faced Pettersen blurted out the king of all expletives live on NBC.)
“I think Suzann Pettersen is just fearsome,” said former U.S. Solheim Cup captain Judy Rankin. “She is the world-class competitor. She might laugh at this, but she is a little bit scary.”
Scary. That’s not too far off. Intimidating, for sure.
In fact, Pettersen comes across as so intense at times that it’s easy to see it being difficult for some of the six rookies on the European Solheim Cup squad to warm up to the No. 3-ranked player in the world.
Not so, says someone who’d know.
“She’s embracing the new, young ones,” Europe vice captain Annika Sorenstam said. “If you’re one of those young girls who’ve been watching her for a while, she could be intense and it could be intimidating. But she’s totally not giving that vibe at all.”
Sorenstam and Pettersen teamed to win all four Solheim Cup matches they played together, making them one of the most formidable duos in the history of the event.
What Pettersen doesn’t have this year that she did in the past is a clear partner. Two years ago she played with Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall, who are both on this team again. She could play with both women again at times, or European captain Liselotte Neumann could opt to put her with one of the six rookies to give them a much-needed boost.
With so much inexperience on the European squad it’s impossible to envision a scenario where Pettersen plays poorly and Europe wins. Now, she could play well and Europe could still lose, but if she does not play well, the chance for back-to-back European victories is unlikely.
In Pettersen’s six previous Solheim Cup appearances she’s had a losing record only once. That came via a 1-4 showing in 2009 at Rich Harvest Farms when the Americans easily won 16-12. She was 4-1 in 2003 and 3-1 in 2011, both Europe victories.
“I don’t really look at it any different than I used to,” Pettersen said.
No matter what happens, Pettersen seems to be making all the right moves so far.
“She’s very mature and she’s really stepped up,” Sorenstam said. “She’s taking a leadership role.”
Just don’t ask Pettersen to talk about it.