Fans love that about her.
When she led the Americans to victory at the 1998 Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village Golf Club, European players famously placed her image on a punching bag. She was the American teams heart and soul, as apparent in her 5-1 singles record over the years as it was in Europes aggravation with her.
When audio technicians failed to cut off her microphone before going to a commercial break at the last Solheim Cup in Sweden, Pepper uttered a line that made the American team want to place her face on a punching bag. After Sherri Steinhauer missed a short putt at the 18th hole, allowing Europe to halve a match with her and Laura Diaz, Pepper let loose with her famous Choking freaking dogs comment. Though Pepper never meant the line to be aired, it created a furor within the American teams ranks.
Whether Pepper was attacking pins as an elite player, or problems as a TV analyst or magazine columnist, her gift has always been a fearless focus on what she believes matters most. She attacks life, and we like that about her. Smarts and passion work as well for her today in her duties with the Golf Channel and NBC as they did when she was a player.
Pepper, 43, is a 17-time LPGA winner with two major championships on her resume, the 1992 and 99 Kraft Nabisco Championships. Back, neck and wrist injuries led to her retirement after the 2004 season.
With the Solheim Cup just around the corner, senior writer Randall Mell caught up with Pepper for a quick round:
Do you want to be a Solheim Cup captain?
I couldnt fit it in my schedule right now, but maybe down the line that would work.
Youre back in the booth at the Solheim Cup in two weeks. Your Freaking Choking Dogs comment at the last Solheim Cup created a furor. You know it will be revisited. Were you surprised how big a deal that became?
Given the fact that the players werent given the accurate information, Im not surprised. I think once people realized the entire context of the whole thing, it wasnt as horrible as it sounded.
Do you think it hurt your chances to be a Solheim Cup captain?
It possibly could, but theres nothing I could do to change it.
Do you sense the team is over that and do you care? The team is completely different than it was then by quite a few bodies. It hasnt been brought up, frankly, other than busting my chops behind the scenes by people in television. Im saying its a non-factor, but Im sure it will be brought up in the next few weeks. If people really knew what happened, yes, I said it, six-and-a-half seconds after the audio guy was supposed to have turned all of us off. When people realize that, and they understand television, how things are said in breaks, funny and passionate, you may not agree with it, but you would understand it.
Did Sherri Steinhauer or Laura Diaz ever slap you with a white glove as an invitation to a duel?
No, Ill just leave it at that.
Is the Solheim Cup OK the way it is, the United States vs. Europe, or does it need a change to get more of the big international names in the mix?
I think the Solheim Cup has its place as Europe vs. the United States. Do I think someday, maybe not too far down the road, there needs to be something like Americas vs. the world (South, Central and North America), a Presidents Cup sort of event? I do. But the Solheim Cup, as it stands, has its place and a really good one.
What did you think of Beth Daniels Solheim Cup captains picks?
I thought Michelle (Wie) totally earned her place based on this years performance, especially when there were even fewer events than when Paula Creamer made it as a rookie in 2005. Of all the players up for the pick, she was, by far, playing the best. Juli (Inkster), quite frankly, wasnt picked for her golf skills right now. I think she fits the team room for her age experience. I think shes a mom figure thats maybe a little bit necessary because of the youthful nature of this team. Shes not playing very well right now, but the Solheim Cup sometimes turns a player around.
Only one American has won a major championship in the last nine played. No American has been the LPGAs Player of the Year in 15 years, since Beth Daniel, does it matter?
Americans have won (nine of the last 33 LPGA events). Its disappointing, yes. Do I think it matters? Yes. I think the surprising thing is that experience doesnt seem to matter in major championships anymore. You look over the last two-and-a-half years, and theres only been one player who has won more than one, Lorena Ochoa. That is even more of a surprise to me.
Why do you think that is?
I think everyones coming to this tour to prove themselves, but, honestly, I dont know.
Asians are dominating the LPGA. Obviously, with the controversy we saw over the LPGAs failed attempt to implement an English speaking policy, there are folks who think theres a problem. What do you think?
I think Se Ri Pak opened a lot of opportunities for a lot of young girls. The work ethic of these kids is phenomenal. Frankly, I think the American kids, right now, are a little soft. They havent had to work their way out of things and have been given a lot. You come up in a sport like golf and get to the highest levels, theres no other way around it but just to work hard. And, sometimes, if youve been given a lot as a kid, thats a hard deal. Sometimes you have the want for something that you dont really go out and get.
You adapted quickly to the analysts role, even the journalists role with your Sports Illustrated column. For former players, that can be a difficult adjustment, because they dont want to judge, or hurt the feelings, of other players. What was your attitude making the transition?
I was harder on myself as a player than any commentator could have been, or anybody else could have been, and I try to apply that same thing to myself, whether Im in the analysts position, or out on the course, or penning an article. I try to make myself as educated and prepared as I can be on every bit of it. Thats the way I was as a player, and its the way I take my job going forward. As a player, I wanted to know where I was weak, where I wasnt very good, and Ive tried to do the same thing in my role today.
Who should the next LPGA commissioner be?
The absolute best person, regardless of age, sex or job position currently.
Do you still play?
I still play.
How would you do in an LPGA event?
Physically, I dont know that I could put four rounds, or six rounds, together, but Id do OK. My golf isnt horrible.
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