RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Annika Sorenstam vs. Juli Inkster.
With Europe naming the Swedish Sorenstam to lead its Solheim Cup team Wednesday morning at the ANA Inspiration, it sets up a dynamic pairing of captains for the 2017 matches.
Sorenstam and Inkster are both Hall of Famers with heavyweight credentials as leaders. They’re both intense competitors comfortable on big stages, and they’ll have big jobs to do steering this biennial international competition into more spirited waters after last year’s controversial finish pitted the Rules of Golf against sportsmanship.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am,” Sorenstam said. “I had hoped and dreamed this opportunity would come along. If I look back in my career, the Solheim Cup has always been an important part of it. We play as individuals for 99 percent of the time, but when we do get together it's just something special.”
Sorenstam, 45, is third on the LPGA’s all-time victory list with 72 titles, trailing only Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82). Her 10 major championship titles rank behind only Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13) and Louise Suggs (11). Sorenstam’s 22 Solheim Cup victories equals Laura Davies as most in the history of the competition.
Inkster, 55, led the Americans to the greatest comeback in Solheim Cup history last year, overcoming a 10-6 deficit going into Sunday singles. Inkster has won 31 LPGA titles, seven majors. The 15 Solheim Cup matches she won as a player are most in history on the American side.
“Annika had an outstanding playing career and she is a tough competitor, which will make her a great captain for Team Europe,” Inkster said. “I am sure she’ll have her team ready to compete to try to win back the cup, and I hope to have Team USA ready to defend and keep the cup for another two years.”
The American comeback victory in Germany last year was rocked by controversy that promises to echo into next year’s matches in Iowa. Europe’s Suzann Pettersen came under fire after American Alison Lee scooped up an 18-inch putt saying she heard someone concede the putt in a fourball match just prior to the start of singles play. Lee was in tears for being penalized and incurring a loss of the hole after Pettersen created a firestorm insisting the Euros didn’t concede the putt. It set off heated debate over how the Rules of Golf can clash with the spirit of the game and sportsmanship. Pettersen apologized with a public backlash bringing her to tears.
Inkster and Sorenstam were both involved in the aftermath of that, with Inkster critical of the ruling and Sorenstam trying to guide Pettersen into rethinking her decision. Though Sorenstam was an assistant captain for the Euros last year, she found herself in the middle of rising tensions more than once. Sorenstam and Inkster were shown in a spirited exchange earlier in the matches over American complaints that Sorenstam was giving advice to players outside the captain’s agreement. Sorenstam insisted she was “falsely accused.” A similar incident arose in the Solheim Cup in Colorado two years earlier.
Sorenstam knows how intense the atmosphere can become in the international team competition. Back in 2000 at Loch Lomond, Sorenstam holed a 25-foot chip shot that appeared to halve a fourball match against Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst. Because Sorenstam wasn’t actually away, the Americans made Sorenstam replay the shot, creating a furor in the European ranks that left the tough-minded Sorenstam in tears.
Sorenstam was asked how she will try to balance the intensity of the competition and pressure to win against the kind of sportsmanship questions that have come up in the past.
“That's a good question,” Sorenstam said. “Yeah, it was quite intense last year. I've been part of a few intense Solheims. But, also, that's kind of what makes the tournament the way it is. Our goals have always been to go in there and have a good time, play some good golf and showcase the very best of women's golf, and I think that's going to continue ... But when you get together, and everybody's so passionate, everybody's so engaged and they just want to win, sometimes it gets very emotional. I think we're just going to keep reminding ourselves what we all learned from what's happened in the past, and we all grow and mature and hopefully you'll see that next time.”
What was learned in last year’s controversy?
“I think we have talked about this enough,” Sorenstam said. “I think we've all learned a lesson. I don't think anybody's really happy about what happened. I think we move on and focus on the positive. I think the U.S. team played very, very well on Sunday. I mean they were exceptional. Unfortunately, that doesn't get talked about as much ... I'd like to move forward.”