ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Carin Koch earned a master’s degree in Ryder Cup philosophy last year in Scotland.
The European Solheim Cup captain was a VIP guest of Paul McGinley at Gleneagles and was given behind-the-scenes access to each move the dynamic European Ryder Cup captain made; Every impassioned speech, all team meetings, the reasoning for pairings and lineups, everything that helped deliver Europe a 16 ½ to 11 ½ beat down of the Americans.
“Just learning how he worked with his team and his preparation,” Koch said, “yeah, it's just been good having the help of the past captains like that.”
Said McGinley: “She has been open to learning and asking questions in the past two years from many sources knowing what to filter as it relates to her task as captain. She’s gathered a lot of information and worked very hard, the players know that. It will give them confidence in their leader that she’s prepared.”
Koch has been hesitant to discuss details about everything she learned from that experience but it’s clear McGinley’s help was invaluable. It’s impossible for it not to have been.
Truth is, though, even without McGinley’s guidance, Koch has all the tools necessary to deliver Europe its third consecutive Solheim Cup victory.
Nearly everything Koch has touched in the Solheim Cup has turned to gold. In 2000 at Loch Lomond, she was a captain’s pick and a rookie who fought back from a 3-down deficit in singles against Michele Redman to win the match and clinch the Solheim Cup. The U.S. had won the three previous Solheim Cups and this European victory was a key to keeping the matches historically relevant.
Two years later in Minnesota, Europe lost, but Koch went 4-0-1 and was the sole reason why her team took a 9-7 advantage heading into Sunday singles. The Americans won 8 ½ points in singles to win the cup, but Koch was as dominant as any player has ever been on a losing team.
Koch didn’t play particularly well in 2003 in her native Sweden (1-2-1) but Europe did not need her help and won handily. Again, in 2005, Koch was 2-1-1 in a losing effort.
Granted, Koch was paired with Annika Sorenstam on five occasions during her four appearances and they went 4-1 together, but still, Koch is 10-3-3 in her Solheim Cup career as a player.
On the administrative side, Koch was an assistant captain to her Swedish role model Liselotte Neumann two years ago outside Denver when Europe delivered the biggest thrashing in Solheim Cup history. It marked the first time that the U.S. lost on home soil.
You get the point. Koch is much more than just a pretty face.
“She’s experienced on and off the course in Solheim’s and know what works from both angles,” McGinley said. “She believes in not reinventing the wheel.”
Although the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cup they still arrive here on home soil as underdogs. Their collective world ranking is much lower than the U.S. and some of their key players from two years ago (Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, in particular) are not playing well.
However, one advantage Koch has is that she can look at her team and see numerous successful pairings from the last two victorious cups. She sent out her two top-ranked players in Friday’s first foursomes match. Suzann Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist are 2-0 together and they’re facing Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer, who has struggled most of the year.
Nearly every European player has said they don’t care who they play with, that they’re happy to play with whomever Koch feels is the best fit. Players usually say that in these team events but you get the feeling that it happens to be true with this European team.
Koch, 44, has long been known as one of the friendliest players on the LPGA and you won’t find one person, no matter which country they’re from, that has a negative word to say about her. She genuinely has a kind soul. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a raging fire in her belly to stomp the Americans into the ground for the third straight time.
It’s no surprise that, so far, Koch has managed every detail to perfection. She surrounded herself with three Swedish assistant captains (Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson, Maria McBride) who make a formidable team and her captain’s picks (Hedwall, Karine Icher, Caroline Masson, Catriona Matthew) were players who are past Solheim Cup stalwarts and ones she believe will best fit her team strategy.
This is Koch’s team. She’s going to do things her way.
“I think you change as you go along a little bit with the people that are around you,” Koch said. “But I think my plan from the start, it’s my captaincy, I want to be myself and do what I can for the team and that hasn’t really changed.”
Koch downplays her role as a captain saying her top priority is “to create that atmosphere in the team room that we’ve always had and just to have fun together and make sure they focus on the job that needs to be done.”
They’ll be focused, they’ll have fun, they’ll be united and, win or lose, they’ll play well for their captain.
“She's a likeable, charismatic, nice person who people believe and will play for,” McGinley said.