Juli Inkster wondered how her leadership style would work going to Germany as the American captain for the Solheim Cup earlier this year.
She admitted Friday that she wondered if the fact that she isn’t the most organized person in golf would matter when so many important details go into the two-year run up shaping a team.
Her players laughed when she showed up for a practice round at St. Leon-Rot wearing the wrong outfit early in the week. They laughed again when she took the team out for a nice dinner in Heidelberg and forgot her credit card.
They marveled, though, when she was out front when it mattered, challenging European assistant captain Annika Sorenstam amid American concerns Sorenstam was improperly giving advice. She was out front again amid controversy over whether Europe’s Suzann Pettersen was being unsportsmanlike in the controversial phantom concession before singles.
“It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned,” Inkster told an international TV audience.
In the end, you got the sense the Americans learned what’s important and what isn’t watching Inkster lead, because they left a lot of nonsense behind following the seven-time major championship winner in their comeback victory in Germany.
Now, they’re going to follow her again, this time to Iowa with Friday’s news that Inkster will reprise her role as captain when the biennial matches are played in Des Moines in 2017. She joins Kathy Whitworth, Patty Sheehan and Judy Rankin as the only Americans to captain two teams.
Here’s all you need to know about what kind of leader Inkster turned out to be.
Her team wanted to be just like her.
You saw that right from the opening ceremony, when the Americans marched on stage wearing Converse basketball shoes. And remember, many of these American women were being criticized for being more concerned about style than substance, about how they cared too much about how they looked in six-inch stilettos, shiny bling and elegant dinner dresses.
Inkster, you may remember, showed up in flip flops at the news conference when she was first named the American captain in the spring of 2014. She joked about her fashion skills in leaning on experts in team uniform selections.
The Americans got rid of the face paint in Germany, and their elaborate red-, white-and-blue manicures.
They shook hands with their teammates after making big putts, instead of strutting, prancing or high fiving their way off greens. They fought hard, but they played with a lot of class.
“I think each one of us had a little bit of Juli in us,” Stacy Lewis said in the aftermath.
That says everything about Inkster’s leadership.
And the thing is, Inkster managed to put the emphasis on substance over style without forcing herself on her players. She wasn’t Tom Watson laying down the law in the team room. Inkster’s old school, but as a mom who basically raised her two daughters on tour, she knows today’s players hearts in ways that reach beyond competition.
Inkster set an example players wanted to emulate.
“I didn’t dictate it,” Inkster said of a humbler, simpler style. “I suggested it. I just wanted them to get back to playing golf. That's what they do week in and week out. If they wear face paint when they play regularly on tour, then have at it, wear face paint, but I don't see any of them wearing face paint.”
Inkster said after the victory in Germany that there was no reason her team couldn’t have substance and style.
They won with substance, but they also won with a big dose of Inkster style.
“I just think sometimes you can put so much energy into all that stuff that you really forget why you're there,” Inkster said.
Inkster said she left nitty gritty details to assistant captain Pat Hurst and to Solheim Cup tournament director Chris Garrett. Inkster, though, didn’t ignore the fine points of what it would take to win. She didn’t win seven major championships doing that.
To get a better feel for team dynamics before going to Germany, Inkster picked the brains of San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti and former San Jose Sharks hockey players Ray Whitney and Jamie Barker as fellow Bay Area athletes she respected.
She reached out to former Ryder Cup captains Paul Azinger and Corey Pavin and Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas. She even borrowed a “modified” pod system from Azinger, setting up three pods of four players to help her team bond.
“Juli was the captain, but she was also one of the girls,” said LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, who was among the team ranks helping out the Americans. “There was this unbelievable respect.”
Goetze-Ackerman was also part of the five-member committee that reappointed Inkster. The committee included LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, former captains Rosie Jones and Meg Mallon and a player representative. Geotze-Ackerman said Inkster was a “logical pick” and a “unanimous choice,” though she said other candidates were respectfully considered.
Inkster relishes the chance to captain on American soil. She was interested in the job when Mallon was named to lead the United States in Colorado in 2013.
“I always wanted to do it in the U.S.,” Inkster said. “Doing it in Germany was great, too, but I always wanted to be a captain in the U.S. I'm glad I'll have the opportunity to do that.”
Inkster understands the phantom concession that created so much controversy in Germany will follow the teams to Iowa, but she would rather the quality of golf be the focus.
“I would like to have no controversy,” Inkster said. “That would be awesome.”
Inkster says she doesn’t foresee a lot of changes in the way she will lead the second time around, except for one.
“Next time, I’ll bring the credit card [to dinner],” Inkster said.