Rosie Jones broke through to claim her first major more than three years after retiring from the LPGA.
That’s what it felt like, Jones said Wednesday, when LPGA commissioner Michael Whan called to inform her she had been named the U.S. Solheim Cup captain and will lead the Americans against Europe in Ireland next year.
“I haven’t won a major, so this is a major accomplishment for me,” said Jones, 50. “It’s a huge honor for me.”
Jones, a 13-time LPGA winner, said the appointment also came as a surprise.
“I was pretty shocked and excited,” Jones said of Whan’s call. “I had to ask him to repeat himself because I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly.”
Jones wasn’t alone in her surprise.
Speculation was strong within LPGA circles that Meg Mallon would be the captain when the Solheim Cup is staged Sept. 23-25 of 2011 at Killeen Castle in County Meath, Ireland. That thinking was fueled by Mallon’s Irish heritage and the fact that she served as assistant captain to Beth Daniel when the Americans won at Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago last summer. There was also speculation that Juli Inkster would follow as captain when the matches returned to the United States in 2013.
Jones’ choice will heighten intrigue over the naming of the 2013 U.S. captain.
The only players who have won more U.S. Solheim Cup points than Jones who have yet to be captain are Inkster (18), Mallon (16½) and Dottie Pepper (14). Jones won 12 points in her seven Solheim Cup appearances. She was 11-9-2 with a 3-3-1 singles record.
The 2013 Solheim Cup is scheduled to be played at the Colorado Golf Club. Mike McGetrick is the managing partner there. He’s also the long-time swing coach for both Inkster and Mallon.
Pepper’s place in the mix is uncertain. At 44, she’s the youngest of the trio who have the strongest credentials to serve as future captains. Inkster is 49, Mallon 46.
Pepper drew the ire of LPGA officials and U.S. Solheim Cup players while working as a Golf Channel analyst when the Americans won in Sweden three years ago. After Sherri Steinhauer missed a short putt at the 18th hole on Saturday, allowing Europe to halve a match with Steinhauer and Laura Diaz, Pepper let loose with her famous “Choking freaking dogs” comment. Though Pepper thought she was off the air and never meant the line for an open microphone, it created a furor in the American team room that still looms as a potential roadblock to her appointment.
Pepper, a 17-time LPGA winner with two major championship victories, suspects the gaffe still hurts her.
“I could in no way fit [Solheim Cup captain] into my schedule, but because of the issue in Sweden I don’t believe I will ever be in the conversation,” Pepper said via text message.
Jones will be only the second U.S. Solheim Cup captain who isn’t a major championship winner. (Judy Rankin captained the U.S. in 1996, 1998 and had 26 LPGA victories but no majors.) That fact speaks to the respect Jones commanded in her 23 years as a full-time player. She was four times a runner-up in majors.
“I called Rosie and told her, `This is your time,’” Daniel said. “She is definitely deserving. She’s one of those competitors who seems to shine when the pressure’s on. She played on seven Solheim Cup teams and always got really fired up. She fired up everyone else.”
As one of the last three U.S. Solheim Cup captains, Daniel was on the selection committee that chose Jones. Whan, LPGA president Michelle Ellis and LPGA board chairman Dawn Hudson were also on the six-person committee.
Mallon, who, like Jones, is an Ohio State University graduate, said she strongly supported Jones’ appointment. After struggling with injuries and serious family health issues the last few seasons, Mallon said she’s not ready to retire. She is using a top-20 career money exemption to play this season with her focus on finishing her career on a strong note.
Inkster also remains an active player.
“The fact that people are saying I’m on a short list of captains is pretty cool to me,” Mallon said.
Jones was never a long hitter, but she impressed fellow pros with her short game, putting and her feisty determination.
“I will never forget my recruiting trip to Ohio State,” Mallon said. “I remember how hard Rosie was working at school and on her game. She was determined to graduate in four years. She had 19 credits, but I remember her out running on the track. She was a grinder who worked hard and was very passionate about golf.”