The losing captains in these international team events get torn to shreds.
They get blamed for everything from pairings to picks to international financial markets taking dives.
That’s practically the rule in Ryder Cups and Solheim Cups, but Annika Sorenstam distinguished herself last week as an exception to the rule.
Yes, Europe got routed, 16½ to 11½, but this was an odd Solheim Cup, where the final score didn’t really reflect the entertainment value these teams offered.
Somehow, some way, there was great theater in so many matches within this lopsided matchup, from Danielle Kang’s flamboyant debut making putts from all over the place, to Cristie Kerr’s record-setting performances, to Anna Nordqvist mustering triumphant efforts playing through mononucleosis.
And we even got another memorable comeback Sunday, but it was Lexi Thompson delivering it after losing the first four holes to Nordqvist before regrouping to halve the match. It was a terrific duel that made Sunday’s finish worth watching by itself.
When I remember Sorenstam’s captaincy, I won’t remember the final score as much as I’ll remember seeing Annika open herself up to us like we’ve never seen before.
This is one of the all-time greats, a Hall of Famer who won more LPGA titles (72) than anyone except Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82), but Sorenstam distinguished herself in this losing effort. She showed her team how to lose with grace and dignity and how to put up a fight even when you are overmatched.
I’ll remember Sorenstam for her inspiring appearance Saturday in the media center, where this captain, who was so measured her entire playing career, let her guard down and invited us into her head and heart. She was as good as you could possibly ask a captain to be answering questions with her team getting trounced worse going into singles than any European team in the history of the Solheim Cup. Chin up, jaw resolutely set, she let us hear how a champion thinks when her back’s to a wall. She struck such a genuine tone. There was a bonus, too, there was her unexpected good humor that night, which sent a couple jolts of laughter through the interview room.
I wrote early in the week that Sorenstam won with cold precision as a player, that she was a bit of a loner in her prime who seemed to use the distance she created with other players to cultivate the aura of intimidation that added to her advantage.
That’s the way it was, but it was unfair in failing to reveal how she has evolved away from the game and how she would be as a captain.
I’ll remember Sorenstam in Des Moines, Iowa, locked arm in arm with her European players, walking up the fairway in solidarity at the end of their defeat, a team that didn’t point fingers or grumble but gave us some good theater in stirring scenes within the rout. Sorenstam built that unified front, something that is harder to do in defeat than victory.
Yes, there was tension between Sorenstam and U.S. captain Juli Inkster coming into these matches, something that happens when two giants of the game have butted heads with valued championships and trophies at stake, but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t mutual respect. There was.
Somewhere in the cosmos, Louise Solheim had to be smiling down when Sorenstam donned a Viking helmet with horns and blonde braids and danced with Inkster on the first tee during Sunday singles.
Inkster and Sorenstam were models of competitive decorum.
I’ll remember so many things beyond the final score in Sorenstam’s captaincy. Yes, you can second guess her captain’s picks, taking rookies over proven veterans like Azahara Munoz and Sandra Gal, but Sorenstam was dealt a tough hand with Suzann Pettersen withdrawing because of a bad back, with Charley Hull missing all of Saturday with a wrist injury, with Nordqvist understandably having to rest at least one session with mono and with Carlota Ciganda losing form at the worst possible time, but Sorenstam never grumbled about it. She showed her team how you meet adversity.
“It was pretty inspiring,” Hull said. “And it was quite cool. You kind of get into the mind of the greatest female golfer that's lived. And that's pretty special.”
Hull couldn’t have said it much better. It’s a shame Sorenstam was so resolute in saying she wouldn’t be pursuing a return as captain next time around, because that might be Europe’s worst loss from this. Europe ought to be clamoring as hard for Sorenstam’s return as captain as the United States is for Inkster’s return. We would all win with that.