Rosie Jones was there the first time the Solheim Cup matches were staged in 1990.
She was part of a “Who’s Who” roster in American women’s golf, playing alongside Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Betsy King and Patty Sheehan with Kathy Whitworth as their captain.
Jones helped the Americans rout Europe 11½ to 4½ at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., setting the tone for American dominance in the biennial event.
While Jones, 50, said this week that she was surprised to hear she was named the next U.S. captain and will lead the Americans next year in Ireland, she believes she’s a worthy choice. Confidence has never been a problem for the former Ohio State standout. She’s always believed in herself. The 13-time LPGA winner made her name as a gritty battler, the kind of player perfectly suited to match play. A lot of that is due to the fact that she was a never a long hitter. She could wear opponents out getting the ball in the hole first with her deft short game and clutch putting.
“She’s the kind of player who could will the ball in the hole,” Daniel said.
Though Jones sank the putt that clinched the Solheim Cup matches in 2002, she’s most remembered for her work in her last appearance. She’s remembered in 2005 for a knocking down a 30-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole at Crooked Stick to help her and Meg Mallon halve their four-ball match with Sophie Gustafson and Suzann Pettersen. It was an important putt because it prevented the Europeans from taking a lead into Sunday’s singles.
Jones has made seven Solheim Cup appearances, accumulating 12 points with an 11-9-2 record. Daniel, Juli Inkster and Meg Mallon are the only Americans who have made more Solheim Cup teams (8) as players. The only Americans to score more points than Jones in the matches are Inkster (18), Mallon (16½) and Dottie Pepper (14).
Upon her selection as captain, I had a chance to catch up with Jones for a quick round:
So what was it like when LPGA commissioner Michael Whan called to inform you of your selection as the U.S. Solheim Cup captain for the matches at Killeen Castle in Ireland next year?
I was very surprised. I had been waiting for the announcement the last two or three months and actually stopped thinking about it for awhile. When I got the call from the commissioner, I didn’t really know why he was calling me. I was pretty shocked and excited when he told me I was going to be the next captain. I had to ask him to repeat himself because I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly.
The speculation among media was that Meg Mallon and Juli Inkster were the frontrunners. What did you think?
There was a lot of speculation, especially for Meg, because she was the assistant captain last year, but I think both Juli and I were great candidates and frontrunners along with Meg. With my having been retired for three years already, being off the tour a little bit, being older, and with Meg still being competitive out on the tour and getting ready to go back and play, I think it made sense. I felt in my heart of hearts it was my turn to captain. But you go through the committee, and you never know what will happen.
How do you rank this honor among your accomplishments?
Right up there with anything I’ve done. I haven’t won a major, so this is a major accomplishment for me. Being on seven Solheim Cup teams and being a member of all those teams were huge. This was a huge honor for me. This is something you don’t get because you played well one time. You get it because of lifelong achievement. It’s an honor that exemplifies the spirit of the game and the spirit of the Solheim Cup competition and that’s proven over time.
What’s your favorite Solheim Cup memory?
The one that sticks out is the big putt at the 2005 Solheim Cup, at the 18th green (on Saturday) that ended up tying the match because Sophie Gustafson made the putt on top of me. I was playing with Meg Mallon against Sophie and Suzann Pettersen. It was a huge feeling to make the putt in front of that crowd, on TV and in front of the captains of both teams sitting on 18th green. It was a huge moment for me.
You were a fiery player. What kind of captain will you be?
My plan is to be myself, depending on the same core fundamentals I used as a player: hard work, dedication, confidence, balance and honesty as I go forward as a leader. Those are the things I expect out of my players going into the competition.
The United States has dominated the event 8-3, but the Americans are just 2-3 on European soil. What’s the great challenge as captain going on the road?
There is a slight disadvantage going overseas. I felt that as a player. The captains tried to prepare us for that and we will do that for our players when we go over there. We’ll get less opportunity to play that course to get a feel for it. You have the time change, different food, but for the most part our team’s done very well over there.
Do you have any Irish blood in you?
No, but I’m fully American and that’s what it takes.
Have you seen Killeen Castle to know what it will take to win there?
No, I haven’t been there, but I’ve been looking it up online. I plan to visit later this summer. I’m sure the LPGA will be wanting me to go over and check it out, but it just so happens I’m taking a group of women over to Ireland as part of my Rosie Jones Getaways business. It’s one of our destinations this summer. I’ll make a side trip to Killeen Castle to check out the course.
What is it about your career that you are most proud of?
Having played in seven Solheim Cups. They were great honors to be on those teams. You have to play hard for two years to make that team. My 13 wins, all of those are huge highlights. I think the consistency to my game. When I look at my career as a whole, how many cuts I made, how many top 10s, how much money, I was a well-rounded player. I wasn’t the kind of player who was up and down a lot. I was usually right in there, in the hunt. I’m really proud of that.
Thirteen victories is impressive, but you mentioned that you never won a major. You had four second-place finishes in them. Did it bug you retiring without a major?
That’s one thing that bugs me more now than when I was playing. I felt like I had a great career, and I’m very proud of it. I had a lot of chances to win majors but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t have that great back nine, or somebody else did. I’ve had to live with that. It’s been a disappointment in my career, but I wouldn’t say it defined my career.
What are U.S. Solheim Cup players going to learn about their new captain? What do you most like about yourself and what do you most dislike about yourself?
The thing I like most about myself is I pretty much wear my feelings on my sleeve. You pretty much know me after the first meeting. That’s probably the thing I also don’t like about myself.