TOLEDO, Ohio – Suzann Pettersen is making a return to golf for the first time since clinching the Solheim Cup for Team Europe at Gleneagles in 2019. Now a mother of two, having welcomed her second child in May, Pettersen is an assistant captain for the Euros at Inverness Club.
While Pettersen says she keeps in contact with the women on the LPGA Tour, she hasn’t played golf in nearly two years. But Tuesday, as the team played a practice round, Pettersen couldn’t resist getting her hands on a club as she chipped around the first green. Being back in the arena with some of the best players in the game, Pettersen fell right into her old routine.
“It's been a part of our lives for so many years,” said Pettersen about her return to the Solheim Cup. “I must say, it's something that feels very natural.”
Pettersen brings nearly two decades of Solheim Cup experience to the European team room, where players are reminded of her indelible mark in the competition by a poster. The image? Pettersen’s winning putt to clinch the cup for Europe two years ago.
“Walking past it every day I just look at it and I'm like, ‘Wow, that's so cool,’” said Matilda Castren, a European rookie who met Pettersen for the first time this week. “I hope that I can be there one day making that winning putt.”
Pettersen reflected on her own rookie experience when she met with the media on Wednesday.
In 2002 at Interlachen Country Club, a 21-year old Pettersen trailed Michelle Redman, 5 down with five holes to play, during the Sunday singles matches.
That’s when the golf world got to know the competitor that was Suzann Pettersen.
The Norwegian made birdie on each of the last five holes to halve her match with Redman and secure a half-point for Europe.
“That's where I dropped the famous F-word on live TV,” Pettersen said Wednesday.
Bursting with enthusiasm in her post-match interview, Pettersen used the four-letter expletive on national television. It was a surprising, yet endearing, moment in what would be the first of several moments that would come to define her reputation as a fiery competitor in the Solheim Cup.
“Suzann Pettersen will always be going down as one of the greatest competitors and players in the women's game,” said Anna Nordqvist, a seven-time member of Team Europe who partnered with Pettersen. “Most of us either played with her or grew up watching her as a good role model for European golf and it's just nice to see her around again.”
In 2019, captain Catriona Matthew selected Pettersen just a month after she returned from maternity leave following the birth of her first child. Critics questioned Matthew’s decision, but she knew what she was getting in Pettersen. Matthew again showed her faith in her captain’s pick when she placed Pettersen in the anchor position against Marina Alex in singles. Pettersen delivered. She rolled in an 8-footer for birdie to defeat Alex, 1 up, and win the Solheim Cup. It was the final ball she struck on the LPGA Tour. Pettersen announced her retirement from professional golf standing on the 18th green at Gleneagles.
Pettersen’s putt to win the cup for Europe has become one of the – if not THE – defining moments in the Solheim Cup history. The image of Pettersen’s cup-clinching putt has all-but erased the controversy that surrounded her in Germany in 2015, in which her conduct was called into question by players and fans alike when she called out American Alison Lee for picking up a putt she thought was conceded. That was, at the time, the fiery competitor that was Suzann Pettersen, who put any advantage her team might have ahead of sportsmanship. Pettersen later issued an apology for how she handled the situation with Lee.
Pettersen’s intensity isn’t reserved for her opponents. Her teammates have felt it, too. Madelene Sagstrom was a rookie for Europe in 2017, when Pettersen was forced to withdraw from the matches because of injury. Although Pettersen couldn’t compete, she spent time with the team and took on a pseudo captain’s role that week.
“I've always looked up to Suzann, slightly intimidated by her when she played,” Sagstrom said on Wednesday. “The biggest thing she brings is that confidence in us. She really believes in us and she just wants to be there for the team.”
Pettersen, 40, has eased in her intensity in recent years. As a mom and wife, her priorities and perspectives have changed. She’s more approachable and easier to talk to. This week, she’ll look to infuse her competitive spirit into the next generation of Solheim Cup stalwarts who grew up watching and admiring her.
“[The] Solheim [Cup] is so much more than golf in my career, in all of our careers,” said Pettersen. “You build and bond with the players on your same team across the other team and you share moments that will last forever.”