Captains Pettersen and Lewis set for Spain

European Solheim Cup Captain Suzann Pettersen and U.S. Solheim Cup Captain Stacy Lewis will both take the reins for the first time when the next match takes place at Finca Cortesín in Spain on September 22-24, 2023.

Norwegian Pettersen, 41, is a veteran of nine Solheim Cup teams and is a two-time vice-captain, while Texan Lewis, 36, has played in four Solheim Cups and was an assistant captain in the last two defeats.

Both are two-time major champions as well as feisty competitors who have played against each other many times throughout their storied careers, although incredibly, they have only played against each other once in the Solheim Cup, when Pettersen and Carlota Ciganda beat Lewis and Lexi Thompson 1 up at Des Moines in Iowa in 2017.

There are a number of striking similarities and differences in their personalities and preparation. In terms of the similarities, Lewis hinted at their shared stubbornness when she commented: “We both have kind of the personalities that hopefully we don’t have any rules issues because I don’t think either one of us will back down.”

They are also both mothers with young children; Lewis has a two-year-old daughter, whilst Pettersen has a one-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, but there are seemingly more differences than similarities in terms of their approaches to the task ahead.

Their mindsets can perhaps be compared to their putting styles. Pettersen is a natural “feel” putter whilst Lewis favours the more mathematical Aimpoint process. It seems that Pettersen will also be taking a more relaxed approach to her captaincy and laughed that her style will be “Go big or go home.” 

However, Lewis has already consulted a number of U.S. past captains, including Rosie Jones, Meg Mallon, Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst and has a notebook that travels with her wherever she goes. She sets it beside her bed and when she thinks about it, writes it down, to help her formulate a plan for the next 18 months.

The 2013 British Open champion feels that she will need some special putting to turn the tide, with the Europeans having won the last two matches, although Team USA hold a 10-7 lead overall in the standings.

Lewis said: “It’s like a broken record every year that the U.S. is better on paper than Europe, and Europe has somehow come back and won every time. At least the last two. It’s a challenge. You know, I think the way the last two Solheim Cups have been where it’s come down to those last couple matches, I think we’re going to see a whole lot more of that going forward. I just think the talent level is way too good for someone to go win by four or five points.

“It comes down to making putts. We didn’t do enough of that at Inverness. That’s what I talked about, being in these lost groups and learning how to handle the pressure and the emotions of it.”

Lewis will look to draw on America’s experienced powerhouse with six Americans in the top 30 on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, including three in the top 10: Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson.

“I think those three are kind of our staples and the three that we’re going to rely on quite a bit. I see the team probably looking pretty similar to Toledo, but those players are gaining more experience, and that’s what I think I didn’t realise at Toledo until we were sitting at opening ceremonies was how little experience we really had as a team. It was first Solheim Cup, second Solheim Cup for over half of the team.”

Pettersen may also have young players on her team, but she is not concerned about a lack of match experience. When asked about her advice for rookie players, she said: “You tell them to go out there and experience it for themselves (laughing). The best way to learn is to throw them out there and have them deal with it. I saw that with Leona Maguire last year. She showed up, looked around and did her own thing. I’m a little surprised, though, by this recent generation. They don’t seem to have nerves at all. They show up for the first time like they’ve been there before. It’s amazing really. I was still nervous at my last one. I eventually got the crowd behind me, which helped me manage the pressure. But you have to find your own way.”

While Pettersen came back from having a baby to hole the winning putt in the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles before retiring immediately afterwards, Lewis has not ruled out being a playing captain in Spain, on account of her good start to the 2022 LPGA season. “I always thought when I was captain I would not be playing. The last two weeks have definitely changed my view,” she said.

Lewis finished joint fourth at the LPGA Drive On Championship, following a joint-eighth finish at the Gainbridge LPGA.

“I’m not going to say yes or no either way right now,” she added. “If it gets to next summer and my name is still on that points list and I’m in the mix… if I need to build the best team possible and my name is a part of that, then I’ll do it.

“It’s going to be a conversation to have with my assistants, if they feel that that’s the right move to make for the team, because I also want to be able to be there for the girls during the event, as well.”

Both captains want to make the players as comfortable as possible out there in the heat of the battle. “The captain creates the atmosphere and creates the flavour for the team,” Pettersen said.

“One of my biggest duties between now and September of 2023 is to establish great connections and relationships with the new players coming up. Hopefully, there will be new players coming on board. My duty is to make them feel as good as possible. It’s going to be a Solheim Cup with a Spanish vibe. They are super excited to have us and are looking to do everything they can to make us comfortable. I can’t wait to show the players the venue and have them get to know the place.”

For Lewis, too, it’s about creating a welcoming environment, but she may tweak the pod system first used in 2015 by Juli Inkster, whereby the 12 players are split into three groups of four and the pairings are taken from within those smaller groups.

“I’m going to keep the concept of the pods, but I do need to figure out a way to have some more flexibility with the pairings. It’ll be similar, but it’ll also be a little bit different,” she said. “I just felt like especially last year, we didn’t have a whole lot of options with our pairings as things kind of started to happen, so that’s going to be something that I kind of work on.”

Pettersen and Lewis are relishing the chance to go up against each other once again.

June 15, 2022 2:09 pm

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