Suzann Pettersen: “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
The heroine of Europe’s victory at Gleneagles, who holed the winning putt and then retired at the top, tells us how her best, worst and most cherished memories have all been forged in Solheim Cups.
Suzann: what does the Solheim Cup mean to you?
It goes back to a conversation I had with Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam. We agreed that there would be a huge part of our careers missing had we not played in Solheim Cups. Having been part of nine teams, I have to say, my best memories are from the Solheim Cup. You are out there with your team mates, your friends, and you all work for one goal. You fight for your friends and it’s not just a putt to win one victory for yourself. Sometimes winning can be an empty feeling, because your expectations are so high, you make it, and then in the end, you have no one to share it with. To share moments and a week with so many great people, means a lot more.
Your first Solheim Cup was in 2002, at Interlachen, where you gained some notoriety for dropping an expletive during a live interview. Was that a sign of things to come?
That was my first introduction to the world of golf. If they hadn’t known me before then, they definitely got to know who I was after that. Dale Reid was the captain and I think I played my first match with Helen Alfredsson. I think Paula Marti played with Laura Davies and ‘LD’ always thought the first tee was so nerve-wracking that there was never any question for Paula: she had to hit it. You learn quite quickly that experience counts and you just listen. It was like an out-of-body experience and everyone’s first Solheim is a little nerve-wracking, but it’s such a massive overload of feelings. I felt like we did really well. I ended up playing in the singles against Michele Redman and I don’t think I had a great start, because I was five down with five to go, or basically completely dead. I think I chipped in on the 14th to win the hole and won the remaining holes, with Annika either just in front or behind me. It always comes down to a point here or there that flips it. At that point, it looked like we were still in it and when I halved my match on 18 after winning the last five holes, I hadn’t been too much in America and I was still thinking in Norwegian. When I made the putt, NBC were straight in my face and asked: “What did you think when you were five down with five to go?” I said: “I was dead and I thought, f*** it. I wasn’t going to leave the course.” Then they cut straight to a commercial break. It was like I was thinking in Norwegian, but translating into English, but speaking straight from the heart. So that was my introduction.
What are your memories of the victory at Barsebäck in Sweden in 2003?
It was a quick turnaround because we went from even years to odd years and straight to Barsebäck in Sweden. That was another fantastic moment and played during the absolute prime of Annika’s career. It was massive to be part of that team and seeing that crowd. Me being from Norway, Sweden is fairly close and I was paired with Annika first thing on Friday morning. It was an experience that you can’t read about in a book: it has to be felt. Every Solheim since has been special in its own way: winning or losing. It’s great to win, but at the end of the day, you make friendships for life and memories you’ll never forget.
What are your memories of the win at Killeen Castle in 2011?
Well, we won in Barsebäck quite easily, I think, and that was at the time when you didn’t have to finish all the matches. When we won, everyone walked off, but now, every match has to be completed. You can’t give your point away. In 2011, in Ireland, at Killeen Castle, it was terrible weather on Sunday and Alison Nicholas was the captain. There was a rain delay and we were in the scenario where we had to win the last three matches to win the Cup. I was third to last and I remember I got my point and that was a massive high. Caroline Hedwall was behind me and Azahara Muñoz was the last, so that was a massive turnaround that we managed. At every Solheim, along the way on Sunday, it looks close and then the final result might look like we got killed or vice versa, but we managed to win that and it was cool.
What can you remember of the first away win in Colorado in 2013?
We should have done the three-peat in Germany really, but in Colorado, under Liselotte Neumann, we played so good. That was the first time that I didn’t play on Saturday afternoon, but I was watching these young European players and they played so well. They went out and outplayed the Americans. That was the first time I enjoyed not playing myself and not being in control, because I knew they were taking care of business. I really enjoyed watching Caroline Hedwall and all these up and coming young talents. They played fantastic and it was just as exciting as playing. On Sunday, on paper, it was probably one of the easiest wins, but it’s always a lot closer than the final result.
Every team is different and every captain brings their skills to the table. I didn’t know what I was expecting of Liselotte, because she’s very quiet, but she was fantastic and she knew that we knew what to do, so her way worked.
Tell us about St. Leon-Rot in Germany in 2015.
We played outstanding for two days. I don’t think the result has ever been that extreme after Saturday.
The atmosphere changed on the Sunday morning. After your fourball match with Charley Hull against Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome, you were criticised for saying that Lee’s 18-inch putt on the 17th green was not conceded, which it wasn’t and then you went on to win the match. How did you cope with the extreme media attention?
I was head-hunted. I was shot standing up. It was a tough experience because the Solheim, until that point, had only been a positive. It was something I would think about and it would give me a huge smile. All of a sudden, I was faced with this controversy and I felt like I was maybe the right person to take that load, on the team. I feel like I’m mentally strong enough to deal with it, but even that, it got me to the point where I thought to myself, I don’t think I’ll ever play competitively again. It took the edge off what I stand for and what I play for. It was completely out of context and I was at rock bottom in the weeks after. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but this literally almost killed me.
It crossed so many aspects of what I stand for. I was questioned on fair play, I was accused of being a cheater. There were all these statements that really got to me and I don’t want anyone, ever, to go through that process, from either side. It doesn’t matter. It was just awful. I think I changed from it, which is probably a good thing and you learn from everything, but you appreciate things a little differently.
Media haunted me for the next two years. When we got to 2017, I couldn’t wait to step up on the tee at Des Moines and let them all scream at me. Then my back went out and I thought, maybe there’s a reason for everything and maybe I wasn’t meant to take that. It was tough. It should have been a three-peat and a fantastic run. I’m very pleased that we didn’t win, because had everything happened and we won on the top of it, I don’t think I could have dealt with it. The Americans played fantastic on Sunday and they were fired up from the situation that had happened. That was my worst experience ever as a professional golfer, which I was a bit sad about, because it left a mark on my Solheim Cup chapter.
That must have made 2019 even sweeter.
2019 was different, because it was the first time I had been a captain’s pick and that’s a pressure in itself. I could easily have made ‘Beany’ (Catriona Matthew), who picked me, look like an idiot, but I made her look like a hero, by holing the winning putt! I’ve been joking about that ever since. Had I missed, we had lost, and I would have been the big black wolf in the room. I had expectations for myself heading into the week. I hadn’t played a lot of competitive golf in the two years leading up to it. When the week finally came, I felt like I had never been away from the game and obviously experience helps. I’ve always been able to find the very best during a Solheim Cup week. I think it’s the atmosphere and the energy that brings the best out of you. Being a part of such a special team with so many great young talents, that was inspiring itself. Knowing that you have players like Anne (Van Dam), Bronte (Law), Carlota (Ciganda), Celine (Boutier), Azahara (Muñoz): they all take responsibility and we are in good hands for the future on the European side when it comes to the Solheim. It was just special, and obviously being there as a mum, that was different! You split your time between being on the golf course, celebrating with the team and then you are also dying to get back to the room to give your son a hug. That was a different balance that I had to deal with, but I’m so glad I got to experience it and now I know what that feels like. It was a great feeling.
Does it get any better than that?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve tried to ask myself, ‘Would another victory change my life?’ No. ‘Would another major championship change my life?’ No. ‘Would another Solheim Cup change my life?’ No. When you have kids your perspective changes. You realise what a bubble professional golfers live in. I was in a bubble for almost 20 years. It was only in the last two years that I was away long enough to realise what a bubble it really is, looking in from the outside. I could have lived with not winning the Solheim Cup and retired, but I answered all the questions I had asked myself in making that comeback. My biggest question was, would I be able to deliver when it really mattered and come back and be on the biggest stage and still feel comfortable? I did… and that’s all I need. Now I can sit back and say I gave it my all.
Were you conscious of how much celebrating the whole of Europe was doing when you holed your last putt and what it meant?
I think we all had a feeling it would be close going into Sunday. We were tied 8-8 after finishing Saturday and we knew it could be a very close race. I was on the back end of the singles matches, together with Bronte and Anna (Nordqvist) and it happened to come down to the last two matches again, the same as it had at Killeen Castle in Ireland. It all happened very fast. We were in desperate need of every point and I just thought to myself, at least I have a chance for half a point. It all came down to that moment on the 18th green and happened so fast. I did not know that my putt was the last shot of the Solheim Cup. I thought that Bronte was coming up the 18th behind me, but she managed to close her match on 17, literally seconds before I hit my putt. I asked my caddie in the aftermath if he knew that my putt was the putt and he said ‘no’. Having seen the telecast and heard the commentary, it all changed so quickly, within 10 seconds. My focus was on making the putt and then you see it going in the middle. You see your teammates jumping in the air and I could see Mel (Reid) screaming ‘We got it!’ It took a few seconds to realise and see the big picture. It was such a great team effort on Sunday and a lot of focus has been on the final putt and Bronte’s closure, but we would never have been there had we not got those points earlier in the day. That’s how it’s built and it was a great team effort, that Europe finally proved, we can go out on Sunday with all the pressure that was on our shoulders, and win the singles. I think that was the coolest thing. When the putt dropped, it was just a massive relief, being a wildcard, or a captain’s pick, as I also had some pressure. It was just a moment none of us will ever forget and that was the beauty of the Solheim Cup. You build memories and friendships and now that I have stopped my playing career, I will have a lot of great relationships across the world, so a lot of good stuff to take with me into the next chapter.
How do you manage the friendships with your opponents in everyday competition?
I think it’s been easier for us Europeans to form friendships as we just all get along so well. I don’t know if we have the same mentality, but we’ve never had a massive issue that somebody doesn’t want to play with another player, or they don’t like each other. That’s the easiest part for the European team. The entry point is so easy because everyone gets along and we have each other’s backs before we start that week. I remember playing with Patricia Meunier Lebouc at Barsebäck and she was pregnant. We fought and fought and I was in her face on every hole, saying, ‘C’mon, we can still do this. Fight for it!’ You go through that process together on the course and if you’re not in the middle of it, it can’t be explained, but we went through something so special together that it bonds you for life. Through the Solheims I’ve got to know these players off the golf course and your personality shines through. Carlota Ciganda has become one of my dear, dear friends that I enjoy spending time with off the golf course. It’s the same with a lot of other players. That’s what makes it so special.
You have retired, but you’re a vice-captain to Catriona Matthew in 2021, so will you stay closely involved with golf?
Golf has been part of my entire life and I’ve been given such a great opportunity to pursue my childhood dream. Now that I’m stepping back from an active career, I will try to help give back, especially for the future of the kids growing up, who can have a solid platform to pursue their dreams. I’ll be involved one way or another, but I haven’t decided in what shape or form. In Norway, we have a very strong junior programme with a lot of young girls coming through on the LET. We have eight players competing every week and there is a lot of fun stuff happening in the Scandinavian countries as well. It’s strange not to be playing but I’m happy with my decision. It’s easier to have peace when the decision is made on your own terms. Back home, I have a family, I have a son and there is a time for everything in life. This chapter is about my family and not my golf.
Would you like to have more kids?
I would love to have more kids. I am one of three and my husband Christian has a brother. Even though I’m not playing, I’m not dead, I’m still here and I will be here in one way or another. My whole life has been in golf and I can’t see myself not being involved in whatever way it may be.
Are there any life lessons you’ve learned through golf that you’d like to pass on to your son, Herman?
There are so many lessons but I think: always dream big; don’t take no for an answer; believe in yourself enough to trust that the path you’re taking is the right one. There are so many great things to learn, but dreams do come true: you’ve just got to dream big enough.July 18, 2020 1:25 pm