GLENEAGLES, Scotland — It was 605 days. That was exactly how long Suzann Pettersen was away from competitive golf, before and after giving birth to her son, Herman. And now, just eight weeks on from her return to the LPGA, the 38-year-old Norwegian is about to begin what will be her ninth Solheim Cup appearance in Europe’s colors.
Those stark numbers clearly illustrate how demanding the coming days are likely to be for Pettersen. Golf at the professional level is unrelenting, requiring much care and attention from even the most gifted practitioners. Absence rarely makes the swing grow smoother.
“At first, every part of my game needed work, which was not surprising,” Pettersen says. “But the short game and putting were actually OK quite quickly. I’d been thinking about them a lot and going through my notes. And I had the advantage of all the hard work I had done over the last 20 years or so. So it was more a case of me getting my body to do what I know it can do. What did shock me was that I haven’t lost any distance. I thought I would have lost a few yards. But I’m actually a little bit longer.”
Ah, but there are more annoying figures to be considered. In the four tournaments she has played this year, Pettersen has missed the cut in three. The former World No. 2—she is now 635rd—insists she is ready to play her part at Gleneagles in the Old World’s bid to win the biennial contest with the United States for the first time since 2013.
Still, what Pettersen had to say was clearly enough to convince European skipper Catriona Matthew that her long-time pal could be ready for the exacting challenge that is the Solheim Cup.
“I’m confident in how Suzann is playing,” says the Scot. “All she needs is rounds under her belt. And she is doing that. Plus, I know from what happened last time—when I had to jump in and play at the last minute—experience is invaluable. So it can be done. When you have been around as much as Suzann, you can make it work. She still has the competitive spirit and desire to play, which are the real keys for me.”
Certainly, there are plenty of statistics to back up Matthew’s bold assertion. With 19 points (16-11-6) from her previous eight starts, Pettersen is the fifth-highest scorer on either side in Solheim history. Her tally, in fact, represents just over 10 percent of Europe’s total points scored (185) since the first Solheim Cup, at Lake Nona in 1990. Plus, Pettersen has been especially strong in team play, her record an impressive 15-7-3 in foursomes and four-balls alongside as many as 10 different partners. That impressive combination of versatility and compatibility must surely have been attractive to Matthew.
“So many of the younger players really look up to Suzann,” says Matthew, who was Pettersen’s replacement two years ago at the last Solheim, when the 15-time LPGA champion was injured. “She has their respect. She will be my playing lieutenant on the course. She will be bring an important calmness to the proceedings, even in the practice rounds. All of which will be a big help to the [three] rookies.”
Others in the European camp are also in no doubt as to Pettersen’s ability to cope with the occasion and anything the Americans throw her way. It can surely be taken as given, for example, that this notoriously gritty competitor will not be reduced to tears, no matter what Danielle Kang might do, say or think.
“I’ve heard people say that Suzann is a surprise pick. Not to us,” says assistant captain Laura Davies, the leading points-scorer in Solheim play with 25. “She has been practicing hard enough, and she let us know that if she was in with a chance for a pick, she would love to play. Over 18 holes in match play, I’d back Suzann every time. You’d have to ask the Americans, but I bet if you offered them Suzann or any other player on the sheet, they might rather take on the other player. Plus, Suzann can be quite tricky out there, which is great for us. She brings that reputation to the team. I’d never doubt her. Not ever.”
Ah, yes, “tricky.” Interesting adjective, that. And perhaps Davies’ diplomatic euphemism for “unyielding.” Despite Pettersen's record of fine play over the years, she remains best known in Solheim Cups for what might be called the “Alison Lee incident.” In Germany four years ago, the American rookie raked back her ball after missing a putt from short range, clearly assuming the tap-in would be conceded. But it wasn’t. Not by Pettersen, anyway.
It is fair to say that the ensuing aftermath was not kind to Pettersen, who later apologized for her actions. All of which struck some observers as rather strange, in particular those who felt that it was Lee who had erred. And so, as the “guilty” party, it was she who should have admitted both her mistake and that the hole should rightfully have gone to the European side. Especially as—according to European sources—Lee had previously been warned to take care and wait for a formal concession after missing a putt.
Anyway, all of the above—good, bad and indifferent—is part of Pettersen’s Solheim legacy. It remains to be seen if she will add or subtract to her legend over the coming days. But Davies, for one, is in no doubt. “Why wouldn’t you want Suzann Pettersen on your team?” she asks, presumably rhetorically.
Why not, indeed. As they say in these parts, “Ye’d rither huv her fur ye than agin ye.”