Europe's secret weapon?
How Mel Reid's experience as an assistant captain in 2019 comes in handy in her return as a player at Inverness
Serving as an assistant Solheim Cup captain was fun in 2019, but Mel Reid is happy to be playing again for Team Europe in the 2021.
Bill Murray - SNS Group
The typical path toward becoming a future Solheim Cup captain is linear: As your playing career winds down, you get picked to serve as an assistant in order to apprentice for your own captaincy down the road. This year’s U.S. captain Pat Hurst served as an assistant three times under Juli Inkster, while Catriona Matthew, returning as Europe’s captain after victory in 2019, was set for an assistant’s role in 2017 only to be an emergency call-up that year rwhen Suzann Pettersen’s balky back forced her to withdraw.
The route, then, that Mel Reid is taking to possibly overseeing Team Europe in the matches is, well, atypical. This week at Inverness Club, the 33-year-old Englishwoman will become just the third golfer to return to playing for a Solheim Cup team after previously serving as an assistant, joining Debbie Massey, Pamela Wright and Inkster.
Reid’s experience as an assistant in 2019, after playing for Europe in 2011, 2015 and 2017, was both exciting and bittersweet. Regardless, it will assuredly be something her teammates can lean on.
“She just told me she's here for me,” Team Europe rookie Matilda Castren said. “Whatever I need, and if there's any help she can give me, just to ask her.”
“I think that’s going to be my job this week,” Reid said. “Try to make the rookies and some of the girls really feel very comfortable. I'm proud to be a leader, I find it quite natural to do. It goes to show, I’ve played a bunch of them. That’s also a huge privilege as well.”
Matthew views Reid's return to the player ranks as not only an asset in the lessons she can share with the younger players, but a key example in the ideal mentality her players can have as they represent Team Europe.
“I think it really helps, actually,” Matthew said at her Solheim Cup press conference on Wednesday. “I mean Mel, it was a tough situation really for her [in 2019]. She just missed out on this team. But I think she jumped at the chance of being a vice captain, didn't need to think of it twice. I think that just really shows the passion and the desire she has for the team. She realizes it's not about the individual. It's about the team.”
Even with Reid's team-oriented attitude, it wasn't easy for the fierce match-play competitor to wear an earpiece at Gleneagles.
“I watched these girls and obviously get your competitive juices going,” Reid explained at the ShopRite LPGA Classic media day on Monday. “And oh man, I wish I was playing with Chiggy [Carlota Ciganda] or Bronte [Law]. Of course, it sucked not playing. I didn’t want to do that again, so I tried my hardest to get back on the team and I’m glad that I did.”
Reid’s journey back to the team further adds to the credibility of her wisdom. Ahead of the 2020 season, Reid hired Ryan Desveaux as her new caddie to change things up. In August, she started working with sports psychologist Howard Falco. His advice helped her come to realize that despite those around her telling Reid how great her swing was, it didn't translate to the results the six-time Ladies European Tour winner wanted on the LPGA.
“She just needed some clarity,” Falco said. “I think that's why she originally came, to get that clarity to help empower her when she went out and played.”
It didn’t take long for Falco’s perspective to click for Reid. She finished T-7 at the ANA Inspiration rescheduled in 2020 from April to September. “We've [Reid and Falco] only been working for a month, and I can kind of see some huge gains in that,” Reid said after a three-under 69 in Round 1. “No matter what happens this week, whether I play well or play bad, I feel like I'm learning a lot about myself. Just the same mentality.”
Her foresight proved itself in her results over the following weeks. The ANA Inspiration was the first of three straight top-10s for Reid. She finished T-5 after being in the final group at the Cambia Portland Classic, then broke through for her maiden LPGA victory at the ShopRite two weeks later. (In six previous starts in those two events, Reid only made the cut twice with a T-33 in Portland as her best finish.)
Reid has continued to shine in 2021, including showing a little match-play moxie. In May at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play, she overcame a 3-down deficit with seven holes to play to beat Hannah Green and advance out of group play.
“There was some magic I saw in that match,” Falco said, who watched Reid in Las Vegas. “Some real magic. And it gave me an even greater glimpse into what's possible for her, which is exciting.”
At some point, Reid will happily turn back down the path towards a Solheim Cup captaincy. But for now, she's happy to be inside the ropes instead of watching from a golf cart
“I’d much rather be playing golf than having the stress of trying to figure out who should play with who and trying to keep 12 women happy,” Reid said. “I’d much rather be one of the women they’re trying to keep happy.”