Suzann Pettersen can boast of having one of the most epic retirements an athlete could imagine. Chosen, controversially, as a captain’s pick for the 2019 European Solheim Cup team, the 38-year-old Norwegian got her game back in shape after taking nearly two years away from competitive golf. During that time, she and her husband welcomed their first child, Herman. On that September Sunday at Gleneagles, Pettersen’s singles match against American Marina Alex was the last on the course with Europe and the U.S. tied 13½-13½. Both golfers had birdie putts, and when Alex missed hers from 10 feet, Pettersen’s six-footer had the entire three-day affair riding on it. When her ball fell in the cup, Pettersen dropped her putter, clenching both fists and threw her head up towards the sky. Her teammates and fans rushed the 18th green. When the mayhem eventually subsided, and the European team came into the media center to discuss the thrilling afternoon, Europe’s hero announced her retirement from professional golf, ending a 19-year career.
Roughly two months later, Pettersen sat down with Golf Digest the week of the CME Group Tour Championship to relive the historic moment and look back on her impressive career that included 15 LPGA Tour wins, two majors, nine Solheim Cup appearances and four Cup wins.
• • •
How are you liking retirement?
I love it. I’ve lived the life of a professional athlete for almost 20 years, and there was always the guilty feeling, like I haven’t done enough. It’s nice to just be, and not be judged by everything you do. Not being measured.
• • •
Had you planned on retiring at the Solheim Cup?
It wasn’t something my husband and I had talked about over the dinner table. But he totally agreed. There were a few phone calls I had to make on Monday morning after the Solheim Cup to sponsors. People who have been around me weren’t too surprised. My last few years before I got pregnant, the success didn’t come as easy. It was wearing on me a bit. You start thinking about other things like, Do I want to have a family? These questions pop up, especially when you’re a woman.
• • •
Have you had second thoughts?
I have no regrets. I’ve never reflected too much on the past. Sometimes it’s been hard for me to give myself credit for doing well. Now that I’m done, I’ve started to look on the last 20 years. It’s been quite emotional. I achieved a lot. But what really comes to me is all the friendships that I’ve built. They’ll last a lifetime. I’ve been so lucky to be a part of the LPGA. I’m feeling very grateful.
• • •
In 2017, you took time away from golf for maternity leave. Was maternity leave what you expected it to be?
I thought I was going to be able to play until I was six months pregnant. I prepared for 2018 probably better than I ever had. I had new equipment, I was ready to go. And then all of a sudden, I was told I couldn’t travel and play. It was grinding in my head, I have to keep going. But I realized I had to look after my body because more important things were coming. The situation was completely out of my control. That was probably the hardest thing. I’ve always been able to control everything in my life, for the most part. Ultimately, I decided to enjoy the time and prepare for what’s coming.
Did you feel different as a competitor when you came back to golf?
Once you have kids, it’s not about you anymore. I know lots of people say that, but it’s completely true. The minute [Herman] was born, my ego went straight out the window. Looking back at me as a golfer, I’ve been very selfish, my ego has been massive. It had to be for me to be as competitive as I was. But when that’s gone, how are you going to be able to do what you’ve done for all these years?
How did that change your approach to the game?
In the spring of 2019, for whatever comeback it was going to be, I knew it was going to be on different terms. My heart was split between golf and Herman. It took some time to get into a new routine. It was important that I was aware enough to not try and do all I did in the past, because if I had tried to do that, I would’ve just felt bad. But I would’ve regretted not giving it a go. I never would have come to peace. I would’ve questioned myself, and wondered if I could’ve won.
You’ve played in nine Solheim Cups. But this one must’ve felt completely different.
At the Solheim, I was flushing it in practice—honestly, probably the best I’ve ever hit it on the range. [But] I got on the course on practice days and I hit some shocking shots—to the point I was apologizing to my playing partners. I was almost embarrassed. A lot of work happened off the course that no one saw. Whenever I left the course, I was back in my room with my coach, doing reps in the mirror, looking at data and video, all while Herman was spinning around on the floor. It was a draining week. I played with Anne [van Dam] on Friday, and she played so fantastic, it made me relax. The more I played, the more comfortable I felt. I knew going into Sunday that my game was right there.
• • •
What was the moment on the 18th green like on Sunday?
I’ll never be able to recreate that moment. The entire week was a team effort. I feel like I got a lot of credit for it because it came down to that putt, but anyone else’s point was as important as mine. I never thought I was going to be part of a moment like that ever again. You can dream, that maybe you can be in the mix and have those emotions, the highs, lows and excitement. It shows what the Solheim is all about. And maybe how important experience is. It shows sometimes that’s as valuable as young talent. You need a combination. I’ll be vice captain two years from now and hopefully down the road, I’d love to be captain. Those are things that I’ll remember when it’s my turn to pick a team.
• • •
Was it the best moment of your career?
Yes, because it was a moment I could share with my son. I think you can only dream of sharing a moment like that with blood. I think that’s why I made the decision right there to retire. This is it. This is the peak. Everything else is going to feel … more ordinary. That moment gave me all the answers I’ve been searching for. I wanted to get back on the golf course as a mom, to prove to myself that I could come back. Hopefully when Herman gets older we can look back at the videos and hopefully that will make him proud of what I did.
• • •
Did maternity leave help you to transition into retirement?
When you step away from golf, you realize it’s golf, it’s a sport, who cares if you make a putt or not, who cares if you win a tournament or not? But when you’re in it, it means the world. You live and die for it. Maternity leave made me see how fortunate I’ve been, but it also put life in perspective. There are so many other great things in life I’m ready to take on. I reached a point where I was satisfied with my accomplishments. I never became the No. 1 player in the world, which was always my biggest drive, but at the same time I leave knowing I did my very best. I really enjoyed the work along the way. I gave it my all.
• • •
What does life look like now?
We’re back in Norway. I always pictured my family, my kids—kid, hopefully future kids—growing up where I was fortunate enough to grow up. We live close to the water, close to the woods. The kids can walk to school. In the U.S., you don’t see many kids out in the street after school playing. Back home that’s all you see. That’s what I want for my kids. I walk out the door with my dog and it’s just endless. I’ve missed that.
• • •
Anything you’re looking forward to doing that you’ve been putting aside because of golf?
I’ve never not done stuff that I wanted to do, because you could cross the road and get hit by a car as easily as you could get hurt skiing. But now I don’t have to be as cautions. I always wanted to become a better tennis player. Now I have time to do all these other great hobbies.
• • •
More time to teach Herman how to play golf, too.
I don’t want to force him. We have a set of plastic golf clubs, and he whacks them. I don’t know where he’s gotten it from, maybe from watching me during the summer. I’m just going to be as supportive as I can, as my parents were for me. I don’t want to push him to do stuff. It has to come from his heart. If it’s forced, he’ll never enjoy it. I want to give him the freedom to explore life.