It’s the Solheim Cup Pressure that Creates Controversy

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It’s the Solheim Cup Pressure that Creates Controversy

Solheim Cup veteran Annika Sorenstam serves as European captain for the first time in 2017. Here, she describes the event’s unique emotional charge and how she’ll deal with it as Captain.
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Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam is a retired Swedish professional golfer who is regarded as one of the best female golfers in history. She has won 72 official LPGA tournaments including ten majors, earning over $22 million throughout her career. Annika is now a mother and entrepreneur with her own clothing line and golf academy.

My first Solheim Cup experience was at the Greenbrier in 1994. I was 24, and I hadn’t yet won an LPGA tournament, and there I stood, representing the entire continent of Europe on the first tee of the biggest event of my career. As I listened to the introductions and the fans singing around the tee box I stopped to make sure I was breathing. I was, but not easily. Adrenaline pumped throughout me. And before I could begin trying to settle my nerves, somebody standing nearby said, “You’re green.”

I’ll never forget that feeling.

I would go on to play in seven more Solheim Cups and then serve as Assistant Captain in three more. And you know what? Nothing in golf rivals the emotion and pressure of representing your country—your continent rather—for that one week at the Solheim Cup.

Think about it: It’s a premier event, and only the very best players in the world get the chance to play. So, you’re proud. You don’t want to let anyone down. Of course, there’s pressure in a U.S. Open, but the difference is that the only person you risk letting down in a U.S. Open is yourself. At the Solheim Cup, you risk the chance of disappointing 11 other players and your country.

We all know that golf is very much an individual sport. And for professional golfers, our careers rely on playing against ourselves every week. We’re faced with a new test of our skills on a different golf course week in and week out. When you’re playing in a Solheim Cup, though, the idea of only playing against yourself and the course is shifted. You’re now faced with the elevated intensity of playing against yourself, the golf course, and your opponents. And the field of opponents is no longer filled with 100 other competitors but just 12. Twelve of the very best players—in the world. You’ll be paired with one of these twelve players to compete head-to-head alongside a teammate for an alternate shot, or one-on-one in match play.

And then, there’s the crowd. They’re intensely passionate, and they’re either cheering along for your team or cheering for the other. There aren’t fans following a player because she’s from their hometown, they like her style of play, or because she’s the No. 1 player in the world. It’s either red, or it’s blue. And it’s one-sided in a way, with so much more support for the home team.

All of this combines to make the Solheim Cup so unique, so special. The pressure is higher than any tournament we play as individuals. It’s not a surprise that the tension of its environment makes players overreach at times for a competitive edge.

I saw that first-hand as a player in 2000. During a close and intense match, I holed a 25-foot chip shot to halve the 13th hole. I was told I’d have to replay the shot because the U.S. team noticed I was not further away, so technically, I had played out of turn. I saw that competitive edge again last year as Vice Captain when the U.S. team picked up a short putt they thought had been conceded and Suzann Pettersen refused to allow it. We all learned a lesson from that experience. And this is a new chapter.

When it comes to leading our 2017 team, I will talk about sportsmanship early in the week with the team. I’ll talk about it quickly, and then move on. It’s not something we’re going to allow to linger, and I’m not going to lecture them. The players I’ve gotten to know during my time as Captain are quality people who will represent themselves and their country in the highest regard.

We all want the Solheim Cup to elevate women’s golf. We all have that potential. When you’re a competitor, winning is obviously important, but, to me, the experience needs to be fun. Above all, we need to represent who we really are and what we stand for and to keep that in mind. We always try, but it does tend to get very heated at times. I think in times of controversy, we’re reminded that the controversy is not what we want to be known or remembered for. We want to be known for the great golf that is being played.

The Solheim Cup is our biggest stage for showcasing amazing play and good sportsmanship. We concede putts. We say, “Good shot, good putt,” to our competitors. In 2015, a few of our team members even went to the U.S. celebration party.

The Solheim Cup is one of the most incredible weeks in golf. It’s not always about the results. Above all, it’s about the journey and the experiences that will make us richer in so many ways.

My goal is just to lead this team. That’s not to say I won’t be feeling a lot of emotions at the opening ceremony. I’ll have put in a year and a half of planning for our team even before they get on the golf course—from the locker room, hotel, clothing, gifts, food. I’ve had a hand in making decisions on all the details that will help create an unforgettable experience for our team. When you’re part of something like that, it’s not just another week of business as usual.

I hope I won’t turn green. But I’m betting my heart will be pumping a little faster than it has in a while…at least since the last Solheim Cup.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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