When Annika Sorenstam gives you an invitation to sit down to tea, of course you accept. That exact scenario played out for Marta Figueras-Dotti when a text came from Annika during the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The two had played together on the LPGA Tour for a few years, but hardly had reminiscences to share. Annika won 72 official LPGA tournaments; Marta, Spain’s first LPGA member, won one. Marta’s personality is qualified as expressive and gregarious, while “shy” and “hard-working” are the adjectives frequently applied to the seemingly distant Annika.
Annika played through 2008, eight years after Marta turned in her spikes. Figueras-Dotti went on to establish herself as a top European coach, elevating the profile of Spain and its players as national team coach. Now, still living in Madrid, she’s taken charge of the golf program of Morocco.
So, when one of the greatest name in women’s golf wanted to meet, Marta was curious.
Sorenstam quickly got down to business.
“Do you think I intimidate people?” she asked. “Do you think I intimidate players because they see me as a player and not as a person?”
Figueras-Dotti answered truthfully. “Well, I think people see you as a player and, yes, I think you may be intimidating for some of them. You have been the No. 1 player in the world for many years!”
“That’s what I thought,” Sorenstam replied. Then she cut to the chase. “I truly respect what you have done for the last 15 years as a national coach in Spain and the connections you have created, and I would like to ask you for help to be able to create the necessary connections with the players to be the best Solheim captain I can be.”
And so Figueras-Dotti was invited to join Sorenstam’s 2017 Solheim Cup staff as vice-captain of Team Europe in Des Moines, Iowa. Her role, to connect players with the captain and the mission, is one at which she excels. She won the British Open as an amateur in 1982 before it became an LPGA major, and captained Spain in the Olympics, but says, “The thing I feel most proud of is how many players I have helped become great players or mature as a player through the game of golf.”
Here are a few other things Figueras-Dotti would like people to know about her:
She has never played on a Solheim Cup team, although she figures she had Europe’s first squad in 1990 made.
“Two months before the Solheim, I had to have major emergency surgery. I had a tumor on my thyroid and that put me out for a month. I was definitely on the team, but that put me away.”
She’s not just a teacher; she’s a coach.
“When I started, I was very big on technique. ‘We need to work on the short game, this, this, this.’ Then I realized that what is important, and what I am able to do, is get the best of a person to become the best player. Sometimes we go to a tournament with six players, two of them great and four of them mediocre, but we win. The mental and emotional support system the players have, the connections you create to help them get the best of their inner personality, can help them win a tournament.”
Her students aren’t just women—and thank goodness for that.
“Trust me, women are very difficult to coach, a lot harder than men! We are very emotional. I think everything affects us. I coach professional men, and even now in Morocco, the men are very simple: It’s, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing that? Give me a tip, fix my swing, fix my putting.’ Women are very intuitive. They want to know everything and they’re affected by everything, their friendships, their marriages, everything. So, you have to be there and support them and listen. You have to listen a lot.”
She definitely does not feel like a fish out of water in the company of Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Juli Inkster, the Solheim Cup Captains, and Nancy Lopez, U.S. Assistant Captain.
“Obviously we share a passion for the game of golf, but it’s a passion with the generosity of wanting to give back to the game of golf for everything the game of golf has given to us. Coaching, promoting events, spending time with players, sponsoring, helping, talking, communicating, TV. They’re doing all that with incredible heart, because they want more players, especially more women, to succeed at golf.”
She’s observed a difference in U.S. and European team styles and half-seriously suggests it might be key to Team Annika’s success.
“We take our time when we eat. We sit down at the table. We eat. We have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee. We’re not always on the run. That is why I believe we have a better sense of what a team is than the Americans do. They’re always running. People have breakfast walking around. Have their coffee walking. Lunch is the same. We have long meals together. We share things.”
Oh, and by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s funny.
Check out her video:
“My coach since I was 12, Jose Gallardo, has been my inspiration. He had a great sense of humor. I think that’s essential—in life and in coaching.”