The very first Solheim Cup was hosted at Lake Nona back in 1990, and at the time it was something of an experiment. We didn’t think about strategy.
I remember our Captain, Kathy Whitworth, put me and teammate Pat Bradley together, giving us the privilege of teeing off first in the very first Solheim Cup. By then Pat had won 26 professional tournaments and I had won 43. And as we stood on that tee box, it was kind of funny how two experienced and decorated professionals were suddenly reacting to now representing their country.
Pat looked at me and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m really kind of nervous,” I said. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m really kind of nervous too. Do you want to hit first?”
“No,” I said. “You hit first.”
That would never happen today at a Solheim Cup, especially not with Juli Inkster as Captain. I mean, the nerves for players still go haywire, but you would never have two players deciding at the last minute which of them is going to hit first. Now, as a Captain, Juli determines the strategy for the team and the players follow her lead. If someone’s putting lights-out, she’ll want that player to have the putter in her hand as often as possible. Or maybe someone is hitting her irons like darts at a bullseye that week — she’ll want her hitting into the greens any chance she gets.
At the very first Solheim Cup, we just played.
I only played in that one Solheim Cup. I had hopes of making the team again, but by then I was having babies, which kept me from making points, and I was never selected as a “Captain’s Pick.”
Then in 2005 – 15 years after the first Cup – I captained our team at Crooked Stick. It was such a great event for me as a Captain. I don’t know if I could do better. From the comradery to the play, everything was simply perfect. Ten years after that, Juli asked me to be an assistant on the team in 2015. I also coached the Junior Solheim Cup in 2009, so today I have a 4-0 Solheim record as a player, captain, coach, and assistant.
Juli and our two other assistants, Wendy Ward and Pat Hurst, were all on the team I captained. They have always been very tough competitors. They know how to work with the players, and the players feel comfortable looking to them for guidance. Each member of our coaching team has a different personality and I think that helps us bond with the players. We can each relate to them in different ways.
Juli is a natural leader and a great leader. We’ve given her the nickname “The Bomb,” and to be part of her team again is awesome. Another quality that makes Juli a great Solheim Cup Captain is her maternal instinct. She’s raised two wonderful daughters, and I think sometimes younger players need her motherly comfort — the supportive nurturing that mothers give. When faced with an experience that rattles your nerves like a Solheim Cup, having a support system to connect with you during your highs and comfort you during your lows is so important.
Juli still competes. She’s still out there playing week in and out with some of the same girls she’ll be leading during the Solheim Cup. She knows the players and is good enough to be competing on the team alongside them. It’s her motherly spirit and natural leadership that makes her want to support the next generation. She’s passing the baton along and will help these young women navigate through an experience that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
As Assistant Captain, I’ll take Juli’s lead in supporting the individual players she assigns me and will follow them during competition. In 2015, I had Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, and Cristie Kerr. Lexi and Cristie are having great years, but at the time I’m writing this it will be a challenge for Morgan and Paula to earn spots on the team.
For first time players, there’s no comparison to the feeling of playing for your country during a Solheim Cup. I’ll never forget my experience with Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis in 2005. It was the first Solheim Cup for them. I remember trying to explain to them that there would be a different kind of pressure, something they had never experienced before. They sort of nodded and felt like they could understand what I was talking about. They didn’t really get it until we finally arrived at Crooked Stick. It seemed like you could hear the roars from cheering fans from miles away. It was clear then, that they understood what I meant.
Although our team will undoubtedly look different than in year’s past, our team of veteran Captains and assistants are ready to support to our players for the biggest event of their careers. I’m sure we’ll have some new players that we’ll have to prepare for the emotion they’ll be feeling on that first tee. We’ll have to talk to them and let them know it’s going to be a different kind of competition.
But at least they won’t have to worry about who’s hitting first – not with The Bomb in charge!