Juli Inkster, the United States captain, is hoping to see women’s golf “showcased” by players making birdies in next year’s Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, as opposed to holes being won by pars on a tough course set up in a similar way to Le Golf National during last month’s Ryder Cup in France.
In the wake of a strong American side being hammered 17½-10½ in the 42nd Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson described the course near Paris as “almost unplayable” due to narrow fairways being flanked by thick rough and said such layouts are “a waste of my time”.
The post-mortem being carried out on the other side of the Atlantic has also seen Paul Azinger, a winning US skipper at Valhalla in 2008, claim that the way Thomas Bjorn, the home captain on this occasion, had set up Le Golf National had “exploited our strength and made it a weakness”.
Speaking as she paid a visit to the Perthshire resort to do some homework for the Solheim Cup next September, Inkster offered her view on home advantage, disagreeing with both Azinger and another former US Ryder Cup captain, Jack Nicklaus, that captains should not have control over the course.
“They should have an advantage – it is their home course,” said the 58-year-old Californian in an exclusive interview with The Scotsman as she looked ahead to leading the US into battle in the biennial event for an unprecedented third time against a European team that will be captained by Catriona Matthew.
“I’m not sure what Beany [Matthew] wants to do with the golf course, but when it comes down to it, we want to showcase women’s golf and birdies do that. Des Moines [where the Americans won 16½-11½ last year] was a great example of that. The golf was amazing there – and from both sides, too.”
By the time the 2022 match in Italy comes around, it will have been 29 years since the US last won away in the Ryder Cup. Since the Solheim Cup was first played in 1990, the Americans have twice triumphed on European soil – at St Pierre in Wales in 1996 then again at St Leon Rot in Germany three years ago. Europe have won only once in the US, in Colorado in 2013.
“I think it’s more about the weather conditions,” added Inkster as she sat in front of a roaring fire in the Dormy House on a chilly autumn morning. “Take the two matches that have been played previously in Scotland, for example, at Dalmahoy [in 1992] and Loch Lomond [in 2000]. The weather was brutal at Loch Lomond and it was the same in Ireland and also Sweden. Therefore, we are preparing for the worst next year but hoping for the best.”
Inkster, a seven-time major champion and 31-time LPGA Tour winner, toured the PGA Centenary Course on Tuesday, admitting it hadn’t even been built the last time she’d visited Gleneagles.
“I was here a long time ago and it has changed a lot,” she said. “It is a really great venue for the Solheim Cup, especially as it is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds that the Ryder Cup was here in 2014. I think it’s a great venue for us and I think it will showcase women’s golf well.
“I think it’s a second shot course. I think the iron game is going to be key because of all the run- offs. I just hope we get some good weather and we get a lot of people out here rooting for Europe. We will try to make them quiet, but it is going to be hard. To me, the Solheim Cup was something I always strived to make and when I got there I thought, ‘why do I want to put myself through this?’” she laughed, before adding: “To represent your country but also represent your team-mates, there is no better honour.
“I have a lot of young girls fighting to get on this team and I love that. I love seeing the passion they have for the event. My team is really looking forward to coming over here. I’ve thrown out a few tweets and text messages about how great this place is and I think they will be ready when they come here next September.”
Holding a 10-5 overall lead in the series, it doesn’t appear that the US have the same problem as their male counterparts when it comes to leaving egos at the door when entering a team room.
“We as women on the LPGA have always had to claw our way to earn the respect of a lot of people,” said Inkster.
“Basically, they all pretty much like each other. We also have a younger generation that get along and love to play with each other.
“I don’t have any problems getting them ready to play for their country and for each other. I’ve never been in a team locker room for a Ryder Cup, but I think in that the guys put a lot of extra pressure on themselves to play well and sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.
“And, on this occasion in the Ryder Cup, I just think the Europeans outplayed us. Ten years ago, I think the European team was strong one through to eight but nine, ten, 11 and 12 was a little weaker. Now they are just strong one through to 12. You don’t play these matches on paper and that is the beauty of golf.”