Nancy Lopez says it drives her “crazy” to see the Americans playing second fiddle most of the time these days in the Ryder Cup, but she reckons a winning US formula has been well and truly established in the Solheim Cup.
Lopez, the Tiger Woods of the women’s game in the States when she was racking up title after title in the 70s and 80s, was in from the start in this transatlantic event, having partnered Pat Bradley against Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas in the opening game in the inaugural encounter at Lake Nona in Florida in 1990.
She then captained a winning home team at Crooked Stick in 2005 and now, for the third match in a row, is one of Juli Inkster’s trusted lieutenants, providing bags of knowledge to the current US skipper along with the equally-experienced Pat Hurst and Wendy Ward.
“Juli is our leader and we are all very comfortable, having established that over the past six years because all four of us have been together in that time,” said Lopez, a Rolex ambassador since 1977. “The players are very comfortable with us, which is great. If there are any issues, we calm those pretty quickly.”
According to Phil Mickelson as he famously threw his captain under the bus, that wasn’t the case with Tom Watson in the Ryder Cup here in 2014. “It’s definitely important to stay connected with the players and, for Tom, it probably was overwhelming,” noted Lopez of that match being the first Watson had actually attended since his winning captaincy at The Belfry in 1993. “He didn’t know the players any more.” It seemed the Americans had found something when a side led by Davis Love won at Hazeltine two years later only for Jim Furyk’s star-studded team to suffer a hammering in France just under 12 months ago.
“I look at the Ryder Cup and it makes me crazy that the Americans can’t win,” said Lopez, a 48-time LPGA winner. “But I think it is because the Europeans are bonding all the time. They are playing together all the time. They are friends all the time. The Americans are friends, but they do a lot of things individually. The Europeans hang out more and the Americans are more individual. The two years I was captain, they [her players] were very individual. I made them do stuff together. I didn’t text them or email. I called them. We even went on a motorhome from one tournament to another.”
For Lopez, this week is almost certainly her last hurrah. “It is kind of sad this is eventually going to stop for us, but it has been so much fun for me to be a part of it,” she said. “The competition is fiercer, definitely fiercer. We are all friends, but friendship kind of goes away during the event now. I never saw that before.
“Sunday night we are back being friends, win or lose, but there’s a lot of separation. We still say ‘hi’. But there’s a coldness there. It’s sort of, ‘we are here to win and we don’t want to get too friendly with you right now’.”