“I feel like I was born for this.” In a few words, Suzann Pettersen summed up why Catriona Matthew, the European captain, has made arguably the boldest decision of her life by handing the Norwegian one of her four wildcards for next month’s Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. “Bring it on, bring it on!” said Pettersen, a renowned fearsome competitor, when asked if that decision was a gamble by the North Berwick woman.
Only time will tell, of course, if Matthew has, in fact, made the correct decision to switch the two-time major winner from an intended role as one of her vice-captains to a playing capacity. That change is ironic, of course, given that the Scot made the same switch for the match in Des Moines two years ago – replacing Pettersen, who was suffering from a bad back.
However, with eight previous Solheim Cup appearances under her belt and commanding huge respect among her European peers in particular, the 38-year-old Norwegian certainly has the credentials to have earned Matthew’s faith despite the fact she has only had two competitive outings since November 2017, mainly due to the fact she gave birth to a son, Herman, last August. “I was honoured to be a vice-captain, but I would much rather play,” said Pettersen, speaking out on the lawn in front of the Gleneagles Hotel after being added to eight automatic qualifiers along with English pair Bronte Law and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, as well as Frenchwoman Celine Boutier. “It’s been a different role for me the last two years. My life has changed a lot, for the better, but I’ve missed golf and am very happy to be back in competition.
“I’m delighted I got the thumbs-up from Beany (Matthew) that she wanted me on the team. It’s a massive honour for me to be here and I can’t wait, this is what I love. I feel like I was born for this. I can’t wait to get started. This is different than any other week.”
As high as No 2 at one point, Pettersen has slipped to 620th in the world rankings during her lengthy absence, which ended last month as she joined forces with Matthew, pictured, in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in the States before missing the cut in last week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in her first individual outing since November 2017.
“A captain’s pick is a captain’s pick,” she said of Matthew’s decision. “Sometimes you don’t always have to go off the books, you don’t have to go off the ranks. Obviously she’s gone a little bit out of the way to put me on the team.
“I’ll take that pressure. I told her I’d be prepared, I know what’s going to be asked of my game and I said, if I felt my game was not fit I’d have told her straight, ‘pick someone else’. When you feel like your game is there, and she wants you to, then I’m more than happy to take it. There is so much talent on our team, a lot of power, a lot of craziness. I guess I can add some experience, but I also love the Sol-heim Cup. My best moments in golf have been in this event.”
Pettersen has played on three winning Solheim Cup teams but was also involved in one of the event’s most controversial moments in the 2015 match in Germany. Partnering English player Charley Hull, she left the US team furious after enforcing a penalty on rookie Alison Lee, who had wrongly picked up a short putt in the belief a concession had been granted on the 17th green.
Not only did the European pair go on to claim a point for Europe, but Pettersen showed no regret in the immediate aftermath of the match before later apologising after her conduct had been branded a “disgrace to the sport”.
“No, not at all,” she replied to being asked if that incident might be a factor at Gleneagles, where the Americans will be led into battle by the same captain, Juli Inkster, as she takes the reins for the third match in a row after back-to-back wins. “The Solheim is so intense. It is a lot of pressure. You are right there in the heat of the battle. I think what happened in Germany was very unfortunate at the time. I think everyone has learned from it. Everyone has moved on. Hopefully it will not bubble up again.
“I have obviously learned from it. In the heat of the moment, my head wasn’t thinking clear enough to be able to change what happened there and then. I don’t think anyone else was either until they had some time away to be able to think more of it. I’ve not really thought that much about it since it happened.”
How would she handle things differently if the same thing happened again on the PGA Centenary Course on 13-15 September? “Hopefully it won’t happen again. I don’t want any other players to go through what I ended up having to go through. But, if there was one player who could probably take that load, I was probably the one on the European team. It was tough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”