TOLEDO, OHIO | She’s on the wall, larger than life and in full flight, back bowed, fists raised, the roar of a lioness filling the air. Every player who walks into the European Team locker room at Inverness Club comes face to face with a floor-to-ceiling poster of Suzann Pettersen holing the winning putt in Gleneagles at the 2019 Solheim Cup, a still image from a moment that has been replayed on video hundreds if not thousands of times.
To take you on a trip down memory lane, Pettersen’s 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to beat Marina Alex two years ago would have been spectacular under any circumstances. The fact that Pettersen v. Alex was the last match on the course and Suzann’s putt was for all the marbles – make and Europe wins; miss and Team USA retains the Solheim Cup – made it historic. Throw in the fact that Pettersen was a controversial captain’s pick, with the Norwegian having not played a decent competitive round in four months, and the moment was storybook.
Then she walked away, retiring, not a week later, not after a couple of days of reflection, but on the spot. Standing on the 18th green with her son, Hermon, in her arms, Pettersen said, “That’s it. I’m done. Nothing could get better.”
That walk-off moment made it one of the best stories in all of sports.
Few people expected her to stick to her guns. Most expected to see a “comeback” of some sort. Nothing like one dark winter in Oslo to bring the clubs back out. But two years later, Pettersen is still retired. She has had another child, a daughter, and is enjoying chasing toddlers and cooking meals for her family.
Now, out of nowhere, she’s back, wearing the neon yellow and azure of Team Europe, walking the fairways of Inverness Club with the same swagger she brought to these biennial matches for the better part of two decades.
“Well, I’m happy to be back,” Pettersen said as she sauntered into the Solheim Cup media center in her role as Catriona Matthew’s assistant captain. “It’s a little bit weird walking by the driving range the first time and not having to pull out your clubs. But I’m actually really enjoying it. Happy to see everyone here.
The most logical follow-up: when you walked past that driving range without your clubs, did you want them?
“No,” Pettersen said, letting the word hang hard for a second too long. “I really haven’t played much golf since two years ago. I’ve got my hands full. Having a second child hasn’t given me any more time. I do miss it but at the same time, I’m really enjoying a different part of life.”
Going back to her memories from Gleneagles, she said, “It’s kind of funny because it all feels like it was yesterday. Even though I had been away, you stay in touch, you talk to all these girls throughout the years, so it’s not like you’re completely out of it.
“But I must say, this is something that feels very natural,” she said of putting on the European uniform and serving as an assistant captain. “It has been a part of our lives for so many years, you pick it back up pretty quickly.”
“It’s a great experience, it’s a great atmosphere. And what I enjoyed the most is probably the Solheim is so much more than golf in my career and in all of our careers.” – Suzann Pettersen
Her first Solheim was at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, where the then 21-year-old stormed back from dormie-5 to halve her match with home-town girl Michele Redman, who is now the women’s golf coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. NBC went live to Pettersen where the excitable athlete dropped one of George Carlin’s seven words on the final green.
“Yeah, I guess that’s where I dropped the famous ‘F-word’ on live TV,” she said on Wednesday. “But I think that first year, I was paired with Alfie (Helen Alfredsson) my first match and when it came down to who was going to hit the tee ball (on the first hole) there was no discussion. I had to do it. So, I just was kind of thrown right into it and never looked back.
“It’s a great experience, it’s a great atmosphere. And what I enjoyed the most is probably the Solheim is so much more than golf in my career and in all of our careers. You build a bond with the players on your team and across onto the other team and you share moments that will last forever.”
Anna Nordqvist, who arrived at the Solheim Cup as the last major champion of 2021, said of her friend, “I think Suzann Pettersen will always be one of the greatest competitors and players in the women’s game. I miss her on tour. She’s a good friend. I actually cried last Solheim Cup, that last night because I knew she was done. It was nice to see her make a push, knowing how much Solheim Cup meant to her. For her to make that final putt last time around, she just has so much to bring to the team.
“Most of us either played with her or grew up watching her as a good role model for European golf. It’s just nice to see her around again. I mean, we’re not living in Norway, so we don’t really get to see her that much. She just brings a lot of passion. Once these matches start, she will be right there with us every step of the way.”
Top: Suzann Pettersen of Team Europe celebrates her winning putt at the 2019 Solheim Cup. Photo: Chris Trotman, WME IMG via Getty Images
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