Annika Sorenstam: Europe's captain on trying to win back the cup
European golf fans have been waiting for this moment: the opportunity to have maybe the greatest player who has ever played the game lead us out in a Solheim Cup.
The 46-year-old – I know, you do wonder if things were different whether the Swede could still be a playing factor – represented Europe in eight successive cups and didn’t miss a single series of matches.
Despite playing on just two winning teams, Sorenstam contributed 24 points at a winning percentage of 64.9. She won 22 games, lost 11 and halved four.
Away from the Solheim Cup Sorenstam won 10 majors. Only three women have won more and none within the past 50 years. Add up both Europe and the United States’ major triumphs from the 24 players who were in Germany in 2015 and the total is 15.
So while we fans all love it, one logical thought is that the players might be overawed by having such a superstar as their leader.
Imagine having to perform in front of someone who has been there and done that again and again and, more often than not, with spectacular results. But then Sorenstam is far removed from an ego-driven superstar of the game.
She is impeccably polite and classy and, after all the hullabaloo of Germany two years ago, there might be a bit of bad feeling towards the European team.
Sorenstam is perfectly placed to nip that in the bud, put on a huge charm offensive at the start of the week and then get down to business.
As a player she didn’t manage to win on American soil, rest assured she’ll be going all out to change that as captain.
What has surprised you about the role, which you have turned down in the past?
I think being a player and moving to vice captain is a bigger step than going from vice to captain. As skipper there is a lot to do and more behind the scenes than what people see and making sure that everything gets done.
Overall though it is what I expected and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the players and strategizing with them.
Your stats-based research has been a big part of your vice-captaincy?
I have always been a numbers person and like to crunch numbers. For me it is a kind of back up rather than a sole outlook, it is good to have them to strengthen your opinion or something you see. The numbers don’t lie so it’s good to have them to hand.
Pods are the newish thing in team matchplay, will you be using something similar in the States?
I’m not sure we have a name for it but we have roles for different players and helpers and everyone has designated duties so someone can be accountable for certain things to help me. I have people do things that they are good at and things that I’m not good at.
The key is to have people that love what they are doing and to connect with the players. When we play in foursomes or fourballs the players will be in groups.
Are you a good delegator?
At times! Once I delegate I’m good at it, once I pull the trigger I’m fine and it’s something I have to do. And I love getting feedback from others and to open things up.
All the players refer to the amazing atmosphere in the team room in 2013 when we won away for the first time, is part of the planning to recreate that?
We had such a great atmosphere, so, yes. I have asked the players which Solheim they think has been the best and everyone said 2013 so the goal is to learn from that one and see what worked well.
Lotta (Neumann) was very cool, calm and collected and she had such a good instinct to help the chemistry of the team.
What did you learn from your visit to the Ryder Cup in 2016?
Darren Clarke was right in the middle of things and you could see how meticulous he was. It is similar to what we’ve all been doing but you can learn from what has worked for them and what might not have worked. I will pick a little bit from everyone I meet to create my own strategy.
Have you got any surprises up your sleeve for the team room?
I don’t like surprises and never have. I am a bit of a control freak.
It is such a busy week that I’m not sure there is time to get people into the team room and I don’t want the players to be too distracted or feel like there’s a tonne of stuff going on. I don’t want the girls to feel like they have to be somewhere all the time.
When we won in Ireland all the European team were jumping around, as they would, but I watched you going from one American to the next to commisserate with them.
I’m a big believer in sportsmanship and respect. I am a competitor but I have always felt that courtesy comes first and losing is always a hard thing to handle. I will always take care of people I’ve played against first and then will come back to the celebrations.
The first question in your first press conference will be about ‘Gimmegate’ in 2015. How do you plan to deal with that?
It will come up and we need to address it. I will try to focus on the good part which is the Americans played so well on the Sunday. I don’t want it to be a big deal, it was two years ago and we’ll try and focus on the sportsmanship.
I won’t go into detail too much. It took us by surprise and there’s no point speculating as to what could have happened differently.
How do you think Suzann Pettersen will be treated by the American fans?
She plays in the States and is comfortable there. She’ll handle it the way she feels right and she’ll have her personal responsibility, I’m sure she’ll do it in the right way and move on.
She’s tough, she’s been around and it’s not not the first time that she’ll have had to handle something.
How big a negative has it been for the LET players to have played such a limited schedule this year?
I feel more for the players that they don’t have opportunities to play and perform to get on the team. The LET is trying to find places to play but some won’t be tournament ready and we all wish it was different.
So many girls are trying to make a living and have nowhere to play. Of course that will impact on my picks: my only option is to look more at girls from the LPGA Tour.
What were your early observations of the Des Moines course?
It is long and wide with undulating greens so you might favour people who have wedges into the greens. We’ve been a few times and the rough wasn’t very high but it was generous off the tee.
One thing we know is that it will be hot and we have to be well conditioned. But some of the team live in Orlando and some have grown up in the heat so we should be OK.
If the matches were to be played tomorrow would you know your pairings?
Yes, I’m pretty set. The goal is to be ready by the time the week starts. There will be changes but you want to be prepared and want the players to be prepared and to have no surprises. If they have a good indication early on then they can adjust to anything.
Do you match games or personalities?
A little bit of both and I will talk a lot to the players. I want to know who they want to play with – I can tell you what I think of their personalities and games but I want to know if they want to play together.
I really want them to be comfortable, it is not always going to work but you want them to be happy. Some don’t want to play with their friends as it’s hard to play with their friends.
They will give me their feedback and I’ll put it together like a jigsaw puzzle. When you get one right hopefully three more will follow. It’s not about me, it’s about them and I’m just there to orchestrate things.