IN a decision which seems increasingly sensible as time goes on, Annika Sorenstam felt she had achieved her golfing aims and stepped away from the game to have a family.
And if we couldn’t have Sorenstam metronomically hitting fairways for Europe in the Solheim Cup, the next best option was to have her as a vice-captain – supporting and observing Europe’s 12 players at Killeen Castle. Captain Alison Nicholas, for one, was in no doubt as to her value.
“The knowledge, strategy and experience Annika brought to our team was invaluable and significant in us achieving the points we needed to win,” she told NCG. “She wasn’t playing but Annika’s influence was crucial. She was our secret weapon.”
The tendency in recent Ryder Cups is for men to be appointed who are still active on the respective tours and Sorenstam provided that vital link. Although she doesn’t compete with the players any more, she knows them.
There may be one or two younger players she wasn’t particularly familiar with, but you can be sure this perfectionist made it a priority to get to know them in time for the matches.
Sorenstam was also a terrific sounding board for Nicholas, who was aiming for revenge after a brave defeat on American soil. Her vice-captain has seen it and done it all before, having been at the centre of two of the event’s most heated controversies.
At Loch Lomond in 2000 a young Sorenstam was reduced to tears after being asked to play a chip a second time by over- officious Americans. At Crooked Stick five years later a vastly more confident player was visibly fuming after she was denied the chance to repair the 17th green, which had been damaged by celebrating Americans in the previous group. It was a side of Sorenstam few had seen but anyone there saw the steely, passionate side to her character, qualities which shone through when NCG spoke to her shortly after the 2011 matches…
I love the game and I enjoy the game so I didn’t want to be apart from it. I have passion for the game and for the Solheim Cup. Q: Was this the ideal way to stay involved in the Solheim given you are not now playing?
AS: Yes. I love the game and I enjoy the game so I didn’t want to be apart from it. I have passion for the game and for the Solheim Cup and I wanted to bring my passion and my knowledge to the team and benefit it in any way that I could.
I was learning, but hopefully I brought a fresh pair of eyes to it. I believe I helped with the strategy of the course set-up and from the way I approached it, especially with the younger players.
Q: I assume you would you like to be captain one day?
AS: This was a big learning curve for me because although I played in a lot of Solheim Cups I didn’t know anything about what goes on behind the scenes in terms of preparation and course set-up.
I enjoyed it and if I get the opportunity to become the captain one day then I would love to do it. It would be a great honour but it’s not for me to say if I should get it.
It’s too early to say what kind of captain I would be because it is all too new but I would think I would be organised and prepared. After that, who knows?! For now I was humbled at Alison’s confidence in me to help bring home the cup.
Q: Which captains that you have played for do you most admire?
AS: Every captain has their own idea of how to do things. Every captain has done it differently. We have so many countries involved, of course that will be the case. You learn from each one.
What you like to do is see what works and take it forward to the next year and if something didn’t work then you might not do it the next time. The key is to make sure the players are comfortable and are happy they know what they are doing and are happy who they are playing with and so on We all accept we are individuals who normally play an individual sport who are coming together from different backgrounds and different countries to form a European team. Good teams always help each other out where they can. It’s a fun week when you go about it like that.
I know I’m learning a lot from Alison because not many people get the chance to be Solheim captain twice and she is one – so she’s doing a lot of things right.
Q: Finally, a couple of non-Solheim questions – are you enjoying golfing retirement?
AS: Since retiring I’ve seen things from outside the ropes and begun to understand some questions I was asked and maybe didn’t appreciate before. I hope I can use that knowledge to help the team. I think a lot about the game and Alison wants all my different theories, philosophies and knowledge thrown into the mix.
I still work very hard. I still ask questions and pester successful people about their approach. I want my courses to be the best they can be, my academy to be great, my Annika clothes to be superb, that’s just how I am. There is only so much time on this planet and I want to make the most of it.
Q: What was your inspiration as a young golfer?
AS: One day my dad collected me from the course. When we drove away there were kids on the range in the rain. We looked at them and he said – and you must understand he was not pushy at all – ‘You know what Annika? There are no short cuts in this life.’ Those words stayed with me in my golf career and I still think of them now.
• Alison on Annika
2011 European captain Alison Nicholas believes Annika Sorenstam will make a great captain one day.
“She is a legend of the game and therefore would have the players’ respect immediately and that counts for a lot,” Nicholas told NCG.
“She has had a great playing career and I think she would have no problems whatsoever in taking that into Solheim captaincy.
“It is very important the captains know what it’s like to play in the matches.”