Carin Koch: The Solheim Cup legend on her varied career
If every golfer, male or female, was a bit more like Carin Koch then the game would be in a better place. The Swede is as fun to be around as she is down to earth and polite.
There isn’t even the slightest hint of ‘tour golfer’ about her, just an everyday mum who happens to have done pretty well from the game. It is the Solheim Cup where she has really left her mark. Her record stands up to anyone in the game, be it European or American. She has holed the winning putt, never lost a foursomes in 20 outings and even played while three months pregnant in 2002.
And then last year Koch was the unfortunate European skipper as ‘Gimmegate’ erupted on the Sunday morning in Germany.
In her column in Lady Golfer magazine she explained: “When I reached Suzann, I advised her to concede the 18th and halve the match, but she refused. She is my No 1 player so I had to back her. I feared it would spur the American team on in the singles and that’s obviously what happened.”
You sense, a year on, that the manner of the defeat still hurts Koch. No captain had done more interviews, jumped on more planes to talk about the matches and thrown themselves into the role as much as Koch. And her preparation paid off as a team with fewer wins, Majors and world ranking points took a four-point lead, only to be undone by an unfortunate turn of events and some brilliant American golf.
All of which will have seemed a long way away when growing up in the south of Sweden. I grew up at the same course, Gullbringa, as the Open champion Henrik Stenson. He’s a few years younger and was one of the annoying kids. My husband was the head pro and he remembers him practising a lot and then he moved to the south of Sweden.
We had a pretty good junior setup at the club, Helen Alfredsson was also from there. It’s north of Gothenburg and halfway towards the ocean and we had a pool; so we would swim, eat ice cream and play a few holes so it was a fun place to hang out. Golf clubs aren’t wealthy in Sweden.
If you are a member of one then you are a member of all of them as they are all members of the Swedish Golf Federation. Henrik is very dry and has a good sense of humour, that is very much a Gothenburg thing, he is sarcastic. We had dinner in Dubai a couple of years ago and he does remember a lot of things from his junior days like trying to hit driver over the range and he remembered the car I had when I turned pro, a yellow Celica who I was sponsored by!
We have two big sports prizes in Sweden, one voted by the people and one by the journalists and there have already been articles saying the Open win was worthy of winning both. A lot of the time skiers win, I think Henrik won one of the prizes in 2013 but not both. I saw a lot of friends on Facebook who would never watch golf on a Sunday and they were all glued to it. That’s what we need in Sweden and in Europe. We need to work on growing the game.
If you get the whole family playing then that is a great start but it has to be taught and played in some new forms so it doesn’t take so long. A lot of the clubs in Europe use a system where they have different lengths of course and you can basically pick what you want – it doesn’t matter what sex you are. And there is a slope system so you might then get extra shots. My oldest son was 10 when we moved back from Phoenix to Sweden and he had to go from the red to the white tees and it was too long and he didn’t enjoy it so much.
I recently went to a love.golf workshop with Alastair Spink at Fynn Valley and how he teaches it is great. He says he would sit on the range and he would see guys come in and they would have their wife/girlfriend or daughter and they would ask to have a go – at that moment the guy then turns into a PGA professional and the women never get into it.
I always get frustrated with women as they don’t hit the ball and they are so short but his girls all hit the ball and they focus on that. And they have fun and they make friends and he gets them on the course straightaway.
And there is nothing too technical. When golf in the Olympics was first announced I couldn’t have cared less and wasn’t sure that golf should be in the Games but I have changed a bit. It will generate funds to help players and it will be fun to see what impact it has. It will be shown in countries where they don’t normally have golf. I watch a lot of sports that I don’t normally watch in the Olympics, I always love watching the gymnastics.
In the big picture most of the players played but it was unfortunate that the top four in the world didn’t go. I would have played, it would have been an honour be a part of its return. I do think that amateurs should be playing and definitely to have a different format, this is the one chance we had to have a team event.
A year on I have such mixed feelings about the Solheim Cup. It was the greatest year in a way and the best week and the team spirit was great. As a captain one of the hardest things is to put your pairings together and we were so far behind on the rankings so to lead 10-6 going into the singles that was quite amazing and I was proud of that. We got the pairings so right and some of our players weren’t on great form.
I saw Juli Inkster on the Legends Tour in Phoenix and we talked a little. My relationship with some of the Americans has changed a little bit, it was a tricky situation and everything happened very quickly. You are remembered for the end result as a captain.
Starting out I wouldn’t have dreamed my career would have turned out how it has and that I had a family at the same time. When I was playing my best I think if I had believed a bit more in myself and had a bit more confidence I would have realised I was really quite good for a while.
If I could have been a little stronger mentally I could have done a little better. I worked with a few different sports psychologists but it was never a continuous work. It was always the kind of thing that came last; it was golf and training and then that.
One guy I worked with, when I was playing well, thought I needed to change quite a bit in my whole life and I wasn’t ready to do that so you always look back and wonder. I’m not surprised psychology is such a big part of the game these days. As a played I never give up, if I had a bogey I would birdie the next.
I am stubborn I guess and was good at staying in the moment. You have to get into that focus and turn it on and off, you can’t be focused at it for five hours. I’m not as good at it now as I was then and I don’t have that motivation.
That is what is tough in golf, to forget the bad shots. The caddy is so important. If you look at the video from the Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond in 2002 it was dark and cold and I was so nervous. It was my debut, I was in the second-last singles match and I had a 5-wood to the 17th.
In that video you see my caddy Neil say something just at the right time and you need that little support and team feeling. He was very good at saying the right things. One of my best friends is Fanny Sunesson and she always says she coached for 25 years in trying to get her player into their best possible state.
I had the driving yips for parts of my career. Henrik used to hit it with his eyes closed and he did it in competition. My coach told me to try it this winter just for something different and I did it on the course last month and I hit my best shots then. There are techniques to do it. It comes and goes.
The lowest point was in 2007 when I was trying to make the Solheim Cup team and I played myself off it because I couldn’t hit a fairway. Helen Alfredsson was the captain and she wanted me on the team, she played with me and was on the range with me, but it didn’t happen. Had I just played decent I would have been on that team.
When I am confident it feels like I will never hit it off line again. And then a couple of bad shots and you lose that. As a player, I loved the Solheim. I was nervous but it was adrenaline nervousness and I was confident because I had done well before. I learnt in my sports psychology classes about ‘situational confidence’ and that helped.
At Loch Lomond I was just excited about being in the same video as the other players at the start of the week. I knew I was good at matchplay, the other players would be scared of playing me and they wouldn’t have been the other weeks of the year. I love being on the stage. We got to show the world what we were good at and I loved that.