'I'm sure the Europeans are motivated to put a pie in my face'
When Juli Inkster oversaw America’s five-point Solheim Cup win at Des Moines last August she wrote off her chances of leading her team for an unprecedented third time.
“I would love to do it but I think there’s other people in line that deserve the chance. But I’ll be there. I’ll be there with some hugs.”
Inkster will be there in Scotland next year but she won’t be on the sidelines, the Hall of Famer will be front and centre of America’s bid to win at Gleneagles.
Kathy Whitworth, Judy Rankin, Patty Sheehan have all gone back to back as captain but this will be unchartered territory for Team USA – Mickey Walker actually led Europe in the first four matches.
“No-one’s ever, male or female done it three times. I mean it wasn’t written anywhere that you can’t do it, but it was just kind of public knowledge that no-one gets to do it three times. So they asked, but I just didn’t think it was possible. But it is possible. And I’m really looking forward to it and I hope the ladies are too,” explained Inkster.
The 57-year-old was part of a committee phone call when it was suggested that she might take the role again. She left the rest of the committee to it and, later that day, the LPGA commissioner Mike Whan rang back to offer her the job with the full backing of the committee.
The simple question is why wouldn’t you want Inkster in charge? The players love her, she knows what the job entails – the outfits, speeches, logistics of playing away, the backroom team – and she has a pod system, similar to Paul Azinger’s, that works. Had Gimmegate not taken place in Germany who knows if Inkster would have even got a second chance but it did, the visitors won the singles 8.5-3.5 and America were spared a third straight loss.
Going into Gleneagles they will be overwhelming favourites though Inkster is prepared for some sort of backlash.
“The bottom line is it’s golf, it comes down to just golf and who plays the best that week. Golf is 50 per cent of it but I think the other part is just as important, the other 50 per cent is about being together and being a team and making memories. And I’m sure, believe me, they (the Europeans) are motivated to put a pie in my face. That’s fine, I’ll be the punching bag. I had two brothers, so I can take it.”
The Europeans, interestingly, have tinkered with their qualifying criteria so that five players, rather than four, will come off the world rankings, with three from the LET, rather than four, and four picks by Catriona Matthew. And to help strengthen the Tour a player must now play in eight LET events which is up from six.
As to who else might have got the job, Pat Hurst has been a vice-captain to Inkster the past two matches while Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer were also mentioned by Inkster as possible candidates. One or two others mentioned Dottie Pepper.
Kerr is now 40 but was easily the best player on show last August so you would expect her to be playing in 18 months’ time while Creamer is still only 31 and seems a lifetime away from making the proverbial move upstairs.
Five years ago in Colorado America were trounced 18-10 by a record margin. The team had become a shadow of their former selves, Inkster pointed to too much emphasis on face painting and celebrations and less on playing as a proper team. She’s changed all that, players are part of those pod systems, they know what’s going to happen at the start of the week and it obviously works.
It’s the biggest thing in ladies’ golf and it’s a big part for the success of the home tour to come out on top.
Take the Ryder Cup why on earth have Paul McGinley or Bernhard Langer, who are generally thought to be our two best captains since Tony Jacklin, only led the side once each? Why do we feel the need to spread the love around and keep everyone, bar Sandy Lyle, happy? Why did Paul Azinger not get another chance after his brilliant leadership in 2008?
Inkster lives and breathes the Solheim Cup, she might have won seven majors but it’s the biennial clash with Europe that really stirs her.
“It’s at the top. Every Solheim captaincy that I’ve played in has been at the top. I love doing it. I love being around the girls, I love the camaraderie, it’s a lot of work but it’s fun. When you can come together and all of a sudden the week’s there and everything comes together the way it should and the ladies are ready to play, it to me was a no-brainer.”