Madeleine Winnett: Let’s get over Suzann’s annus horribilis
Another year, another set of goals, dreams and ambitions. Since 2015 was a complete golfing write-off for me following my accident and surgery, I am hoping for a change of fortune this year. With my shoulder now more or less functioning normally again, bar the odd ache and pain, I can’t wait for the new season to begin.
Someone else I am hoping will have a change in fortune and a sparkling new year is Suzann Pettersen. I am a huge Suzann fan and I feel nothing but sadness for the way things transpired at last year’s ‘gimmegate’ Solheim Cup.
I hate the fact that all the fantastic golf from both sides took a back seat to one unfortunate incident, when the media column inches should have been filled with the birdie fests. And I worry that this will forever tarnish Suzann’s name.
Unfortunately, mud sticks. When anyone mentions Tiger Woods, the first thing I think of is fire hydrants and cocktail waitresses, not his 14 Majors.
The trouble is, the traits for which Suzann was vilified are the very same traits for which she was lauded. The woman just doesn’t know when she is beaten. At her debut in the 2002 Solheim Cup, she was five down with five to play in the singles against Michele Redman, and ended up with a half. That’s tenacity!
We are not used to winners in this country. We seem to prefer gallant losers” It is the zeal, passion and desire to win her point that has set Suzann apart from her team-mates time and time again. Never is she more dangerous than when she is down, coming back from deficits with Annika in 2003, and again dramatically from four down after 12 holes in 2005, to record wins.
In 2011 we wouldn’t have won the cup without Suzann’s intervention. In the last rain delay when things were looking dire for the Europeans, she gave a pep talk to Azahara Munoz and Caroline Hedwall on the buggy ride back out to the course that inspired them to turn their matches round.
I spoke to her over a year later, and the passion still burned in her eyes as she recalled what she had said to them. Suzann came back from her own deficit to finish with three straight birdies to win on the last, and it was those points which wrestled the cup back to the Europeans from the jaws of defeat.
In 2015, she was at it again. Despite being four down after 11 in her match with Charley Hull against Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel, Charley later remarked how Suzann had kept saying, “Come on kiddo, we can still do this” – and lo and behold, they did!
If you have such a consummate competitor like that, whom we have lauded and applauded to the rafters on so many occasions, it cannot be right that so much criticism was heaped on her when her passion spilled over to a momentary lapse in judgment.
No, it wasn’t in the spirit of the Solheim Cup, but while writing and researching Alison Nicholas’ autobiography, I covered numerous Solheim incidents where the spirit took second place to the desire to win a point for the team.
And let’s not forget the difference between making cool, calculated judgments from an armchair while reviewing the footage again and again, and a split-second decision taken in the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Solheim Cup, surrounded by thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers. It is a pressure and intensity few could withstand.
I don’t like what happened, but there are many people who condemned Suzann, who would have done exactly the same thing to win a match in their own club knockout. To my mind, you cannot praise someone for their passion and desire and then condemn them when it spills over for such unfortunate consequences. The vitriolic abuse she received on social media was utterly reprehensible.
My father always told me never to concede a putt on the first or last green, because that is when people are most nervous. In effect, by resuming their Solheim Cup match on the 17th, it was like the first hole again, and I would have made Alison Lee putt out in any match. She was wrong to have assumed it was a concession. Even if I have a three-inch tap-in, if I haven’t heard my opponent say it is OK, I always ask if it is. Always, without exception.
We are not used to winners in this country. We seem to prefer gallant losers. I love watching Andy Murray play tennis because of his willpower, determination, and never-say-die attitude. I would take Tim Henman home for tea to meet my mother, but if I wanted to win a match, I would pick Murray every time.
I wish the incident had never happened, but I applaud Suzann’s heart and courage, and hope those traits will stand her in good stead from now on.
And I hope for both of us the new year will herald a brand new start.