Suzann Pettersen: The Norwegian star on where it all began
They make them tough in Norway and, on the golf course, Suzann Pettersen is as hard as they come.
From injuries like the debilitating back complaint that had her fearing for her career to the furore that surrounded ‘Concession-gate’ with Alison Lee at the 2015 Solheim Cup, the 35-year-old has had to show repeated resilience during a career which has brought two Major titles.
Given the challenges she overcame to play the game, that should come as no surprise. It’s easy to exaggerate the Norwegian climate but when skiing, ski jumping and cross-country are national obsessions, teeing it up when the climate turns cold isn’t really an option.
With both her parents, Axel and Mona, mad on sports along with her brothers Stefan and Gunerius, Pettersen still fell in love with golf and scaled the heights of the game.
We quizzed her on how she got started…
How easy was it to begin playing golf in Norway?
I grew up with two older brothers and I usually did whatever they did. I tried to beat them and that’s how I got my competitiveness – from them. Whatever they did, I did. Whatever they did, I wanted to do. For a long time, I bounced around a lot of different sports, fell in love with golf at an early age and, thinking back, I don’t think I was too conscious about the sport I actually picked.
But this sport, with all the challenges and skills you need to have as a golfer, intrigued me to get better. I used to play at my home course. There weren’t too many girls at the time. I used to hang with the boys so, for me, it was a very familiar kind of place to be. I was always playing and practising with the boys, which was a great challenge.
It kicked me in the butt to try and get better and then, obviously, you grow older and join the professional stage, get to be part of a fantastic
elite group of young girls who are trying to be the best they can be.
Where was your home course?
Oslo Golf Club.
What were the challenges?
You can’t play for six months of the year for a start… No you can’t but, knowing what I know now, and that you can go to Florida and have grass under your feet, I think it was a good thing I hadn’t been there.
You make the best out of the situation. We had all these great indoor facilities and you make the best out of what you have. For me, it was great. I practised all the hours I had after school.
I used to go to the south of Europe in the school holidays and play all summer and the year just spins around that way. It was a great way of growing up and I would do the same thing again all over.
You had great support from your parents…
They were really sporty – both of them. At that point, school was the most important thing. If I didn’t stay up-to-date with school work I wasn’t allowed to go on all these training camps, which I thought was a good thing.
I obviously didn’t go to college at that point and my dad said ‘if you would like to test it and see what a professional life is, you can always go back to school’. Up until high school, it was very important and I still think it is a great balance to do sport and school.
Who were your golfing heroes growing up?
Annika Sorenstam, for sure. Being on the Norwegian border you could only be really impressed by anything she achieved. It was fun to see Henrik Stenson (at the Open) and Jesper Parnevik was also big back when I was a kid. Tiger Woods bloomed in the mid ‘90s and he kick-started a new generation of golfers coming through.
For me, it was perfect timing. I was still young enough to adapt into that lifestyle – training and the total picture of what it takes to be a good golfer.
Greg Norman was big. I had all these pictures hanging on my wall and it was Annika, Tiger, Greg. It was a different generation of golfers, but they are still there today, which is quite fascinating. Mr Player, Mr Palmer – I don’t think there is another sport where you can have such an age difference and still everyone can play at the same level.
You had a dream book when you were younger and you listed your goals. How many have you ticked off ?
There are still a couple left – like becoming World No 1. Now I’m probably as far away as I have ever been but, even so, you have to stick to the process. I have been very close quite a few times.
I have been part of a great group of players through the 15 or 16 years I have been on tour. We have had four or five different No 1s. They are all different and have all brought the game to different levels in their own way.
Now the challenge is more the young kids who are coming up playing – and there is some competition.
You have played in eight Solheim Cups…
They are all different. Each Solheim has its own history. Each team has had their different captaincies. Each and every one has been quite different. I’ve been part of eight and we’ve won three or four, so we have lost as many as we have won. Last year was obviously a challenge for me in a different way.
For me, all the great moments and memories I have from the Solheim are of different partners – like Annika and me being undefeated during our prime.
It’s quite a special record to hold. It’s not only great memories but you build friendships and bonds for the rest of your life, which is as important as what happens on the golf course.
You’ve had to show incredible mental fortitude, with the injuries you have had…
Being an athlete you are always faced with different challenges. An injury will never fit in your schedule, but I think, as a competitor, that is just another way of refocusing.
You get different goals, it is a work in progress and you take it step by step. For athletes, it is maybe easier to address certain setbacks than for other people who don’t know the processes and what it takes.
It has been heartbreaking at times to get the setbacks. But, at the same time, in the long term I think it makes you stronger as you go through different phases of mental depression, frustration and happiness.
The circle of emotion is something you learn how to deal with.
For someone who is considering taking up golf, what would your advice be to them?
Have fun. Play the game. Don’t get stuck on the driving range. Go out and play. Play with your buddies.