Still in celebration mode shortly after the U.S. team’s stunning rally to win the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany, Juli Inkster was asked if she wanted to return as captain in 2017.
“Juli kind of looked up at us and said, ‘Are you ready to go?’ ” recalled Wendy Ward, an assistant captain with Pat Hurst and Nancy Lopez.
The answer was a resounding yes. So the gang is back together – their appointments weren’t officially announced until a year later – for the 15th Solheim Cup next weekend at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa.
Ward, the former LPGA player who teaches at The Creek at Qualchan and runs a cattle ranch with husband Nate in Edwall, can’t think of better company or a better way to spend a week.
“We all have our niches and what comes natural,” said Ward, squeezing in a phone call earlier this week while marshalling at Qualchan with her dog riding shotgun in the cart. “Nancy and Pat being moms, Nancy is definitely the nurturer and Pat and I are kind of organizers.
“The less Juli has to think about the minor stuff, the more she can serve as captain and leader and it makes it more comfortable for the girls.”
It was anything but comfortable for the Americans on the 17th green of the 2015 Solheim when Suzann Pettersen declined to give Alison Lee a putt that was maybe 18 inches. Lee, believeing the putt was conceded, scooped up her ball. Europe was awarded the hole and won the fourball match 1-up to take a 10-6 lead into the 12 singles matches.
The always-direct Inkster was quoted as saying “it was BS.” Laura Davies, former European team standout turned broadcaster, called it “very unsporting. (Pettersen) has let herself down and certainly her team down.”
Ward had a bird’s-eye view standing near the green.
“It happened so fast,” the four-time LPGA winner said. “It was unfortunate and fortunate. Suzann got caught up in the moment. The way it spurred on our team, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. The only thing Juli said in that locker room, she didn’t badmouth Suzann, she said, ‘Go get your (singles) point.’ That’s all they needed to hear.”
The U.S. pulled off the biggest comeback in Solheim history, winning 8.5 singles points to derail Europe’s bid for a third straight Cup. It was great theater as Cristie Kerr made eight birdies in a nine-hole stretch and Michelle Wie carded eight birdies in 14 holes. Gerina Piller drained a clutch 10-foot putt on No. 18 to hold off Caroline Masson. Angela Stanford took down Pettersen 2 and 1 and Paula Creamer sealed the victory in the final match.
In the process, the Americans brought much-needed attention to the women’s game. Record crowds are expected in Des Moines. About a dozen of Ward’s Spokane-area friends will be on hand, including Qualchan head pro Mark Gardner.
“I think it helped the game and the interest in the Solheim Cup,” Ward said. “As far as the players competing, most of that is 2015 and it’s in the past. They’re hungry and wanting to make their own history this week.”
Ward’s role is essentially to ease Inkster’s work load. She helps with planning and even made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Germany when players found themselves without food on the course.
Ward played in three Solheim Cups as the U.S. went 2-1. She could be in line as a future captain, but that might require reviving her game. She devotes most of her time to teaching and the ranch. The cattle business has been a tough market the last few years, she said, “but we’re hanging in there.”
“I don’t know if it’s a goal but it would be an honor. I have to be relevant to these young players,” said Ward, who becomes eligible for the LPGA Legends Tour next May. “Juli is still playing on a regular basis. I’m not teeing it up this year and I’ve only played in one or two tournaments the last couple years.
“As long as I’m involved or have some relevancy on the tour, I would certainly entertain that honor.”
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