Thanksgiving is the time of year when everyone looks back and finds reasons to be thankful. The same is true for many of the players on the LPGA Tour and the Symetra Tour (formerly known as the LPGA Futures Tour). So as we all gather together this Thanksgiving, the LPGA is taking time to explore why we are thankful this holiday season. Today is part three of our five-part series and next we feature Suzann Pettersen
Suzann Pettersen will remember many moments from her 2011 season on the LPGA Tour. Yes, there were two LPGA wins and 11 top-10 finishes. There was the No. 2 Rolex World Golf Ranking right behind pacesetter Yani Tseng.
There was also a tour-leading top ranking in greens hit in regulation (75 percent), a sixth-best tour scoring average (70.97), a No. 5 ranking in season earnings (more than $1.3 million) and even a win abroad at the AIB Ladies Irish Open on the Ladies European Tour as a tune-up for the 2011 Solheim Cup in Ireland.
But what Pettersen may remember the most was her emerging role as a leader on the European Solheim Cup team. Pettersen showed her mettle when it mattered most, winning her crucial singles match 2 up down the stretch in dramatic fashion over Michelle Wie, while also having a heavy influence on her European teammates.
With Europe and the U.S. team locked in a tight battle late in the Sunday singles, and Europe trailing after a second weather delay, Pettersen's shining moment came in a golf cart with rookie teammates Azahara Munoz of Spain and Caroline Hedwall of Sweden.
"Right before we went back out, we were all in a golf cart and Suzann said, 'The three of us need to win our points. If we all win our points, we can win the Solheim Cup,'" said Munoz. "Just to see how confident she was gave me confidence. After the round, I realized she was so right because all of us won our points and our team won the Solheim Cup. Suzann has such a good vibe and she was huge for our team."
"She had a couple of pep talks earlier in the week and when I played the four-ball event with her, she was so encouraging," said Hedwall, also making her first appearance in the Solheim Cup. "I think she's a great leader."
While Pettersen is fiery, intense and sometimes even glowering on the golf course, the Norwegian is more introspective, engaging, funny and humble off the course. When asked by media at the recent CME Group Titleholders how it felt to be the new leader of the European Solheim Cup team, she downplayed her role, saying, "When I'm on the European team, I'm always a junior. Laura Davies is the senior and she takes that role."
When asked how it felt to play so well in 2011, but to not be able to catch frontrunner Yani Tseng, Pettersen saluted Tseng, saying, "You can't do anything but applaud what she's done. It makes me work even harder. I've been around Annika orentam at her peak ... and then Lorena Ooa, and now Yani. It just shows that it's possible."
Always the perfectionist in pursuit of her own optimal performance, here is what Pettersen had to say in a recent interview about her 2011 LPGA season:
How do you feel about your 2011 season?
It's been a good year, but I've always been a slow starter. I was close in the majors this year, but not close enough, which was my biggest disappointment. Obviously, you try to win majors and play well there, but I've tried to get into the mental frame that every tournament is the same. A win is a win and it counts as a win, no matter what. I've also been working really hard on my putting and my short game. I've made putts when I've had to make them. I play with my heart, so I'm trying to enjoy it more. I've been very hard on myself for the last year and half because I want to get better. Sometimes I fight against myself.
You are an emotional player. Sometimes you even seem mad. Are you happy with where you are in your career?
Yes, I still feel like I have my best golf ahead. Every now and then, I get a glimpse of where I feel like I should be and that's inspiring. I feel like I should have five or six solid years ahead of me.
Last year, you had six runner-up finishes. Did that drive you crazy or make you more patient?
If I look at 2010 and 2011, I was very happy with how the 2010 season ended up and yet I didn't have any wins. That was disappointing, but sometimes I got outplayed on a Sunday even though I had played well. Other times, I was playing catch-up and didn't quite get it done. This year, I've won three times [2 LPGA, 1 LET wins] and had a couple of close ones. While I'm happy about the wins this year, what I'm looking for is consistency. I look at 2010 as probably the most consistent year that I've had.
Do the runner-up finishes make you more appreciative of the wins?
Kind of, because you know it's harder to win. I'm not going to say that Annika and Karrie Webbie had an easier time at their peak, but today, the LPGA's depth is deeper, which makes Yani's performance even more impressive this year.
It's hard to believe that you have been out here for 10 years in 2012. Has it gone by quickly or slowly?
It feels like it has gone by quickly, but now when I see all of these young girls coming up, I feel like I have been here forever. I'm 30 and feel old compared to them.
How do you think you have matured as a player?
I think I have matured in the right way. I've had great tutors and people around me. I'm still learning and I'm always looking to have people around me who know more than me. That's what I really appreciate about [swing coach] David Leabetter because with him, it's never the same lesson every time. I ask for something and I'll get an answer. I can keep digging in his head. That's what has developed my mind and my skills and makes me want to do it even more.
Do you think you are more like Annika Sorenstam in the way you approach the game?
I'm pretty disciplined and structured in the way I work and the way I approach the game, but at the same time, I feel like I'm a lot more of a "feel" player. While you have to play with the basics, I feel like you also have to play with your best instincts.
You have emerged as a new leader of the European Solheim Cup team. How do you feel about that?
Ali Niola has tried to say that too. At the Solheim Cup, she would say, 'Can you talk to the team, because you never give up?' And she would ask, 'What makes you never give up?' And I would say, 'Because I hate to lose.' I don't take credit for our win, but if there is one thing I've showed them in Solheim Cup play, it's that it ain't over until it's over. Ali has become a good friend. I was walking to the first tee for the singles and I kind of knew what might come down on Sunday. Ali said to me, 'You were born to do this. Just love it! This is what you are good at.' She kept saying that and she made me believe it. It was a very good atmosphere with the European team. There are no big egos on our team and if anybody tries, they get it knocked down. That's not how our team runs. I think Laura avie is great. She might not stand up and have a structured speech, but if she feels something, she will say it in her way and you certainly appreciate it as a player.
Is there a European player who really had an influence on you?
I think it was Annika orentam. First of all, she was my biggest role model when I grew up. And then I came out here, got to know her, started playing in Solheim Cups and was able to team up with her. I witnessed her great mind and saw her mindset in golf and learned how she worked. She told me a lot of good stuff that I really appreciated when I was a young player on the Solheim Cup team and I have been able to share some of it with the young players on our team. I'll never forget the first time we played in Barseback ween. I was sooo nervous! When I heard that I was paired with Annika, I was like, 'Why does she want to play with me? Why me? I don't get it.' And someone said, 'Why do you think she wants to play with you?' And then this year, people said it was going to be great for me to play with Caroline Hedwall. Hey, she's good and she knows her stuff. If she doesn't feel comfortable, she'll tell me. It's important that you let good players play their game. Every now and then, maybe you can offer some good advice and reach out a bit.
Were you comfortable moving into a leadership role, getting in their faces and saying, "We need this point?"
Yes, because I'd had it done to me. You always forget exactly what people tell you. You forget what you talked about, but you'll never forget the feeling you had when somebody helped you or made you feel good. That's something that sticks in my mind. Ali even Tweeted in this year's Solheim Cup that 'These are memories we'll have forever.' The feeling of it was something you just don't get in a regular golf tournament.
You seem so passionate about this game.
Yes, I really love the game of golf. I love the history of golf and everything about it and I love watching the game. I think you grow with it. It's bigger than all of us.
This year was difficult around the world. How did the terrorist attacks in Oslo, Norway affect you?
It's sad to say that something like that has to happen for you to realize and put things in perspective and look at life a bit differently. It shouldn't take those situations to realize that golf is just a game. When you are in it, it feels like it is life or death, but at the end of the day, it's not. The older you get, the more you realize certain stuff. I used to say that golf was my life. Now, I say that golf is a part of my life, because there is so much more to it. Now, my brother has kids and I see the joy and excitement from the kids. They don't care how I play. They are just happy to see me. I'm trying to put that more into my game and not be so hard on myself. I'm trying to be more relaxed on the course. Fans tell me to smile more, and I am trying. It's something I'm really working on.
You also lost a close friend this year in a skydiving accident. How did you deal with that while you were trying to play?
It's hard, but at the same time, if you miss a shot by two yards on the golf course, does it really matter? In one way, it makes you want it more. But now, whenever I'm on the course, I'm on the course, and when I'm off the course, I'm not thinking about golf. Just like in golf, when you've lost a point or a shot, it's behind you. You move on. You just keep going.
Many people first met you as a fiery young pro who accidentally dropped a curse word on national TV. How are you different now from that young pro?
I just got more experienced and more grounded. I feel like I know who I am. People say that inient probably gave the rest of the world a statement of who I am - sort of like, 'Welcome to the golf world.' I learned a lot from it.
You are hard on yourself. Where does that fieriness come from?
It's hard to say, but being the youngest of three, especially with two older brothers, maybe that's where it comes from. It still is like that. Whenever we talk, it's still about who's done this or that, or who found something first.
Away from golf, what do you like to do?
I'm a sports freak -- a real sports idiot, I would say. I love downhill skiing, and cross- country skiing is great. I am useless in snowboarding.
How much time do you spend in Norway?
The older you get, the more you appreciate the time you can spend with your family. I go home as often as I can, and I always go to Norway at Christmas. But I also live in Florida and I think it's great over here. I love being here when I'm here, and don't really miss Norway, but when I'm in Norway, I don't really miss America.
If you weren't in the LPGA, what would you be?
Maybe a skier. And if not something in sports, maybe I would be a physical therapist.
What do you want people around the world to know about Suzann Pettersen?
[Long pause] I want them to know that I have a huge heart and that I don't take myself very seriously. On the golf course, I do. My caddie says I'm tough on the golf course, but nice off the golf course. I'm a very relaxed person off the golf course. I'm trying to implement that more in my game, but at the same time, I want people to remember me as the best golfer in the world.
- LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey
Tomorrow will be part four of the series where we take a look Ai Miyazato.