It was 2003, and the U.S. and European teams met at Barseback Golf and Country Club in Sweden for the eighth playing of the event.
Day-one of the tournament exhibited superior shot-making skills from both sides, leaving just a narrow one-point gap with the European’s in the lead. The next day, the home team won three of four points in the morning foursome matches and capitalized on the uncharacteristic struggles the U.S. team faced in the afternoon rounds. They earned two crucial points to take a 9-1/2 to 6-1/2 lead heading into the final four-ball match.
American’s Laura Diaz and Kelly Robbins were challenged by Suzann Pettersen and then-World No. 1 Annika Sorenstam Saturday afternoon. It came down to the final two holes with Diaz and Robbins needing only to card a birdie on No. 17 to seal the win. But the putt did not fall, opening the door for Sorenstam to sink a lengthy 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe to even out the match.
The pressure was on Pettersen as she lined up a birdie putt from ten-feet on the 18th hole that would give Europe the final point of the day. And sure enough, it fell in.
“It was absolutely magical,” said Pettersen. “Getting to play alongside the World No. 1 and our match being the turning point for the Europeans is one of my absolute highlights from any Solheim Cup I’ve played in. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Following the match, Pettersen earned high praises from Sorenstam.
“I think our games are very similar, and I do believe we think alike on the golf course,” said Sorenstam in a press conference following their match. “We complemented each other really well today. We didn't hit it maybe our best. When we needed to, we made a putt or when we needed to, we hit it close. It was a good combination.”
Even ten years later, Diaz recalls the intensity of the match and the day Pettersen’s competitiveness had reached a new level.
“I remember that match like it was yesterday,” said Diaz, who is this year’s assistant captain for the U.S. Solheim Cup Team. “I know that match has been mentioned many times as one of the best in Solheim Cup history. Annika and Suzann were perfect partners. Suzann is such an intense player, very talented and impressive.”
A seed was planted in Pettersen that day and The Solheim Cup quickly became the Norwegian’s favorite event as a professional golfer. With her spectacular play since the 2011 Solheim Cup, Pettersen is a lock for this year’s team, making this her seventh appearance on the European team since 2002. She boasts a 12-8-5 record and has played an integral role on three victorious European teams.
“Solheim Cup has become my favorite event and it has definitely had a huge impact on my career,” said Pettersen. “I can look back at so many great memories and friendships with my teammates. It’s more than just a competition to me.”
The dynamics of each team seem to have shifted over the years as young players have emerged on Tour and put themselves in the race for coveted spots on the teams. Veterans are charged with the task of easing the rookies into the most pressure-packed event on the LPGA Tour schedule.
Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, who is in the mix for a European spot on this year’s team, says there isn’t a veteran more willing to handle this task than Pettersen.
“With a bit of new generation of players coming up and making the team, Suzann’s knowledge, talent, experience and leadership will be very important for the Europeans,” said Nordqvist. “She is a great leader, really takes the rookies under her wing. I didn’t know Suzann very well before I played in my first Solheim Cup in 2009, but she has a great sense of humor and an ability to make everyone feel comfortable and feel a part of the team.”
Since the first playing of the Solhiem Cup in 1990, USA has been the dominate team with eight victories while Europe only has four. This year, the European team will attempt to do what no other team has been able to accomplish: win on American soil.
With a team likely to exude enthusiasm through it veterans and young guns, Pettersen has all the confidence that this could be a historic year for the Europeans.
“To try and do something that's never been done before is a huge challenge,” said Pettersen. “But I think we will have a team that is hungry and full of spirit to take on that challenge. Obviously, the American team will be the favorite on home soil, but we are coming off a sweet victory in 2011 at Kileen’s Castle. I think we can do it.”