One of the hard parts of being Solheim Cup captain is that you are trying to get 12 women who compete in an individual sport all year to show up and play their hearts out for one week in a team environment. Believe me, that’s not an easy transition for the players and it’s the captain’s job to make it go as smoothly as possible.
In almost all tournaments, it is you against the field. But not only is the Solheim Cup team play, it is also match play. And, unlike stroke play, match play is personal. It is me against you, or me and my partner against you and your partner. And if you lose, you feel like you’ve let down not only your 11 teammates but also your entire country.
Some players make that adjustment to a team mentality easier than others, especially those who have had experience in team sports, like basketball or lacrosse. Some find that re-programming their brain is not a simple task. It’s part of my job to get the players thinking “we” instead of “me.”
That’s why after the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship at Lake Merced near San Francisco, I had 15 players stay over for a day of team-building exercises. After a week off during the Masters, they had just gone from the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii to the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open in Los Angeles to Lake Merced, which is a very difficult golf course. The last thing they needed was more golf.
They needed to get together and get to know each other and have some fun. So, my assistant captains and I set up a segway tour of San Francisco, which was a hoot and, even better, no one got hurt. And we had a scavenger hunt for big kids. None of this involved any travel; just stay over for one more day. Then they had two weeks off before the next tournament so it was the perfect time to do this.
These are the memories I want to build for them: Doing things together, being in things together, laughing with each other and trusting each other. The scavenger hunt was in the Fisherman’s Wharf area and we had four teams of four – the 15 players I invited, Nancy Lopez, Wendy Ward and me. Then we ended up the day having a dinner together. It was perfect.
This will likely be the only team-building thing we do before the Solheim Cup. The LPGA schedule is full between now and when the team is finalized after the CP Women’s Open. I’ll have some dinners with small groups and I’ll go to the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational to see who plays with who and how they pair together. But no more big group things.
The process this time has been a little more stressful than in the past, maybe because it’s my third straight time doing this. And it gets more stressful as you go along. I know that I’m going to have some difficult captain’s picks this year, especially since there are only two picks.
But everything will fall into place. It always does. I’m encouraging them to play hard and make the top eight that qualify automatically. I want to take the best team I can to Gleneagles in Scotland this September. And I want all of the players to feel like they tried their hardest to make the squad that will represent the United States.
One of the reasons being captain gets stressful for me as things go along is because I know what’s waiting for me in a couple of months. If it’s not the hardest part of the job – which it might be – the most agonizing part of the job is making those captain’s picks.
I hate letting people down. Maybe that’s why playing in the Solheim Cup fit my mindset so well. It’s just who I am. But I’m going to have to decide who makes the team and who doesn’t and there are always more players who deserve to be on the squad than you have room for.
And there are always one or two people who are right on the edge and you have to say to them, “Hey, thanks for coming to the team-building stuff and doing everything I asked, but you didn’t make the team.” I hate that part of the job.
And maybe that’s another reason why these team-building exercises are so important to me. The Solheim Cup is all about the players, and I want to make it a great experience for all of them, even those who don’t make the team. I want them to feel like they gave their all and were fully considered.
The Solheim Cup is a truly unique experience: It’s different than the way golfers are used to competing. If a segway tour and a scavenger hunt can get us ready to compete against Europe – go for it. If not, at least we had a lot of laughs.