Appearing with Matt Adams on his program “Fairways of Life,” this week, U.S. Solheim Cup team captain and major champion Pat Hurst spoke openly about many topics, including the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the emotional support she has attempted to provide players in recent months.
“All the players are playing really well right now,” Hurst said of what she’s seen recently from the best Americans in the women’s game. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch them play and grow. They’re coming into their own and playing some really good golf. I just hope it keeps going until September.
“It’s going to be tough when I have to make my picks because everyone is playing well.”
The conversation with Adams covered a myriad of topics, not the least of which was the last Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland where the U.S. narrowly lost to Europe in one of the most thrilling finishes in the game’s history.
“It will go down as one of the best Sundays ever,” Hurst said. “Right now, it is the best Sunday that has ever been played at Solheim. It could have gone either way. Everybody played well on both sides. For Suzann (Pettersen) to make that last putt and retire immediately afterward, it was a Cinderella story.”
Hurst was also philosophical about the Solheim Cup and its impact on the game. “It’s about making memories that will last a lifetime and showcasing the best of women’s golf from Europe and the United States. We all can stand proud,” she said. “I wouldn’t give this up for anything. It’s the best thing in the world.”
But Hurst, who was an assistant captain for Juli Inkster in three previous Solheim Cups, also revealed one of the most important strategic points she plans to implement.
“We are using the pod system again,” Hurst said, referring to the team concept designed by Paul Azinger at the 2008 Ryder Cup.
It’s easy to forget that, in the Ryder Cup between 1985 and 2006, Europe won seven matches to the United States’ three with one draw and embarrassed the Americans in the two Ryder Cups leading up to 2008. But for the largest final-day comeback in history by the Americans in 1999, the miracle at Brookline, Europeans would have (and perhaps should have) won six in a row. Things were so askew with American Ryder Cup teams that the Associated Press wrote, “Let’s have no more talk about the Americans having the best players, the most major championships, the strongest team. They are now the underdogs in this every-other-year matchup, unable to compete with the camaraderie, creativity, or fearlessness of their European counterparts.”
Azinger had played on enough teams to know that the captain’s role was limited. But then he had an epiphany in his living room.
“Lying on my couch with my shoes off, I sipped sweet iced tea and watched a show about Gibson guitars on the Discovery Channel,” Azinger said. “When the show ended, I was too lazy to hunt for the remote, so I started watching a documentary on how the navy turns raw recruits into SEALs, the most effective and feared fighting force ever assembled. Between segments on special weapons and tactics training and ‘drown-proofing’ the recruits, one of the officers said, ‘We break the men into small groups. That’s the core. Those guys eat, sleep and train together until they know what the others are thinking. Every man knows what his fellow SEAL is going to do before he does it. They bond with each other in a way you can’t understand if you’ve never been there.’
“Military experts knew that in the heat of battle you couldn’t get a battalion or a company to gel as a single fighting unit,” Azinger said. “The numbers are too big. But you can get three, four, five, maybe as many as six guys to lay everything on the line for the men beside them. Small groups – men who ate, slept, trained, hung out, and sometimes fought together – were the key to military success.
“At that moment, I thought it could be the key to America’s Ryder Cup woes as well.”
Azinger broke down the 12-man U.S. Ryder Cup team into three, four-person pods based on personality profiles. He then wrote a book about it called “Cracking the Code.”
One of the most devoted disciples of that book was Juli Inkster.
In six years, through three Solheim Cups, Inkster only went away from the pod system one time, on Saturday at Gleneagles. The pods she broke up lost. And Europe won the Solheim Cup by half a point.
Hurst understands that and plans to take it one step further. “We’re doing it a little bit different in that we’re doing a behavioral profile on the girls,” Hurst said. “It’s how you behave on the golf course and off the golf course. It’s not about, ‘I’m going to adapt to you.’ It’s about understanding each other.
“So, that’s what we’re going to do.”