Levity, or gravitas? Setting the tone can be a headache for a team captain and knowing your players is vital. Keen to ‘stop the rot’, which some believe is threatening to set in, following successive Solheim Cup defeats, America’s current captain, Juli Inkster (right), has enforced a “strictly business” attitude to events in Heidelberg this week.
Though she would not have the atmosphere in the American team room resemble that of a holy shrine, there is no place for the kind of adolescent indulgence that has characterised recent American campaigns. “I just think we are all grown women,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of grown women with face paint on. I want to get back to playing golf. They can have fun and can do their nails and whatever, but I would like us to play golf and get back to basics. I think they were all OK with it. It’s a different group, so we’re doing fine.”
Whether or not red, white and blue nail polish will adorn the fairways at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club remains to be seen. However, team members Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas confirmed that American flag face paint seems unlikely to make an appearance this time around: “I think everybody’s grown up,” Lewis said. “Hopefully everybody is past all the tattoos and the face paint and all that… We’re not here to pump up the crowds and do all that, we’re here to win this thing.”
"I think Juli said no more of this rah-rah stuff,” Salas said. “And I was, like, OK, we're not cheerleaders, so none of that face paint or none of those tattoos. It's definitely toned down quite a bit since the first Solheim I was at. And I think it's a lot of excess energy that's used on… where do I put this tattoo or does this ribbon match this outfit? None of that. We go out and handle our business and play the best golf it that we can. And I think it's working."
In sharp contrast, there will no doubt be plenty of laughter in the European team room. This will not be down to an edict from captain, Carin Koch (left). but the inevitable consequence of Charley Hull’s presence. Suzann Petterson, making her eighth appearance in the biennial matchplay event, is convinced that the infusion of Hull’s infectious youthful energy and enthusiasm two years ago in Colorado was a key factor in Europe’s first retention of the trophy. She regards Hull as a unique character whose ‘presence’ acts as a team-bonding agent.
“You have no idea what world Charley lives in from day to day. It changes so much and it’s a totally different planet to the rest of us. It gives us all a very good laugh. I think she’s just trying to be herself, but for the rest of us it’s so unreal that it cracks us up every time something comes out of her mouth. She’s fun to be around. I just wish I was that age again.”
The sense of team spirit that European teams seem to generate has been a source of much Ryder Cup debate and should the Americans need to ‘lighten up a tad’ they can always take a look at the tapes of Charley’s media conferences.
Last time around she shared a room with her elder sister. “This time I’m by myself… Last time my sister rode in the night before at like four in the morning and, like, woke me up because she was, like, drinking. She’s 10 years older. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ She was, like, ‘I’m just coming in from my party.’ I’m like, ‘OK, you do know I’ve got a big game tomorrow?’ She’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’ She cracks me up.
“For instance, last year I missed a three-foot putt on the last hole that put me one behind the lead. She was like, ‘That was rubbish. I’m wearing flip flops and I could have holed-that.’ She hasn’t got much clue about golf, but it’s quite funny when she watches. She’s actually like an older version of me.”
Teenager Hull – Charley turned 19 this spring – might have something of a chaotic streak in her personality, but she has become a force to be reckoned with out on the course and starts her second appearance in the competition as a lot more than a team mascot.
Hull (left) arrived in Colorado two years ago as pretty much an unknown, but those few days catapulted her to stardom and she quickly had to kiss goodbye to her anonymity. At the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, she said, “I walked outside the cubicle and someone asked me for my autograph. I said, ‘Yes, but could I just wash my hands first?’ That was quite funny.”
Speaking about her Solheim Cup experience, she said. “Even now I always get, ‘You were great at the Solheim’. I think it gave me a big boost of confidence as well, plus a lot of people definitely know me because of that. I’m quite grateful because it really set the standards for me. I felt more comfortable knowing that I can beat some of the best players in the world. Everyone figured out that I was pretty good after that instead of people doubting me, if you know what I’m saying.”
Her record reinforces that fact. Charley achieved no less than five consecutive second places at the outset of her pro career and followed that up last year, in only her second season, with her first victory and the Order of Merit crown on the Ladies European Tour. A second win has yet to materialise, but she knows that her game is still a work in progress at this stage in her development and she is not at all bothered.
“I said to my dad when I was about 14, ‘I’m not going to bother too much until I’m 21’. So, I’m still working on stuff,” she explained. “Everything has been a bonus. I’m just trying to feel comfortable, starting new gym stuff, new caddie, just ticking off things. I’m happy and still going in the right direction. I only turned 19 in March. You are only a teenager once. I always said I wouldn’t go full-time to America until I was older. I will have 20, 30 years playing golf. I still want to enjoy life.”