Tough talk from skipper Alison Nicholas helped Suzann Pettersen become Europe’s inspirational match-winner and undisputed leader in September’s Solheim Cup victory at Killeen Castle.
The straight-talking Yorkshire woman was forced to put her foot down and tame star player Pettersen in the build up. And the Norwegian world No 2 responded by inspiring Europe’s rookies to a dramatic 15-13 win - their first since 2003 and only their fourth in 12 stagings.
Speaking at a celebratory Christmas lunch at the Meath venue yesterday, former US Open champion Nicholas revealed how she had to work hard to get Pettersen to play enough LET events to qualify automatically and avoid the need for a captain’s pick.
“To qualify automatically you had to play six events on the Ladies European Tour over a two-year period, Nicholas said. “Suzanne hadn’t done that so I was in discussion with her from March this year to try and get her to play in another event so I wouldn’t have to waste a pick on my best player. But she said she was having difficultly fitting it into her schedule - so she said anyway - so I had to put my foot down.
“In the end she played and won the Ladies Irish Open at Killeen Castle and then her pep talk to the rookies over the final 45 minutes in the singles proved to be crucial.”
Insiders believe that the way Nicholas forced Pettersen to toe the line earned her huge respect from the rest of the team.
The Norwegian superstar became the skipper’s on-course leader, rallying rookies Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Muñoz with a last minute pep talk during Sunday’s singles when the trio returned to the course in a buggy following a weather delay.
Nicholas revealed: “I had to ask Suzann some tough questions in the build up it worked out in the end. Look how she performed. What a leader she became to those two rookies.”
The score was tied at 12 ½- 12 ½ but the Americans were up in two of the three matches and looking good for their fourth victory in a row.
The matches hung in the balance and Pettersen, who was one down with three to play, ordered the buggy driver to stop as they headed back out to finish, telling her young colleagues: “I am going to win my point (and beat Michelle Wie).”
“Azahara then said she would win her point and Caroline said she’d get a half out of hers,” Nicholas recalled. “It was a key moment.”
Pettersen kept her word and birdied the last three holes to beat Wie on the 18th before Hedwall won the last two to snatch a half with a nervy Ryann O’Toole. Muñoz then completed the unlikely comeback with a match clinching birdie on the 17th and an eventual one hole win over Angela Stanford.
Nicholas said: “When Rosie Jones got a half with Laura Davies, I overheard her say it felt ‘better than sex.’ The Americans we’re all high-fiving down at the 16th and I think they believed they had it won. But I knew it wasn’t over and Suzann was just amazing. They were all amazing.”