Pushing your luck is never a good idea but Suzann Pettersen loves a challenge and she’s determined to successfully defend the €350,000 Ladies Irish Open title at Killeen Castle over the next three days.
The 31-year old Norwegian will begin her defence alongside Irish amateur Leona Maguire and Solheim Cup team mate Sophie Gustafson of Sweden at the Jack Nicklaus designed course near Dunsany in County Meath this morning.
Like someone returning to a place that holds happy memories, she was apprehensive at first about coming back to Ireland for the third time in 12 months.
Having romped to a six-stroke win last year thanks to weekend rounds of 63 and 64 and then birdied the last three holes to beat Michelle Wie in the Solhiem Cup singles and inspire a winning European fightback last September, she wondered briefly if returning was such a good idea.
Perish the thought. There’s no looking back. A competitive fire burns fiercely inside Pettersen and she’s looking forward, not just to this week but to September’s British Open and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Those who believe that professional golfers will be indifferent to the game’s return to the Olympic family can think again. Having spent a few days watching the action on site in London, 2016 can’t come soon enough for the world number six.
“People like Roger Federer are all saying that it is the most special feeling that there is. What’s better than the Olympics, when you are a top athlete and you compete in one of the biggest sports in the world? To compete for a medal is quite special.
“It’s different because golf has a lot of history and a lot of prestige in itself but the Olympics has such great values. That is what you compete for. You put money and rankings aside and just perform and compete for the true passion you have for what you do.”
The men’s and women’s competitions in Rio are likely to be strokeplay affairs and that’s fine by Pettersen, who sees no reason to look for a different format for the games.
“I think golf should be played as strokeplay,” she said. “That’s the original format of our game so that would be fine by me.”
As for the thought that the highly paid, pampered stars would run a mile if they were asked to stay in the Olympic Village and share a room with a team mate, she added: “I’m usually pretty individual but I have some friends competing and they are all raving about the Olympic Village and the feel and the atmosphere amongst the athletes.
“I’m dying to get a feel for it. Would I stay in the Village? We’ll see. But I will definitely want to experience all aspects of being an Olympian.”
For the second year running, Pettersen will go into the Irish Open without a practice round. Why mess with a winning formula having followed a opening 71 last year with a course record 63 on Saturday and a closing 64 to win in a canter on 18 under par.
“It’s my third time here in 12 months. Gotta love Dunboyne Castle and Killeen Castle!” she said with a grin at the luxury hotel yesterday. “I have a lot of great feelings about this course. I’m not sure why.
“I usually like to prepare and feel ready but last year I just threw myself into it and enjoyed every single second of it, so we’ll see.
“You know what, I am happy to be back and hopefully I can build on the memories I have from last year and keep the momentum going. When you come to defend, you mean defend, right?”
Carlow’s Rebecca Codd, 53rd in the Order of Merit, heads a five-strong Irish contingent that also features fellow professionals Danielle McVeigh and Tara Delaney and the 17-year old twin amateurs from Slieve Russell, Lisa and Leona Maguire.
Leona has been handed a plum draw alongside Pettersen and four-time Irish Open champion Sophie Gustafson of Sweden, who is one of six of the winning Solheim Cup side in action alongside Britain’s Laura Davies, Melissa Reid, Catriona Matthew and Karen Stupples.
Like Pettersen, she too is dreaming of Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, where she hopes to compete for Ireland as a professional, hopefully with her sister in tow.
“It’s everyone’s dream to win an Olympic medal and the Games are the pinnacle for any athlete,” Leona said. “It’s what you aspire to growing up because winning an Olympic medal would say you are pretty much the best in the world.”
Top athletes love a challenge, which is why Pettersen didn’t shrink away when “ESPN The Magazine” asked her to pose nude in its recently published Body Issue featuring some of the biggest names in US sport.
“I feel very fortunate that they came to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it,” she says with a shrug. “Been there, done that.
“The reaction I’ve had has been great. Really positive. Posing naked was never on my wish list but is not really naked. It is as natural and atheltic as you can get. I am happy I did it.”