Do whatever it takes to keep Juli Inkster from walking away
After that unforgettable Solheim Cup finish Sunday in Scotland, there was some bad news.
Suzann Pettersen won’t be alone riding off into the sunset as she retires from tour golf.
Juli Inkster said she won’t be back as the U.S. Solheim Cup captain.
Yes, Inkster said the same thing after the American victory in Iowa two years ago, but she sounded as if she really meant it after Sunday’s finish.
“No, no, no,” Inkster said, when asked if she would return for a fourth time as captain. “I’m not even getting on that call.”
So, apparently, it is time the LPGA forms a Solheim Cup task force. It’s time LPGA commissioner Mike Whan brings together the best and the brightest in American women’s golf to figure out how to change Inkster’s mind.
Forget about that call Inkster won’t take. Whan ought to fly the entire task force to Inkster’s doorstep to plead their case.
Inkster’s unprecedented three terms as U.S. captain did wonders for the Solheim Cup. She was more than the honorable face of American women’s golf. She was a terrific boost to the Solheim Cup brand.
All that time the U.S. Ryder Cup task force put into formulating a new model for team leadership won’t be required. Inkster is the American Solheim Cup team construct. She is the shining example of how the leadership role ought to be carried out.
“We have Bill Belichick on Team USA,” Whan said when he announced Inkster as captain for the third time. “We have one of the best captains in history.”
That still rings true today.
Inkster showed the Americans how to win as a real team in victories in Germany and Iowa, and she showed them how to lose as a real team in Scotland. She showed them how to conduct themselves in a way that makes American fans proud no matter the final score.
Inkster did so by reinventing the American team construct in her own image over the last six years.
Television analyst and former American Solheim Cup star Dottie Pepper worried about the direction of the American game after Europe routed the United States 18-10 in record-breaking fashion in Colorado six years ago. She worried about the “entitlement and competitive softness” she was seeing, about Americans “getting outplayed by golfers who have placed substance over style and simply want it more.”
Pepper loved what Inkster brought to the American team.
Inkster never really had to lay down a new law when she took over.
She just showed her young players how to conduct themselves.
Smart, tough and personable, with a heavy dose of good humor, Inkster showed young American women how she won 31 LPGA titles, seven majors and had a ton of fun making friends along the way.
We saw Inkster do that yet again last week, with American players once more abandoning their stiletto heels in the Solheim Cup opening ceremony for Inkster’s favored, old-school, Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes.
Those shoes ought to be added to Inkster’s exhibit at the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Cristie Kerr didn’t make this last team, but her words from after the Iowa victory still resonate today.
“Juli said something that really hit home for me,” Kerr said. “She said it in Germany, and she said it in Iowa: You play for the person in front of you. You play for the person behind you. It’s not about your individual records. It’s for the team. It’s amazing how hard you can pull for each other when you have that mentality.”
It should be noted here that Scotland’s Catriona Matthew inspired the European effort as captain the last two years. Like Inkster, she leads by example, and she set a terrific one at Gleneagles. It won’t be a stunner if she earns the chance to repeat in Toledo, Ohio, in two years.
If Inkster really is done, her wishes have to be honored and respected, but if I’m Whan, I’m looking to do whatever it takes to change her mind again. I wrote this last year, and I’ll repeat it here: I would expand the U.S. Solheim Cup captain’s role to a larger Captain America role. I would expand that to include an ambassador’s role with LPGA-U.S. Girls’ Golf, to unite that effort with The First Tee, Augusta National, the PGA of America and PGA Tour efforts to bolster youth golf. I would get Inkster to oversee a new, united American development model for guiding girls through the game.
“It’s my job to bring fun back to the Solheim Cup,” Inkster said when she first took over the captain’s role.
That’s a job the LPGA could expand to all of American women’s and girls’ golf.