Annika Sorenstam has played in two winning Solheim Cup teams – this week at Killeen Castle she is an Assistant Captain and is determined to help Europe reclaim the trophy for the first time since 2003.
The overall score stands 8-3 in USA’s favour, and Sweden’s former world No.1 doesn’t want the gap to grow any larger.
“It is important that Europe wins,” said the 40-year-old mother of two. “A lot of the matches have been very close, but the US has still won eight out of 11.
“It would be a huge boost for Europe to win and it would be great to then look forward to the US in two years’ time. We are all very competitive and there is nothing like winning.”
As to her new role this week, Sorenstam is settling in nicely. “I missed the Solheim and it is great to be here again and soaking up the atmosphere,” she said. “I was honoured to be asked to be an Assistant.
“Alison (Nicholas) is doing a great job as Captain and the European team is looking very good. Everybody is a key player. They all have to play and it doesn’t matter who wins the points as long as we get them.”
As one of the greatest players in the game’s history, the ten time major winner did admit that she has had to be careful not to overload the younger players with information.
“I made a lot of mistakes when I was a rookie and sometimes you do want to suggest things but you also don’t want to interfere too much,” she said. “It’s made me realise that I will have to remember that with my kids. Support them in sport but not push them too much.”
Sorenstam and her American husband, Mike McGhee, live in Florida with their two children, two-year-old Ava and Will, who was born in March.
As to the future, Sorenstam, who played in eight Solheims and was in the winning teams in 2000 and 2003, would be keen to be a Cup Captain.
“I would like it,” she said. “But that decision is not up to me so we will have to wait and see.”
But after 24 months away from golf having retired to start and raise a family, Annika Sorenstam is loving being back on European duty at the Solheim Cup.
The first time assistant captain to Alison Nicholas for the European team this week, she's the all‑time points leader in Solheim Cup history with 24 points for the European team, and made eight appearances as a player, from '94 to 2007 and boasted a 22‑11‑4 record.
Here's the full interview:
So Annika, it's great to have you here. How different is it this time being an assistant captain to being a player?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: First of all, it's great to be here. I've missed the Solheim the last time, so certainly great to be back in this atmosphere. It is different to be ‑‑ not to bring the clubs and not to be playing. Kind of been dealing with that the last two days, but I'm certainly happy to be here and just be part of it.
I was so honored when Alison asked me to be the assistant captain. So I'm doing everything from making sure the food is ready and warm, to looking at the pairings, to the golf course, so it's been a really busy week so far.
Q: How do you rate the European team? How's it shaping up?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I think it's looking good. I love the way they're playing. I love kind of the atmosphere that we got. I just think it's a great team, and Alison is doing a great job to put everybody together, and certainly with the caddies there are some fun laughs the last few days.
Q. Is it difficult or easy to discuss the pairings? Is it a given deal or is it very difficult to put the pairs?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: It's very hard. You know, as a player you think it's really easy especially when you play well. You all want to play. And as you all know it's only eight players in the morning and eight players in the afternoon. It's really hard to find good combinations.
I do think we have great combinations, but who is going to be the best? One day you have some thoughts and the next day you have some other thoughts. You know, we're taking a lot of notes, and it's not as easy as you might think.
Everybody has an opinion, and you're trying to put them all together. But in the end there is Alison and kind of what she feels and kind of her gut feeling that matters.
Q. Who would you say are the key players on the European team this year?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: The key players? I keep saying, you've heard it before, everybody's a key player. Everybody's going to play, every point is important. I think that everybody needs a point and a half to do it. It really doesn't matter who it is.
I'm not going to single anybody out. We all have the world rankings. We all have the money list. We all know who has won this year and who hasn't. But once you come together and you play match play, you play four ball and a foursome, it really puts a whole different spin to it.
I'm not going to single anybody out. You know who the top players are, but we've got to do it as a team.
Q. How important do you think the mental game will be this week?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: The mental game? Well, it's just like any other golf tournament. You've got to be strong mentally. For some of these players, the first time they're playing in such a format. There is a lot of p perform well. Especially if you've been selected as a captain's pick, you really want to show them, hey, I'm here for the right reasons. So the mental aspect of the game is always an important part.
Q. One potential problem that I see is they may be trying too hard. Do you do anything with them to help them relax that a little bit more?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Yeah, we're trying. We're trying to have some fun on the golf course. We're trying to have some fun in the evenings. The key really is to include everybody and make them feel like they're part of the team.
Again, I think the winning teams in the past have always had a good kind of team spirit. Everybody's been very positive, and I think that's really what we can try to do on our side.
Q. Which side shone more at last night's dinner?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I'm sorry?
Q. Which side shone more in terms of how they looked at last night's dinner?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: You mean how they were dressed? You know what I'm going to say (laughing). I thought we were styling. What can I say? I mean it depends on what party you were going to.
Q. So how do you make this team spirit? How do you make that the best you can during a week like this?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, it starts with the captain, and it just kind of funnels down, her approach, her attitude, the things that she's bringing into the team. You know, Alison has done a wonderful job as far as collecting information, inspirational videos from other captains, other players, fun games in the playroom, mixing players and caddies together, keeping kind of light and fun.
Then, obviously, it's business when you come here. This is where we prepare. This is where we get ready. But in the player locker room and everything around, we're just trying to have fun and let people be who they are.
You can't just force everybody together as a team and tell them instructions of what they've got to do for five days and think they're going to play good golf. You have to let them be individuals and prepare the way they normally do so they can feel comfortable.
Q. You've got a lot of experience on the team, and you've got a lot of rookies there. How important is it to get the start, to actually get people ‑‑ your experienced players maybe out early, get them building momentum and get the crowd behind you and so on?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Yeah, that sounds very logical. I think that's what we are trying to do. We want to get off to a good start. We want to get off to a strong showing. Again, that's our goal.
We have veterans that we're going to play, and we have rookies that we're going to play. You just have to find the right combinations. Again, it's not an easy thing. It sounds so easy, but when you sit and look at the pairings and look at the course and the weather and everything, it's a little bit tricky.
Q. Will you play everybody over the first two days or will it simply be a case of form?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, certainly a case of form. I think anybody would say that. I think experience matters also. So, I mean, we are set with the morning group. We feel really good about the morning group, and then we'll go from there.
Q. Sort of on the same theme. Do you think it's very important that Europe leads going into Sunday in the Americans obviously seem to do better in the singles. Have you talked about that or why do you think that is?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I think every captain on the European team brings the singles up. I've played eight times and you have Catrin is sitting right there. I'm sure she could give you some insights. That is certainly something we address every year.
The key to me is like any other golf tournament, you want to be leading all day long. If you're leading, then you just keep on cruising, so I wouldn't think this is any anything different. I don't think anybody wants to be trailing anybody.
The sooner you get a point, the better and just stay in front. So whether it's after foursomes, after four ball, you know, going into singles, the more points, the better.
Q. We saw it in the Junior Solheim Cup this week, we see it in the Ryder Cup, we saw it in the Walker Cup, unless I'm mistaken, the Americans always seem to do better at singles. Why is that?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, I think you look at history, yeah, you would say so. But in pressure on some of them, and t our minds we don't look at it that way. We have to look at it another way. We have to look at it as we're individuals as well and we can play singles.
You look at the European Tour players, a lot of them play in the U.S., they play by themselves most of the time, and they've beaten most of the U.S. players. So why can't they do it this year? That's just the attitude we have to have.
We can't look backwards. We have to look forward. We have to be positive, so that's the mindset that we have.
Q. Is there anything positive you can do to boost that mindset sort of in denial of the results of such?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I wouldn't say we're in denial. I just think thinking positive. I believe in thinking ahead. I believe in anything is possible. I know a lot of our players have beaten some of the U.S. players individually this year, so why can't it happen here in Ireland here at Killeen Castle? There is nothing that stops us.
It's not about being in denial, it's just thinking, hey, anything is possible, and this is the week that it will happen.
Q. It's all been very friendly and cordial to now. When does that stop? When does the war paint go on?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, I wouldn't use those hard words. We're just very competitive, and it's fun to be here, and we all want to play well. So I think on the outside it's friendly, but I would say on the inside it is too.
It's very competitive, but I think we're done with all the kind of gamesmanship. In the end, sportsmanship will win this week, and women's golf will be the winner. I'm sure you've heard that before, but I think that's the goal from everybody.
Q. How important for the competition is it that Europe wins this week?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, I'm a strong believer that I do think it's important that Europe wins. We have played 11 times. Europe has won three in the USA. I think for any competition, you want to see a little bit more of an even score.
However, having said that, if you look at each year or every other year, the scores are a lot closer ‑‑ the competition has been a lot closer than maybe the score says. I just think it's good for European golf for the women to win here. I just think it will boost it going to the U.S. in two years.
Of course, being part of the team again, there's nothing like winning. That's why we're here. We're here to have fun, of course. But as a winner, we all want to win.
Q. Can a good captain's speech affect the outcome? Can inspiring words make a difference or does talent ultimately rule?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I think this week is a combination of everything. One speech directly to a team player could inspire them, it could take some doubts out of their minds. It can build the confidence, absolutely.
I do think that it's the whole week together that matters. Of course you need to be hitting good shots, you need to make putts. We all know that.
But I think having the right head on the right shoulders and feeling comfortable ‑‑ just like anything. When you play any other week, you need to feel good. You need to like the golf course. You need to be swinging well, you need to be in a positive frame of mind. There is nothing different this week.
In the end, it's golf, and you've got to hit it from A to B in as few shots as possible.
Q. It must be a wonderful feeling for you to be back in the team environment. Had you forgotten how good it was? And do you see this being a training session for you being a captain some day in the near future?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: I must say I'm really enjoying myself this week. I've been away from competition, and I've been away from kind of the whole atmosphere for 24 months or something like that. It brings back some wonderful memories. There is no doubt about it. Especially walking here and talking to some of the players that I played with like Suzann or Catriona, or Sophie, and Laura. I mean, the conversation that they're having between themselves is the one that I used to have with them.
So I'm in a funny position, but I also think that I can add some value to that because I've been in that situation. Yes, it's fun to be part of the team again.
As far as the captaincy, time will tell. What the organization wants and what the players want. I've always felt like it was a great honor to represent Europe as a player and as a captain, so we'll see, I guess, is my answer.
Q. Without wishing to put you in an embarrassing position, is it something you want to, would like or yearn for?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Yeah, I would like, obviously, yeah. I would love to do it. I do see what it takes to be a captain this week. I think, again, Alison is doing a wonderful job.
As a player, you could kind of see it, but you really didn't see all the details. You show up here and everything is ready and you just go play. I've been part of this for 12 months. I was here 12 months ago, and we talked about all the logistics and the course and the clubhouse. So my mind has been on this week for a while.
Having said that, I don't know if I'm ready today or ready for next time by any means, and I know that there are other players that I think probably deserve to have this role as well. So it's out of my hands.
Q. In terms of your playing ability, obviously, you've been there, you've done it all yourself, a wonderful player. How difficult is it as a vice‑captain to watch these players and give them advice without actually sort of giving them too much advice, if you understand what I'm saying? You know how to experience the experiences that they've experienced, you know how to play the shots under pressure, and you see some of these rookies, to give them advice without overloading them with too much advice, if you understand what I'm saying.
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Yeah, you're kind of reading my mind or maybe seen how I've acted out there. I'm extremely competitive. You want to be there, you want to support them, and you want to help them. But as a previous player, it's so easy to say, well, this is what I would have done. Not that it really matters to them.
But then again, you want to help them as much as you can because you know what it takes. As a rookie, I made a lot of mistakes, and later in my career, I didn't make them. So you want to share with them, hey, don't make the same mistakes I did. If you do this, then you get this outcome instead.
I have to admit I have to juggle that back and forth and step away a little bit and look at it more from another perspective.
It's a good test for me. It certainly is. It just makes me think about being a mom and my kids playing sports down the road, that I've got to let them do it. Support them, but not do it for them.