Liselotte Neumann is a European legend. The 1988 US Women’s Open and 1994 Women’s British Open Champion, the Swede’s career included 13 LPGA victories and 11 wins on the Ladies’ European Tour.
The Solheim Cup – six times a player and a Junior Solheim Cup Captain – has a special place in her heart and she is determined to make history by leading a European team to victory for a first time on US soil. “It would be the topping on the cake,” she said.
As the start of play loomed closer, Neumann was ready to share some thoughts on the European bid for a place in the record books.
“That’s why I took on this job,” she said. “I like the challenge and trying to make some history here and become the first European team to win (in America).
“Obviously a lot of thought went into picking the team, trying to pick the right players. I tried to pick some young players, some sort of fearless players, some long hitters. Now it’s a case of finding the right combinations.
“I think that they all have a good feeling this week. The players that were on the team in 2011 have confidence. They won last time, why should we not win again?”
The Captain has various roles, but perhaps the most important is picking the partnerships. It’s a tough task.
“We rely quite a lot on the stats, but obviously it’s also a communication with the players and who they’re happy being out there alongside on the golf course,” Neumann continued.
“Both Suzann (Pettersen) and Catriona (Matthew) are stepping into the leadership role. They do have a lot of experience and I feel they have been really great with the other players. We have paired them up with some of the rookies. They know that they have the experience and so far they have really stepped into their position and they’re doing a good job. “
The players have pinpointed the form on the greens as the key to success this week and the European skipper jumped onto the bandwagon.
“These greens are some of the fastest greens I’ve ever seen,” she said. “We were down on No. 1 and we did the Stimpmeter test. It was rolling about 13, 13 and a half this morning. So that’s fast. So I don’t know if all the greens are like that, but they’re quick.”
Having played three Solheims in the States, Neumann appreciates that her rookies will find it tough on Friday morning on the first tee.
“But someone told me we’ve got about 30,000 Europeans coming over. So I’m pretty happy about that. We just hope that our fans are going to be loud and cheer us on,” she said. “I think for the rookies, or any player in a tournament like this, it’s just important just to really try and focus on your game, stay one shot at a time and don’t worry about what has happened.”
Charley Hull, the youngest ever Solheim Cupper at just 17, is one of the Neumann’s fearless newcomers.
“Charley was on my Junior Solheim Cup team two years ago in Ireland and she was very impressive at just 15,” said the Captain.
“She’s having a great year on the European Tour. She has five runner-up finishes and she shoots in the 60s about 30% of the time, which is sort of a good stat to look at. So it will be good for match play. She obviously can go low and she makes a lot of birdies.
“She has a great attitude. She doesn’t seem like she’s scared and she’s a great ball striker. I think this golf course fits her game well. I know she’s young, but so far she’s been handling herself great and she’s really enjoying it and having a good time.”
Neumann’s Vice-Captains are another two famous Swedes in Annika Sorenstam and Carin Koch.
“Both Annika and Carin have played on a lot of Solheim Cup teams together and it’s been good for us to being able to speak in Swedish here. We sneak off in a corner and we can chat. We don’t have to leave the room. We can have our little conversations together,” revealed Neumann.
“Annika is really into her stats and that’s been really helpful. She is keeping track on things and double checking on things so we make sure we don’t forget anything.
“All three of us have pretty relaxed and calm personalities and we are just sort of trying to get that out to the rest of the team. I feel that the three of us are really working well together and it’s been a really good week so far.”
And is it tough juggling the various personalities and language differences among the team? “So far it’s been pretty easy,” said Neumann. “We’ve got some good Spanish blood on our team and some feisty Norwegians in there too. It’s good.”
Neuamnn was also delighted to confirm that there had been some special messages of support from the European Ryder Cup fraternity, including Jose Maria Olazabal, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley.
“Yeah, they’re all wishing us good luck and talking about how it’s a great feeling for them when they’re picked for the Ryder Cup, and what it means to represent your country and your continent. I think it’s really nice for the girls.
“We put together some videos with some great clips and adding these messages in between. So I think it’s important for the girls, they know that all the players over in Europe, both on the women’s side and the men’s side, are cheering for us and pulling for us to pull this off.”
Among the list of helpers this week is eight-time player and yet another Swede, Sophie Gustafson. “Sophie is here and obviously she would have loved to be on the team,” said Neumann. “She just missed out but she called me up and asked if I needed any help.
“I think that just tells you what the Solheim Cup is all about, that we have an experienced player who doesn’t qualify for the team but still wants to be here and just be part of it and help the others.”
Neumann lives in the US but when it comes to the Solheim Cup, there is no divided loyalty. “I love being in America and I will probably never move back to Sweden,” she said. “I have actually lived longer in America than I have in Sweden and I love this country.
“But when it comes to the Solheim Cup, I’m so European. In fact, you would probably have a hard time finding someone more Euro than me. I just love this event, being part of the first one in 1990 and just being part of the growth is quite amazing.”
“I think that the Solheim family and Ping and everybody behind it, Rolex, they have just done a really wonderful job of growing this event. And I look at this tournament as one of the best women’s sporting events in the world. Just the excitement behind it and everything, it’s really an amazing week.”
So what would a European win mean to Liselotte Neumann?
“When I took on the Captaincy and talked to Annika and Carin, I said that we need to go to America, we need to make history. No team has ever won here before. Let’s do this. So that’s our goal and that’s why I took on the job. And here we are.”