|Suzann Pettsersen with the Ladies Irish Open supported by Fáilte Ireland trophy she won at Killeen Castle in 2011, but who will be Queen of the Castle in 2012?|
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen will begin her defence of the Ladies Irish Open supported by Fáilte Ireland at Killeen Castle on Friday.
The tournament is sure to rekindle some fond memories from last year’s Irish Open, but also of Europe’s dramatic Solheim Cup victory over the United States at the same venue in September, in which Pettersen played a key role.
Only 11 months ago, Pettersen earned her second Irish title after blitzing the field with rounds of 71, 63 and 64 for a total of 198, 18 under par.
A little over a month later she made her sixth appearance in The Solheim Cup and helped steer the European Team to victory by making birdie on the last three holes to earn a one-hole victory in her singles match against Michelle Wie.
“It feels like I’ve been here a lot the last year: first the Irish, now the Solheim and then the Irish again all within 12 months. It obviously feels great coming back to this place,” said Pettersen, the World No.6.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to get to see it so quickly again because the memories are so great but I want to defend my title.”
She prepared by relaxing at London 2012. “I watched tennis all day yesterday. It was fantastic. I was with Dow Chemicals, my partner and we had fantastic hospitality, the best seats ever, I mean, it was just a blast.
“I watched Roger Federer, Djokovic, Hewitt, Andy Murray and then we walked around and watched a little bit of everyone playing on different courts. We watched beach volley the night before which was a great atmosphere.”
Inspired by watching the Olympics, Pettersen hopes to compete when golf returns to the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“It can’t come around soon enough, it feels like. The first time it’s going to be back is for the Youth Olympics in 2014 in China I think, so that’s the first time you’re going to see golf in the pre-Olympics, trials and so on. It will be fun. It’s back where it belongs.”
The 31-year-old Norwegian is joined by half of Europe’s winning team members in the field for the Ladies Irish Open, which is taking place at Killeen Castle for the third successive year.
|Solheim Cup player Melissa Reid, who tied for third in Ireland last year|
They include Swede Sophie Gustafson, the four-time Irish Open champion who last won in 2010 at Killeen Castle and Britons Laura Davies, Melissa Reid, Catriona Matthew and Karen Stupples as part of a star-studded field of 126 competitors.
Pettersen will play with Gustafson and Irish amateur Leona Maguire for the first two days, starting the first round at 8.30am.
Maguire, 17, from Cavan, will be hoping to improve on her tie for 33rd in the 2011 tournament and said: “It’s nice to get a good group. It makes it even more special playing with them. They are both fantastic players and hopefully I can learn something from playing with them. It’s always a great event every year, it’s one of the highlights of the year to be able to play with the best pros in Europe and it’s such a fantastic venue so it’s a great experience.”
Her twin sister Lisa will play on the other side of the draw at 1pm with Reid, who tied for third last year and Scotland’s Carly Booth.
Ireland’s top player, Rebecca Codd, will be accompanied by Ashleigh Simon and Felicity Johnson in a group starting from the first at 1pm.
Codd, from Carlow, said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to practice down here [at Killeen Castle] over the past three or four years so I know the course well. I have been hitting the ball reasonably well. I have had a couple of weeks off so hopefully the work I have put in will show up this week.”
Fellow Irish professionals Danielle McVeigh and Tara Delaney will be looking to make the most of their opportunity to shine in front of the home galleries and earn a share of the €350,000 purse.
“I know I have the game but we’ll just see what happens on the day. Every day is different. I can’t say I have certain expectations. We’ll just see what happens,” said McVeigh.
Delaney added: “I’m grateful for the opportunity and the invite to play this week. I don’t have my full card and I was keeping my fingers crossed that I would get the opportunity to play in it. I have worked pretty hard so it’s just going out there and enjoying it and let it happen hopefully.”
After recent heavy rainfall, the course is playing longer than in previous years, with less run on the fairways and thicker, more punishing rough.