September 9, 2019
When it comes to writing Solheim Cup records Juli Inkster leads the way, but this week could see her pen a whole new chapter in her sport’s history books.
Back in Scotland, 27 years after she made her debut, 50 miles down the road at Dalmahoy Country Club, Inkster has the confidence of a hall of fame Captain whose place in the pantheon of legend is secure.
In 34 matches across nine player appearances she won 18.5 points, at an average of 54.4 per cent.
No player has won more singles points and Inkster’s final appearance in 2011, at the age of 51 years and 91 days, makes her the oldest Solheim Cup player ever.
However, if she needs a reminder just how tough the next few days will be then the American Captain will recall her debut, which started with a share of the spoils in her foursomes match with Patty Sheehan, before a final hole fourball defeat to Europe’s talisman pair Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas.
Inkster was one of only three Americans to win their singles match on the final Sunday – beating Nicholas 3&2 – as Europe secured a memorable home win and first Solheim Cup victory.
She famously described her sport as a ‘stupid game’ – a phrase muttered by players worldwide every day.
But this week is certainly serious business as she seeks to become the first Captain to win three consecutive matches, going one better than debut partner Sheehan.
Whatever dramas unfolds in the days ahead this will be Inkster’s last Solheim Cup. Fast forward two years to Ohio and she plans to be in the crowd waving the flag rather racing around in a buggy with her heart pumping.
And her absence from the team room will be hard felt on a generation of American players who have grown up idolising the seven-time major winner, who has left an indelible mark of this event and authored the blueprint for successful captaincy.
“Juli never doubts us, she brings out confidence in her team, when she speaks it just rubs off on you,” said Stacy Lewis, following the 16.5-11.5 victory in Des Moines two years ago.
“There’s a different feel in the air when she talk, a calmness, like you know what she expects of you. Juli is just so relatable to everyone.”
Inkster certainly likes to captain with a smile on her face, which is, of course, easier when you’re winning.
She has spoken candidly about struggles with the pressure of the hype and expectation that goes with the occasion, especially later in her career.
It’s not unusual in an individual sport for people to pull in different directions when they suddenly become part of the team.
But Inkster’s shown a canny knack for finding the formula for collective greatness, a skill that will be much prized with five rookies in her 12-strong team.
“My job as a Captain is to get to know the personalities of these girls,” she said in 2017.
“I wanted to bring the fun back to the Solheim Cup. Whether we win or lose, you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s the memories you create. It’s the bonding you create. It’s the atmosphere you create.
“My job as Captain was to create an atmosphere where they feel loved and they feel welcomed. And whether they get a point or not a point, they’re a huge part of this team.
“I’ve learned so much about myself these last four years, because as my team knows, organisation is not really one of my skills. I just follow my gut and my heart in a lot of things and it works out.”