The two spots hang like an albatross around Juli Inkster’s neck. She knows they are there and the impending uncomfortableness they’ll bring. Among the joy that came with the announcement that she would lead her country in what she calls the greatest sporting event in the world also came the dread of knowing that at some point in the future she’d have to disappoint girls who’d become engrossed with the idea of being a part of her team.
They are the two Captain’s picks, and if Inkster had her way, she’d toss out the responsibility, or as she puts it take the “wimpy way out”, but she can’t. So along she forges this year, knowing that before the competition comes the heartbreak.
“It’s a no-win situation,” Inkster said. “You’re going to piss somebody off. But as I told them at the start of the year, you know, they’ve had two years to qualify. It’s not on me. So that’s the way I’m looking at it.”
At this point, though, it’s still all roses. Everyone’s dream lives and feels a part of the process at this point. When the team heads out for group activities organized by Inkster, like dinner with former President Bush in Dallas or a team practice session at next year’s U.S. Women’s Open site when they were in San Francisco, 15 or 16 invitees go, and everyone’s jockeying for their spot among the dozen.
“Politicking or brown nosing?” Inkster said with a laugh. “I’m getting sucked up to a lot, which is great, which is fine. And I know it, but it’s all good.”
For the next three months at least. Whether they get in among the top eight spots awarded by Solheim Cup points or the two spots based off of their Rolex Rankings or even as one of Inkster’s two Captain spots, no one cares as long as they ultimately get to experience what it’s like playing as a Yankee on foreign soil in September.
“This is the biggest honor we can have in professional golf, being able to represent the United States,” Austin Ernst said, who is 14th in the points standings. “It would be a dream come true for me, something I really wanted to accomplish this year.”
When it ultimately comes time, Inkster admits the two-year window that players have accrued points isn’t a solid window into her line of thinking of where her head may be on a player.
What matters most: recent play or the whole two years?
“Recent,” she said without a hint of hesitation. “I don’t really care what they did last year. I want them to play good this year.”
It’s why she said she doesn’t have any qualms of taking a rookie – say Alison Lee, for example – if they are playing well. She saw first-hand as an assistant captain in 2013 in Colorado what a rookie could potentially do when Charley Hull, the youngest competitor in Solheim Cup history, posted a 2-1 record for the Europeans, which included a 5&4 singles victory over Paula Creamer on Sunday.
In essence, it’s more substance than style, grit over experience with Inkster.
“I’m looking for a grinder,” she said. “I’m looking for someone that doesn’t give up, someone that’s out there that’s going to compete to the end. I don’t need a lot of fluff. I want someone that’s got some passion and has got some heart, because it’s going to be very tough over there. We’re going to be the underdogs and it’s going to be loud. I need somebody that’s not going to waver.”
That’s Inkster’s biggest hope with whoever she ultimately selections: Win, lose or draw, they go down swinging.
“I mean I want someone that can compete out there and I want someone that’s not afraid to go head to head with the best player out there,” Inkster said. “I want someone to play aggressively.”
Much ado is made about playing style and how the captain matches players with the pairings in foursomes and four-ball matches, and Inkster’s already said she won’t put really long hitters with shorter ones because they aren’t used to hitting the clubs each other hits into holes. But so much of that is overblown when looking for a scapegoat for American struggles in team match-play on the men’s and women’s sides recently. The 2011 American Solheim Cup team, for example, entered Sunday’s singles play tied up at 8 but Europe won seven matches on Sunday.
“You gotta match them up a little bit, but I think personalities has a lot to do with it, too,” she said of pairings. “So we’ll see how it all shakes out and go from there.”
And when it comes to those two picks, well, she won’t commit to a certain criteria for her picks like just selecting the next highest four in the Rolex World Golf Rankings. She’ll ultimately make the selections and she’ll own them. She just won’t spend much time fretting over them in advance.
“I’m just – I hope it all shakes out because I hate controversy,” Inkster said. “And I’m not looking forward to the picks at all.”