HARTFORD, Conn – Since we’re entering the award season for many sports, I’d like to start with The Moment of the Year in Golf.
There are usually many candidates in every category, and that’s certainly the case again this year. But with all due respect to Tiger Woods winning his first major championship in 11 years and first since his fifth back surgery in the Masters in April, the single most lasting memory in 2019 is Suzann Pettersen sinking a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the final singles match to beat Marina Alex 1 up and give Europe a 14.5-13.5 victory over the United States in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland.
The biggest team competition in women’s golf four weeks ago was only Pettersen’s third event since a 20-month paternity leave before giving birth to son Herman. Pettersen, who missed two cuts in her three starts since her return and had to be talked into playing by longtime friend and European captain Catriona Matthew, wrote a letter to Herman about how the putt tied a bow on golf’s place in her life and how he changed her understanding of who she really is.
Not long after the dramatic putt and victory, the 38-year-old Pettersen announced she was retiring from competitive golf after 19 years playing and traveling the world. And who could blame her? What could be better than holing a winning putt on the final hole to win for you and your teammates?
The letter was published on LPGA.com with the Solheim Cup’s marketing slogan that so perfectly framed her finish: It all leads to this moment. After receiving a congratulatory hug from Alex and being mobbed by her teammates, family and friends, Pettersen scooped up Herman and embraced him during the victory celebration on the 18th green.
“When I saw the ball disappear and the tens of thousands of fans surrounding the green roared, I realized, immediately, that the [Solheim Cup promotional] line I’d seen all week was a perfect summation of my career,” Pettersen wrote. “It all led to that moment. My family was all there. You won’t remember it, but I’m sure you will see it in replay for years to come.
“What you can’t see on video is the relief I felt. I knew in that instant that I would never have to ask myself ‘what if…?’ I would never have to wonder if I could make it back. I had answered all those questions. It was a fairytale ending, one I couldn’t have imagined.”
Pettersen details how complications early in her pregnancy prevented her from flying and forced her to remain in Norway until Herman was born. It ended her plans to play the LPGA while pregnant early in 2018, but it also marked the beginning of her transformation as a person to Herman’s mother. She took all of 2018 off to prepare for Herman’s birth in August and didn’t return to the tour until more than halfway into this season.
“For half-a-dozen years I was consistently ranked as one of the top-10 women golfers in the world, reaching as high as No. 2 on several occasions,” she wrote. “But that performance came at a cost. I didn’t realize it at the time, but tour life became so intertwined with my personal life that I sometimes could not tell them apart. My identity was linked to my job.”
Pettersen said she knew she might be done as a player the moment Herman was born.
“I’ve always heard people say that becoming a parent changes you, but I had assumed that change took weeks, or maybe even months or years,” Pettersen wrote to Herman. “That is wrong. It’s instantaneous. The moment you drew your first breath, I was a different person. Your father was there and as we held you, I asked myself, ‘Is there really any reason to go back to that other life? Is there anything left for me to accomplish in golf that would make it worth leaving you? Would winning another major make that much of a difference to my life or to yours? Would being part of another Solheim Cup make a difference?’
“I had played competitively for so long and had been living in this ego bubble – a small, compact world where everything was centered around me and my game. Once that bubble burst, I wasn’t sure I wanted to inflate it again. I had no desire to test my heart, my patience, my love for you and your father to try it.”
Pettersen detailed how the faith that Matthew and fellow Euros showed in her led to another Solheim Cup.
“I don’t think most people realize the sacrifices moms make,” Pettersen wrote. “I don’t know how they do it. There are millions of working moms with kids at home. I don’t think they get enough credit for how they manage their lives.
“The [t]our moms certainly don’t get enough credit. I can’t imagine how the players on tour travel with their kids. Beanie [Matthew] did it with two children. So did Juli Inkster. Given what I’d experienced traveling with just one, I couldn’t imagine what their lives had been like. Sure, the Smucker’s LPGA Child Development Center that goes with the tour is fantastic, but that’s a very small part of being on the road with a child. I think we should sing the praises of working moms everywhere as loud and as often as possible.”
Pettersen concludes her letter this way:
“I hope this story helps you understand our family. I hope it helps you appreciate the discipline and determination it takes to reach goals. Work over time will always pay off. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. I hope you find the passion in whatever you do that I found in golf – a love that dwelled deep in my heart. And I hope you see in this story, in my one incredible week at the Solheim Cup, that there is a time for everything in life.
“That Sunday was the time for me to step away from golf and be a wife and mother. I hope you can find the peace in your decisions that I have found in mine.”
Pettersen had always shown class on the course, and she now has demonstrated it again off the course. May you and Herman have many enjoyable decades together.