Column: Pettersen achieves rare feat by retiring on top
Suzann Pettersen hits from the third tee, during the third round of the LPGA Classic at Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ont., on Saturday, June 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS//Dave Chidley
Suzann Pettersen achieved one of the rarest feats in golf.
The winning shot in the Solheim Cup? Yes, it starts there. That putt she made from just outside 6 feet on the 18th green at Gleneagles was the main reason why Pettersen should be the envy of anyone who has competed as long and as well as the feisty Norwegian.
No one had ever faced a moment like this in the 15 previous editions of the Solheim Cup -- the final shot on the final hole, all the other matches concluded, one putt to determine who wins, even if Pettersen didn't know the score until she was mobbed by her teammates.
"Can you ask for more?" Pettersen said when it was over and Europe had the cup.
And then she got a little more.
Pettersen didn't tell anyone beforehand because even she didn't know. Whether it was an impulsive decision -- and it sure sounded like one -- is irrelevant. With one putt, she celebrated the decisive point for Europe and a career packed with 21 victories worldwide, two majors and four winning Solheim Cup teams.
In an ageless sport where no one really retires, Pettersen walked away a winner, her last shot the most important of her career.
"She went out the way we all would like to," Judy Rankin said Tuesday.
Rankin was in Scotland as the lead analyst for Golf Channel. Her lasting impressions were the quality of the putt, which started outside the hole and broke gently to the right, and the image of Pettersen holding 1-year-old son Herman.
"It doesn't get more perfect," Rankin said.
Retirement is never easy in golf, and only a select few manage to pull it off.
Jack Nicklaus stumbled into a graceful exit in 2005. After playing his final Masters without fanfare -- he finished on a Friday on No. 9 -- Nicklaus was at St. Andrews on a corporate trip that spring when he mentioned he would play the British Open for the last time, and that would be his last major. The Royal Bank of Scotland produced a 5-pound note with his image. His final crossing of the Swilcan bridge was stirring. His birdie on the final hole was typical.
Lorena Ochoa abruptly retired in April 2010 when she was No. 1 in the world, wanting to start a family. She played twice more at her LPGA event in Mexico at the end of 2010 and the end of 2012.
They are among the exceptions.
Seve Ballesteros lost his health and his magic, and 12 years after his record 50th victory on the European Tour, he tearfully announced his retirement in 2007 at a sombre news conference at Carnoustie.
Dottie Pepper was in tears when she announced her retirement at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open after playing hurt for so long the game felt like a job.
"The decision is usually made for you," Pepper said Tuesday.
Pettersen decided on her own.
"This is a perfect closure -- the end for my at least Solheim career, and a nice 'the end' for my professional career. It doesn't get any better," she said at the winning news conference, prompting the room to break into applause.
"I'm closing it down tomorrow, and what more can I say? I'm done."
Adding to the moment was that Pettersen never imagined being at Gleneagles with her name stitched on a golf bag.
Catriona Matthew, known as "Beany" because her brother could never pronounce her name as a boy, first picked the 38-year-old Pettersen as a vice captain. And then she approached Pettersen in the summer and suggested she practice in case she was needed to play.
Pettersen was a captain's pick, and a curious one at that. She had to sit out the last Solheim Cup in 2017 with a back injury. She had a baby the following year. She played four tournaments this year, making only one cut.
And then she delivered in the biggest way.
There was an element of redemption, too. In her previous Solheim Cup, Pettersen was made to look like a villain in Germany in 2015 when Alison Lee scooped up her golf ball after missing a birdie attempt, only for Pettersen to point out it was never conceded. Europe won the hole and the match. Pettersen, while within the rules, was seen to be lacking sportsmanship. It drew even more attention when the Americans rallied from a four-point deficit on the final day to win.
Pettersen brought a ferocious personality to her golf, especially at the Solheim Cup. In her Solheim debut in 2002, she rallied from 5 down with five holes to play to earn a half-point against Michele Redman, and was so caught up in the moment she dropped an F-bomb on NBC. She could be hard on herself and those around her. She was at times an intimidating presence.
When it was over, she never looked so content -- with her son in her arms on the 18th green, with her hands on the Solheim Cup trophy, at home Tuesday during an appearance on Golf Channel where she ended the interview by thanking U.S. fans for endless support in "making my career what it's been."
"As much as she's had the ability to get under everyone's skin, I didn't see anyone who wasn't happy for her," Rankin said. "It was the same with everybody Sunday night. Every single person I came across was wishing it could happen that way for them."
No longer the villain, she left as a hero.