To bantz or not to bantz? That is not only a question for Jose Mourinho, it seems. America’s Solheim Cup captain, Juli Inkster, has set a “strictly business” tone at the Solheim Cup in Heidelberg this week in an earnest attempt to prevent a hat-trick of losses.
On the other hand, there will be laughter in the European team room. This is not an edict but a compulsion brought about by the presence of Charley Hull. Suzann Petterson, making her eighth appearance in the biennial matchplay event, believes the infusion of Kettering youth two years ago in Colorado was a key factor in retaining the trophy for the first time, and that Hull continues to invest the European team with a unique bonding agent.
“You have no idea what world Charley lives in from day to day,” Pettersen said. “It changes so much and it’s a totally different planet to the rest of us. It gives us all a very good laugh. I think she’s just trying to be herself, but for the rest of us it’s so unreal that it cracks us up every time something comes out of her mouth. She’s fun to be around. I just wish I was that age again.”
That age is 19, which Hull turned this spring. Chaotic as she is, Hull is formidable on the course and starts her second appearance in the competition as a leader in the field, not a mascot. Much like the cash generator that the Ryder Cup has become in the men’s game, the Solheim is a beacon for women’s golf, giving it the kind of projection the typical strokeplay event cannot.
Hull arrived in Colorado two years ago an unknown, and returned unable to complete her ablutions in peace. “In Morocco [at the Lalla Meryem Cup], I walked outside the cubicle and someone asked me for my autograph,” she said. “I said, ‘Yes, but could I just wash my hands first?’ That was quite funny. Even now I always get, ‘You were great at the Solheim’.
“I think it gave me a big boost of confidence as well, plus a lot of people definitely know me because of that. I’m quite grateful because it really set the standards for me. I felt more comfortable knowing that I can beat some of the best players in the world. Everyone figured out that I was pretty good after that instead of people doubting me, if you know what I’m saying.”
Indeed we do, Charley. After posting five consecutive second places at the outset of her pro career, Hull followed that up in season two last year with her first victory and the Order of Merit crown on the Ladies European Tour. The second win has yet to materialise, but at this stage in her development she is not counting. She is not measuring progress against the gains of fellow tyros Lydia Ko, who last week became golf’s youngest major winner at 18, and Lexi Thompson, who crossed the major threshold last year as a 19-year-old.
“I said to my dad when I was about 14, ‘I’m not going to bother too much until I’m 21’. So, I’m still working on stuff,” Hull explained. “Everything has been a bonus. I’m just trying to feel comfortable, starting new gym stuff, new caddie, just ticking off things. I’m happy and still going in the right direction. I only turned 19 in March. You are only a teenager once. I always said I wouldn’t go full-time to America until I was older. I will have 20, 30 years playing golf. I still want to enjoy life.”
Though Inkster would not have the American team room quite the solemn precinct that Mourinho seeks, there is no place for the kind of adolescent indulgence with the make-up bag and dressing-up box that has characterised recent American campaigns. “I just think we are all grown women,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of grown women with face paint on. I want to get back to playing golf. They can have fun and can do their nails and whatever, but I would like us to play golf and get back to basics. I think they were all OK with it.”
Inkster certainly has a devotee in Lizette Salas, who is making her second Solheim appearance. “I think Juli just said no more of this ‘rah-rah’ stuff,” Salas said. “I was like, ‘OK, we are not cheerleaders, so none of that face paint or none of those tattoos’. It’s definitely toned down quite a bit. It’s a lot of excess energy that’s used on, ‘Where do I put this tattoo or does this ribbon match this outfit?’ None of that. We go out and handle our business and play the best golf that we can. And I think it’s working.”
If the Americans need to lighten up they can always pass around the transcripts of Hull’s media conferences. Have you heard the one about her sister, Nicole, who shared a room with her on her Solheim debut?
“This time I’m by myself,” Hull insisted. “Last time my sister rode in the night before at like four in the morning and, like, woke me up because she was, like, drinking. She’s 10 years older.
“I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ She was, like, ‘I’m just coming in from my party.’ I’m like, ‘OK, you do know I’ve got a big game tomorrow?’ She’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’ She cracks me up.
“For instance, last year I missed a three-foot putt on the last hole that put me one behind the lead. She was like, ‘That was rubbish. I’m wearing flip flops and I could have holed-that.’ She hasn’t got much clue about golf, but it’s quite funny when she watches. She’s actually like an older version of me.”
Sky Sports is showing the Solheim Cup from Friday until Sunday, as part of an unrivalled schedule of women’s sport