Danielle Kang once called it a “life goal” to play for Juli Inkster at the Solheim Cup. Inkster is the ultimate player’s captain. The dancing queen of the first tee whose go-to song, “Chunky” by Bruno Mars, says all you need to know about her ability to keep it light.
Inkster, 59, knows how to make players feel comfortable, how to spur them on and make them laugh. Mostly, she knows how to win, and they respect her for it.
After putting the brakes on a European run in 2015 in Germany, orchestrating the biggest comeback in Solheim history, captain Inkster led a rout two years ago in Des Moines, Iowa. She’ll go for an unprecedented third victory in Scotland on Sept. 13-15 at Gleneagles, teaching her version of the pod system to a new generation of American players.
Players and assistant captains tell Golfweek why the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer is so successful as Team USA’s beloved captain:
Brittany Lang: She’s real. She’s a real person.
Paula Creamer: She has an unbelievable aura around her, just her energy. You play for your country, but you don’t want to let her down.
Angela Stanford: If I ever get to be Solheim Cup captain, one thing I’ve learned from her is that she cultivates those relationships well before (the matches). It amazes me how she can kind of connect with everybody, but she does that way before she’s the captain. It doesn’t have to be everything; it just has to be one thing. She always gives me a hard time about something, and I love it.
Stacy Lewis: She has listened to us a lot, which I think that goes a long way. It’s a lot of back and forth. It’s not just Juli telling us what to do, which I think that goes a long way with the current generation, especially these younger kids. They don’t like being told what to do. (Lewis withdrew from the event Tuesday due to a back injury.)
Creamer: She doesn’t really have too many walls up. She’s not difficult to talk to at all. She’ll tell you how it is, point blank. My goodness, a Hall of Fame player. Her golf game speaks for who she is too. She doesn’t need to back up anything because of that.
Gerina Piller: She just kind of tells me that I need to work harder. I think that could be everybody. My short game at the time wasn’t where it needed to be. . . . I took that to heart and I really worked on it. Kind of ironic that I made the putt to keep us alive (in Germany). Whatever she says, it holds a lot of value.
Creamer: There have been times on the golf course when she’s like, “Go in the corner and figure out yourself and then come back.” For sure, she’s been very point blank, but at the same time she’s been there for me when I’ve been down, too, and very supportive. She has always been someone that doesn’t judge you on what’s going on.
Stanford: I think I would be shocked if she actually had her act together. It’s always like, “OK, what do we need to do now? What’s next? What do we need to talk about?” I think I would be really concerned if I walked in and Juli was on top of everything.
Brittany Lang: She’s such a clown. But she is so hungry at the Solheim Cup. She has such a drive and such an intensity for the team to do well and then to play well when she’s playing. … She’s always joking and cutting up, and then she just has this huge intensity to beat some butt, ya know?
Pat Hurst: Juli wears everything on her sleeve. You know exactly how she’s feeling. She’s competitive, but she’s not confrontational.
Wendy Ward: She’s brilliant. People think she’s funny, crazy, the dancing queen, always trying to keep things light. They know she’s got that young personality . . . but I think there’s this hidden level of knowledge. She could rattle off stats like nobody else right now. She’s eating it, living it, breathing it.
Stanford: I remember her taking her wedge on the 17th at ShopRite, that little par 3. It’s a wedge. I don’t even remember where the ball went. She takes her wedge and just sticks it in the ground. Walks off the tee box and just keeps going. So I did that this week (at the British Open). I stuck it in the ground on 16 and just left it. But it was so cool. She didn’t yell, she didn’t scream at Gregor (caddie Greg Johnston). . . . The ground has to be soft.
Creamer: She’s a competitor. A hard-headed strong woman, but she’s very sensitive, too. She definitely has had times where she just wants to say thank you so much to us that it brings tears to her eyes.
Piller: (On Sunday in Germany) she said something that really hit home, and I don’t know if it’s because I grew up playing team sports, but she told us to look in front and look behind you. Play for the girl in front of you and play for the girl behind you.
Cristie Kerr: I just think the respect level is there. Players respect what she’s done, how she’s played. The fire that she has. Put your work hat on and go get it done.
Hurst: From the get-go she called me and said, “Why don’t you read Paul Azinger’s book (‘Cracking the Code’)?” It’s a quick read. We do it our way, but it’s similar. . . . The personality deal, it’s very hard to put a rah-rah girl with an introvert. We want them to focus on the golf, not necessarily on each other. We want them to focus on their match and not have the other girl drive them crazy one way or another. It’s worked.
Stanford: She gets on me because I didn’t believe in myself enough and I’m too hard on myself. . . . She knows I’m not a rah-rah kind of person. Don’t give me pom-poms.
Piller: I didn’t even know she was at the (18th) green in Germany. If you ask her to this day, I think she’ll say I should’ve closed it out on 17, but I think she’s in denial because she doesn’t want to give me a compliment (laughs). Seeing the video, I didn’t know she had her head between her legs basically not wanting to watch. I don’t know if she has no confidence in me that she just doesn’t want to watch what’s going to happen, or I don’t know if she was prayin’. She’s not really one to pray. I don’t know what was going through her mind.
Ward: She loves to practice her chipping. When it was time to go to the tee, she’d tell (Johnston), “Just one more.” She was known as “One More.” I almost feel like that’s how she does everything in her life. One more shot I want to watch. … Sure, just one more. I’ll go three times as captain. Gwk
The Solheim Cup
When: Sept. 13-15
Where: Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course, Perth, Scotland
Team USA captain: Juli Inkster
Team Europe captain: Catriona Matthew
Team USA: Marina Alex, Brittany Altomare, Danielle Kang, Megan Khang, Jessica Korda, Nelly Korda, Ally McDonald, Annie Park, Morgan Pressel, Lizette Salas, Lexi Thompson, Angel Yin
Team Europe: Celine Boutier, Carlota Ciganda, Anne van Dam, Georgia Hall, Caroline Hedwall, Charley Hull, Bronte Law, Carline Masson, Azahara Munoz, Anna Nordqvist, Suzann Pettersen, Jodi Ewart-Shadoff
(Note: A version of story appears in the August 2019 issue of Golfweek.)