If It's Solheim Cup Week, You Can Bet Beth Daniel Will Be There
During the LPGA's first four major championships, espnW chatted with a past champion to see what she was up to. Today we catch up with a former Solheim Cup captain.
There was never a question about this one.
No "maybe it's too far to go.'' No "perhaps this time let's watch it on TV.'' No "they'll be fine without me.''
Beth Daniel simply doesn't miss a Solheim Cup week. No matter where it is.
The Hall of Famer played in the first nine, was Betsy King's assistant captain the week of the eighth event, captained the 2009 team -- the last American team to win the Solheim Cup -- and has been either a confidante or passionate spectator at the past two.
You didn't really expect her to skip this one, did you? That just wouldn't be right.
espnW caught up with Daniel a few days before she flew to Germany to, she hopes, cheer good friend Juli Inkster's U.S. team to a win at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Baden-Wurttemberg. She was the last U.S. captain to win a Solheim Cup so we wanted to see what she has been up to and, more important, get her thoughts on this week.
espnW: You are the last U.S. captain to win the Solheim Cup. That sounds strange given that the 2009 win was America's third in a row and eighth in the first 11 Solheim Cups.
Beth Daniel:: It does seem strange ,for whatever reason. I always tell people that halfway through the back nine on Sunday in the singles matches in Chicago when I was captain, it looked like we were going to lose. I'm like, "We're not going to pull this out.'' And suddenly we did.
So you go through so many ups and downs during the week of a Solheim Cup as a captain and basically you do the best you can as far as putting players in position and things like that, but the bottom line is the players have to play for you. And they either play or they don't. ... I think I was kind of fortunate that we squeaked through a win.
W: You played on nine teams and had an outstanding career as a player in this event. Is there one moment that stands out in your mind?
BD: It's funny. The two memories that pop into my head right now were when I was on losing teams. One was in Sweden in 2003 at Barseback. After we lost, there was so much chaos going on in the locker room. We had a team split between veterans and rookies, and the veterans looked at the rookies like, "They don't quite get it yet." And so we all left and went to a balcony off our locker room -- Rosie Jones, Kelly Robbins, Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon and myself. We just went out there to get away because we were so upset by it. We felt like we should have won. Kelly's mother happened to be down on the ground underneath the balcony and she saw us and took the picture. To this day, I have the picture and the thoughts that go through your head when you look at that picture -- that's basically what the Solheim Cup is about -- the five of us out there.
The other moment was in 1992 at Dalmahoy in Scotland, which was the second playing of the Solheim Cup and we lost. I was playing Florence Descampe in the singles and she was a very young, confident player at the time. I started out the match not playing very well and I could just see her body language was, "I'm going to beat her. I'm going to beat her.'' This is one of the things I love about match play. It just got me so angry, I was determined I was going to beat her and I just reeled off a bunch of birdies and I ended up beating her. Afterward she said, "I can't believe you beat me." And I'm thinking, "I can because you got so overconfident you lost your focus.'' I could see that, so I knew I could come back and win.
W: For a while there, the Solheim Cup was feeling a bit like a war. Some crazy things were happening.
BD: Match play, in a sense, is that way. In golf we're so used to playing stroke play. We play match play and people make comments or show a little gamesmanship, everyone gets upset. ... I always told my team two things: Never expect them to give you anything and always expect them to make the next shot. And if you play that way, you're not really going to get upset at anything anyone does to you. Unless they purposely step in your line or something. It's all just part of match play.
W: What are your thoughts on this year's American team?
BD: It's basically -- except for one player -- it's the same team that was in Denver. So not much has changed in the last two years with the U.S. team. The European team -- their base is about the same, too. Just a few different. So basically this is a rematch. I think it's pretty even, although I feel like the Europeans have a little more confidence in their team because of the way they've handled team events, because they've won the last two. This U.S. team has a lot mentally to overcome and they've got a lot to overcome in a very confident European team.
W: If you could give Juli one piece of advice, what would it be?
Everything a captain does in a team room is done to keep the team loose. [Juli Inkster's] got to work on their heads so their games are ready to take on this pressure because really, it's the most pressure any of them will feel in golf.Beth Daniel
BD: She has already said she thinks the team has been too uptight and she wants them to be relaxed. And everything a captain does in a team room is done to keep the team loose. She's got to work on their heads so their games are ready to take on this pressure because really, it's the most pressure any of them will feel in golf. It's more pressure than a U.S. Open. It's more pressure than any major championship.
W: That's a strong statement.
BD: It is. But it was, by far, the most nervous I ever was because I'm representing 11 other players and my captains and my country. When I'm playing on my own, it's just me so I can deal with what happens. I would tell Juli to, in the practice rounds, just get in their heads. That's when you have to know your players. A Stacy Lewis and an Angela Stanford are tough on themselves to fire themselves up. They're a lot like Kathy Whitworth was in her heyday. And there are other players you need to pump up. You have to know what each player needs and wants.
W: What advice would you give to the American players?
BD: I would tell them to trust in themselves. They've worked their way for two years to make this team, but making the team isn't the ultimate goal. Winning the Solheim Cup is. Get out there and grind to the end because you never know what's going to happen. And when you get up on someone, you want to win another hole and another hole and another hole. It's a great feeling for you and the rest of the team and that's why you put your strong people out early. You want the USA up. And when the players look at the board and see someone is 5- or 6-up on someone, that gets you fired up.
W: Now that we've talked about the Solheim, you retired in 2007. What's keeping you busy these days?
BD: I have a junior golf tournament in August at the Country Club of Charleston, where I grew up. This year was the eighth year I hosted it and my brother Tony helped me raise the money. We run it in conjunction with South Carolina Junior Golf Association and we've given over $158,000 in the first seven years to junior golf charities in South Carolina.
Once that's over, I start working on a charity event in Florida -- the Bethesda Hospital Foundation Pro-Am, which is held at Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach in January, and Meg and I are the hosts. We work probably six months out of the year for that. We raise anywhere from $225,000 to $250,000 each year for the Bethesda Community Hospital.
The cool thing about having it at Pine Tree is that's where Louise Suggs was a member. Mickey Wright was a member and I'm a member, Meg, Karrie [Webb] and JoAnne Carner are members. Years ago, when Pine Tree opened in the '60s, Louise had a similar event there and I think it's kind of cool to bring that back. The first year, we had Louise there. She was a very special person in my life. She always told it like it was.
W: With all the charity work, do you have time to play much golf?
BD: I like to go out and hit balls more than I like to play. I play about three Legends events a year and one is in Del Ray Beach, literally right down the street. At the Patty Berg event in Fort Myers, when we got to the weekend, we had one Legend play with two Symetra Tour players. We went in not knowing what was going to happen, and it was just great. This year, we did a round-table discussion and they could come ask any questions they wanted to ask and it worked out really well. The Symetra players seemed to like it a lot and the Symetra event in Greenwood, South Carolina, is going to do the same thing in 2016.
W: When you turned pro in 1979, you were part of a talented group of players who all came out about the same time -- you, Nancy Lopez, Betsy, Juli, Amy Alcott, Patty Sheehan, Hollis Stacy, Pat Bradley. All in the Hall of Fame. That may have been one of the most talented groups of players other than the founders.
BD: It was a great group. A lot of people say that [it was one of the best]. Maybe I'm a little subjective, but there were so many great players right around me -- all within about four years of each other. It was a strong time in LPGA history, that's for sure.
W: You had the chance to play with Mickey Wright several times early in your career and when you were an amateur.
BD: Talk about being a college kid and being paired with Mickey Wright. That was a little nerve-racking. But she was just so classy. I was paired with her my rookie year at the Corning Classic for the first two rounds. That was really special. I rank that right up there at the top of the list of moments.
W: A number of people have said your swing and Mickey's are two of the best they've ever seen. The legendary Harvey Penick even came out to watch you at a college event -- the Betsy Rawls Invitational -- in Austin one year.
BD: That was special. I won't forget that tournament at all. He just visited. He talked a little bit about his philosophy of the golf swing, but he really stayed out of it. He just said, "I'm here and I've heard about you and your golf swing and I just wanted to see you swing.''
W: You also drew the attention of another legend, Henry Picard, when you were growing up at the Country Club of Charleston.
BD: He retired there so he was there every day. He was a big influence on my life, but he never taught me. I always had other teachers, but he taught me things in his own way. He would just throw something out. When I was 10 years old, a kid, he would come up to me and say, "How do you hit the ball high? I'll find you at the end of the day and you answer.''
That was his way of motivating me to go figure things out. So I'd go out and hit balls and be thinking, "What do I do to hit it high?" I'd be hitting balls all day trying to hit it high, then I'd come back and I'd tell him and I was either right or wrong. Most of the time I was wrong. The next day it would be how do you hit a fade or how do you hit it low? Chip shots and pitch shots around the green.
W: His approach sounds a lot like the way Harvey Penick taught.
BD: Really, that's how you should teach. We're so technical in golf. They teach tennis more [the Penick/Picard] way. Let me hit a few balls to you and it's not bending your knees enough on a forehand or a backhand and the teacher will hit it low and you have to bend your knees. So you figure it out by doing. Not by someone showing you a video and showing you positions and showing you how to do it.
W: Your swing was so powerful that people used to say, "Here's a lady who swings like a man." Today players with that kind of power are not so unusual.
BD: I was taught initially to use my legs and my hips and then my arms followed that. At that time a lot of women were taught the arm swing. I think because of my arc -- I had a very upright swing -- I could generate a lot of clubhead speed. So it's just how my teacher taught me. I'm very grateful for that.
Today, they teach kids to swing as hard as they can and then they'll teach them how to control it. These guys hit it in the rough and it doesn't matter. They can still spin it out of there.
If you talked to Harvey Penick and Henry Picard, they would be so upset at the equipment. I've always said you could take a Mickey Wright and put her in this generation and she would still win. But there are players from this generation that if you took them back to her generation, they would be average players. The equipment has allowed them to play at a higher level.
W: You quietly retired in 2007, but there was a big to-do at the end of that final round.
BD: It was supposed to be quiet, but it leaked out. I knew 2007 was going to be my last year. I was playing a very, very limited schedule and I got to the British Open, got there Sunday, walked the course and then I played every day -- all seven days -- because I wanted that experience. When I made the cut, I started thinking, Is there a better place to retire than St. Andrews, the home of golf? So I started thinking about it. After the round on Saturday, I had a few friends over there because we were going on vacation and play some golf afterward -- we had planned that in advance -- so I told Meg, "I think tomorrow's going to be my last round. This is a great place to retire. I'm ready to do it. I'm so ready. I don't want to play competitively anymore."
So I tee it up on Sunday. I haven't told anyone except for Meg and the friends. Meg saw Judy Rankin and told her, you guys probably ought to cover Beth because this is it -- this is her last round. I get to 16 and my gallery is getting bigger, then I get to the Swilcan Bridge and there are cameras there and I'm "oh, my gosh." So now I start crying. I was playing with this Swedish player. I didn't know her and I don't think she's played much since. I finish and Meg had gotten Louise Suggs behind the green.
I hold it all together and I go into the scoring tent and sign my card and I just lose it. I start crying. And this Swedish girl looks at me like, "What is wrong with you?" I said, "This is my last competitive round. I'm done as a professional." Then she got it.
W: You've had a Hall of Fame career 33 LPGA Tour wins, one major, three Player of the Year awards, three Vare Trophies, three money titles, two U.S. Amateurs. The only thing missing would have been a few more major championships. You won the 1990 LPGA Championship, but you also had nine top-3 finishes in majors. Was there one you look back on as the one that got away?
BD: You can look at all of them. I guess the 1981 Women's Open in Chicago early on when I lost to Pat Bradley by one shot was one. Bradley birdied the last two holes to win that by one. I was one back, birdied 18, but she birdied 17 and 18 to win by one.
And (the 1982 Women's Open) where Janet Alex Anderson won. The final round that year I had a ball move on the eighth green. I never recovered from that. I called a penalty on myself. I had the lead at the time, but never recovered. It rattled me that the ball moved and I finished second with a bunch of other players -- Carner, Donna White and Sandra Haynie. I would have loved to have won a U.S. Open, but I won two U.S. Amateurs and I'm really proud of that.
W: What player today reminds you of you?
BD: Probably Stacy Lewis. Everybody gets on her about her attitude and her temper and that's what was always what I heard. I know that's the way Stacy motivates herself. That's the way I motivated myself. And you look at the stretch she's going through right now where she's had all these seconds. And I went through stretches like that in my career. There are all these expectations on her to win every week, yet she hasn't won this year. I can almost tell you exactly what she's thinking.
W: Are you less of a perfectionist these days?
BD: Yes. I keep telling myself I don't practice enough to be a perfectionist. And I don't practice enough to get mad. So my temper has subdued and my attitude is subdued. You know, people who know me only through golf think, "She's so intense." But that was the only place I was ever that way and the only place I ever got mad was on the golf course. It's hard to make me mad. I was always really easygoing until I got on the golf course. My mother used to say, "I don't know you as my daughter when you're on the golf course." She got on me, but she'd also defend me. People would come up and say she's got such a temper, but she would say, "Leave her alone. That's where she gets her motivation.'' She knew what made me tick.