Dottie Pepper pushed all the buttons
The Solheim Cup will be played for the 13th time this week, beginning Friday at the Colorado Golf Club, just outside of Denver. There have been highs and lows, triumph and heartache for both teams through the years, moments the players will never forget. This week, espnW will highlight that history as six Solheim standouts share their favorite memories.
Dottie Pepper, United States
Six appearances, 13-5-2 record
Dottie Pepper wasn't known for her Solheim Cup diplomacy, although that wasn't wholly intentional. She didn't set out to tick off the Europeans. She just didn't care if she did.
"She was such a lightning rod for the European team," former U.S. captain Judy Rankin said. "And she came to relish that. Over time, she was always in the middle of almost anything that was controversial, it seemed, but she thrived on it. And she played very well in the Solheim Cup."
Admittedly, some of the people who play, watch and cover golf are experts at turning etiquette molehills into mountains. And Pepper's gaffes were easily overblown. In 1994 at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Pepper let out a "Yes!" after Europe's Laura Davies missed a putt -- not because of the miss itself but that it represented a positive outcome for the U.S. side. It was still a big no-no, and it really irritated the Europeans.
Then in 1998 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, Pepper's very presence seemed to annoy the Europeans; they talked of having a Pepper punching bag in their locker room.
So it might surprise you to hear that when asked about Pepper, Davies chuckled and said, "Oh, she was great. Dottie was the one who got the American team going.
"I'd never say I'm not friends with Dottie. We've played a lot of tournaments together over the years, and we always had a chat. She was their cheerleader, as well as, for a long time, their best player."
Pepper was at her Solheim zenith in 1998, when she went 4-0-0. She also was undefeated, 3-0-0, in 1994. But she said perhaps her favorite Solheim Cup was actually the first, in Orlando, Fla., in 1990, when few even knew about the event.
"It's nice to have been there and be able to compare how far it came to 1998 and then how far it's come since," Pepper said.
Her favorite Solheim partner was Brandie Burton, as they had similar competitive personalities.
"Some can play worse if you give them too much information," Rankin said. "Dottie and Brandie were two where you could go up and say, for instance, 'Every match I've seen, they've hit it over the green here; it's hard as a brick.' They could take that, factor it in, and it was helpful to them. You just couldn't do that with every player."
Juli Inkster was another player who successfully partnered with Pepper.
"Dottie and I, we're really different, but we teamed well," Inkster said. "She brought out a lot in me, and I brought out a lot in her. Dottie was all about the W. I think Dottie's game was perfect for match play. She was a grinder with a ton of heart. She never gave up."
Injuries eventually curtailed Pepper's career, and her final Solheim playing appearance was in 2000. But she still had one more controversy -- this time as a broadcaster.
During the 2007 Solheim Cup, Pepper, thinking she was off-air, exclaimed, "Choking, freaking dogs!" in exasperation over the U.S. team missing an opportunity to close out a match. The American players were incensed when they heard about it, and Pepper apologized profusely.
The incident finally was put to rest last year when 2013 Solheim captain Meg Mallon in effect "pardoned" Pepper by naming her an assistant captain for this year's U.S. team.
Mallon also had partnered with Pepper at the Solheim, and the two were longtime friends on the LPGA Tour. Mallon knew that the source of Pepper's comments hadn't been animus but pure passion. Same for how Pepper competed.
"I played to my character," Pepper said of her Solheim career. "That is what Meg is trying to get the players to do this year."