Suzann Pettersen enjoying moment
Last month at the Solheim Cup, Suzanne Pettersen couldn't stop cracking up at every charmingly naive/goofy thing teenage European teammate Charley Hull said.
Sunday at the LPGA's final major of the season, the Evian Championship in France, Pettersen shared some lighthearted moments with another teenager -- but still had her game face on most of the day.
Pettersen's smile came out in force when it was all over, though, as she won by two shots over 16-year-old amateur Lydia Ko. But the kid made the veteran -- who is twice her age -- battle for it. Ko even gave her chip shot on No. 18 a good run. Pettersen, watching that, shook her head and chuckled with a combination of relief and admiration when it didn't go in.
"It's good for us to get young players like her into this game," Pettersen said, "because it keeps the rest of us working even harder and pushing the limits, pushing the boundaries."
Had Ko made her chip for birdie, Pettersen's work on the last green would have been more pressure-packed. Instead, Pettersen was able to two-putt in relative relaxation for a round of 68 and her third LPGA title this season and the 13th of her career.
It was also the second major victory for Norway's Pettersen. And if it has a bit of an asterisk by it because of the circumstances -- the tournament making its major debut was shortened to 54 holes by excessive rain -- Pettersen won't care. It's been a long while since her first major title, the 2007 LPGA Championship, and this time it seemed like her turn. She said this title was on her so-called bucket list to win and was especially important to her because it took place in Europe.
Other than the U.S. Women's Open, at which she missed the cut, Pettersen was in the mix at every major this year. She tied for third at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship and tied for fourth at the Women's British Open.
With Sunday's win by Pettersen, the 2013 LPGA majors are officially in the books as the property of the top three ranked players in the world. South Korea's Inbee Park (No. 1) won the first three, and American Stacy Lewis (No. 2) won the Women's British.
As for No. 3-ranked Pettersen, her finish at St. Andrew's in early August -- a final-round 74 -- was a disappointment because it seemed as if that title was hers for the taking had she played better the last day.
Pretty much everything since then has been fabulous for Pettersen. She led the European team to its first Solheim Cup victory on U.S. soil in Colorado in mid-August.
"It was kind of a great kick-start for what became probably the month of my career," Pettersen said.
A week after the Solheim, she had another top-10 finish, tying for seventh at the CN Canadian Women's Open (which Ko won). On Sept. 1, Pettersen won the Safeway Classic in Oregon and then went home to Norway, where she hosted a charity event. The beneficiary is Right To Play, which was founded by Norwegian speedskater and Olympic legend Johann Olav Koss.
Before the Evian, Petteren spent a significant portion of her news conference talking about that event and why the charity, which provides sports and education opportunities to underprivileged children, is so important to her. She went to Africa last year to visit kids who were benefiting from a Right To Play program.
"I must say, just giving back and helping other causes and getting together with players … it actually gives you a different perspective as well," Pettersen said Sunday. "I think it's part of how relaxed I've been all week. I've been pretty much on my best behavior all week on the course, and it really pays off."
That shows the kind and gentle side to Pettersen, who can put out a "royally ticked off/approach with caution" vibe easily readable from 100 feet. This is to say Pettersen can be intimidating by just being herself.
So it was especially funny to see her flat-out giggling at Hull during their Solheim news conference. Not in a mean way. More like, "Does everybody remember what it was like to be this young, carefree and unafraid?"
That's how England's Hull, 17, played during the Solheim Cup and how Ko has played as an amateur among pros. Considering Ko has won two LPGA titles and has not missed a cut in her 15 LPGA events, it might seem bizarre for her to keep her amateur status much longer. She's already lost out on more than $1 million in prize money.
But the other side to the debate is that perhaps Ko plays so apparently free and easy in part because there hasn't been money at stake. Once she is competing for a paycheck and to please sponsors, will her mindset be impacted?
Maybe, maybe not. However, it sounded after the Evian as if Ko will soon make the move.
"The next time you see me," Ko told reporters Sunday, "I may be a pro."
When might that be? Ko is headed home to New Zealand and said she's not sure if she'll play in the LPGA season-ending CME Group Titleholders in November. She qualified for that by winning the Canadian Open, but she said she might not get to practice enough to feel comfortable playing at the Titleholders because she has exams the week before. So education is still a big priority for her.
Ko seems near certain, though, to petition to join the LPGA Tour before her 18th birthday -- she doesn't even turn 17 until April 2014 -- just as Sunday's third-place finisher, American Lexi Thompson, did.
Thompson played in her first major championship, the U.S. Women's Open, at age 12, and has been a pro since age 15. She joined the tour full time just before her 17th birthday. Now 18, she has one LPGA title, and this Evian performance is her best finish yet in a major.
But the day belonged to Pettersen. Lewis finished tied for sixth, and Park tied for 67th, her worst finish since 2009. Park, with her three majors among six titles overall this year, is still the top player of 2013, but Pettersen would like to give Park a run for No. 1 in the world. Pettersen will be 33 in April and feels as if she still has a lot of great golf ahead of her.
As for what's ahead this season for the LPGA Tour, it's the Asian swing. That starts Oct. 3 with the tour's first official event in China, followed by tournaments in Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. The LPGA then finishes in November with the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the Titleholders in Florida.
The Sunshine State has been Pettersen's home base for a while, but it also describes her state of mind right now. Really? Suzann Pettersen, full of sunshine, even at the rainy Evian?
"I'm just in a very good, happy spot in life right now," Pettersen said. "I have nothing to worry about. Everyone around me is very supportive. My family is all great.
"I must say, I feel like I've come to this age where I'm too old to be around and not be happy. I know you guys don't see me smile that much, but you've probably seen a few more smiles than in the past. I'm working on it."