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Pat Hurst, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain, will use the pod system again at this year’s matches. But, with one change.
The system, which organizes like-minded players in three groups of four, was implemented by Juli Inkster during her first of three stints as U.S. captain in 2015. And to much success. The team won two of those three meetings with Europe. Inkster borrowed the idea from Paul Azinger, the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, who successfully adopted the Navy SEALs’ program to help the Americans win for the first time in nearly a decade..
“When you know what’s going on it makes it easier for everybody,” Hurst said about keeping the system, while scouting potential team members at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play “There is no guesswork for either the captains or the players. They know who they’re going to be playing with. It’s one of the four. It’s super easy.”
For the last three Solheim Cups, the Americans built their pods based on players’ personalities. New this year, those pods will be constructed based upon a behavioral profile test that will be administered to the team. Hurst got the idea from her work as an assistant coach at San Jose State. It was there that Hurst got to know Jeff Troesch, a performance consultant and former director of mental training for David Leadbetter’s golf academies. Troesch also coached seven NCAA athletes to individual championships.
“This is more for the captains than the players, just because we want to know who would do well with who,” Hurst said about working with Troesch. “It’s a little different way to look at it.”
Hurst and her assistant captains, Angela Stanford and Michelle Wie West, do their own sort of behavioral analysis as they explore potential players for the team. Simply spending time getting to know each other, away from the golf course, has been an invaluable tool in years past as the team often met for dinner and other team activities. But due to the pandemic, the ability to meet in person has been a challenge. In recent weeks, as social distancing protocols have become more relaxed, Hurst has been able to enjoy some of her first one-on-one meetings with potential team members.
“I go out and follow them, but all I can say is ‘Good morning,’ and ‘How you guys doing?’ and that’s it basically,” Hurst said about her scouting trip to the match play event in Las Vegas. “I would love to go do dinners. I totally miss being out with them and getting to know them as a person more than as a golfer.”
Adding to the stress of reduced face time with the team is the increased pressure that comes with having three captain’s picks, which is up from two. The increase was made because of the pandemic and reduced playing opportunities last year. The new behavioral tests that will be administered to the team is making Hurst also reconsider how she will go about making picks for her team.
“You definitely want a good team player, someone who fits in, but they got to fit into that pod that may already have three in the pod. We might be looking at a different person than that one that might be higher [ranked] because they don’t fit into that pod behavioral-wise,” Hurst said.
To make the selection process easier, Hurst limited the candidates she’s considering to those ranked inside the top 20 in the U.S. Solheim Cup point standings and Rolex Rankings. She says there’s just three or four rookies who could make that team that she’d like to get to know before the matches in September. The short list includes Mina Harigae, Jennifer Kupcho, Yealimi Noh and a fourth player who Hurst drew a blank on naming when asked on Saturday. Cheyenne Knight, Sarah Schmelzel, Jennifer Song and Lauren Stephenson are the other possible first-timers currently ranked inside the top 20 in the point standings.
This week, the U.S. Women’s Open is being held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, which is just a 35-minute drive from Hurst’s home. She had hoped to host an event for her team, but current social distancing restrictions scrapped the possibility. Instead, Hurst will use the major championship as another opportunity to observe. Maybe, squeeze in a socially-distanced dinner with an individual player and keep waiting on pandemic protocols to lift to allow for more of the team bonding opportunities of the past.
“That’s what this is all about,” Hurst said about getting to know her team. “I miss that.”