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August 6, 2009

Dottie Pepper

DAN HIGGINS: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I'm Dan Higgins with the Golf Channel. But more importantly, joining me today to talk about this year's Solheim Cup is Dottie Pepper. Six-time Solheim Cup team member and part of our victorious U.S. Solheim Cup teams, compiling a 13-5-2 record along the way.
As she does for our LPGA Tour telecast, she'll serve at analyst for this year's event. We'll have a lot of it. For those of you that aren't aware, Dottie joined us in 2005 and she's become one of the most respected golf personalities on television. This year's Solheim Cup will be her third as lead analyst for the Golf Channel's coverage.
We will have lots of coverage, more than 24 live hours to be exact. For the first time we'll complement our Solheim Cup coverage with our signature Live From news coverage throughout the week. For the first time, you'll be seeing Live From the Solheim Cup. This will give viewers more news, analysis and interviews from both teams, everything happening throughout the week.
Joining Dottie in the booth will be play-by-play Brian Hammons. Because we'll be on the air for as much as 10 hours at one time, Dottie and Brian of course will need a break. So Rich Lerner will assist with play-by-play when he is not conducting interviews. And joining him as analyst in the booth will be Judy Rankin. She'll be making her Golf Channel debut with us.
Reporting from the course will be Donna Caponi-Byrnes, Kay Cockerill, Val Skinner and Phil Parkin, and Golf Channel's Tom Abbott will also be conducting interviews and serving as a tower analyst.
Quickly, Dottie just got off the golf course herself. Before we get to the Solheim Cup, coming off the course in St. Louis where we wrapped up coverage of the U.S. Women's Amateur, which featured 14-year-old Alexis Thompson. What should people be watching for in the U.S. Women's Amateur?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Thanks, everybody, for popping on this call. It is extraordinarily hot here in St. Louis. I think the quality of play this morning actually showed a little fatigue on a lot of competitors. Not a lot of putts holed. A lot of matches that should have probably closed out quicker than they did.
Alexis, she's an amazing talent. She's had quite the summer. Made a cut at the Women's Open, although she barely got through the match play here, she was very convincing yesterday and played a very good round in winning the first round. Today was a little scratchy against a much tougher opponent. Another series of matches yet to be played this afternoon before they move on to the quarters tomorrow.
She's your all-American kid that just golfs her ball. Pushed very hard I think competitively by both of her older brothers. To come off a 12-stroke win last week, jump back into it, says a lot about how much she wants this championship.
DAN HIGGINS: Moving on to Solheim Cup now. I'd like to ask a couple quick questions of you before we open things up to everybody else. I know your playing credentials in the Solheim Cup are certainly notable. You also were known as one of the more outspoken and passionate players of your time. What do you think is special about the Solheim Cup from a player's perspective and how does that translate to the viewer?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, since the teams have been announced, and players qualifying, speaking about their Solheim Cup experiences, I don't think you've heard one player not mention how special it is to be representing your country and to be involved in a team experience when that just doesn't happen very often.
On an amateur level, if you played college golf, you got to experience it. You got to experience it if you were on a world amateur team or something like that, or your state amateur team, but never to the extent that there is the emotion running through the way there is at a Solheim Cup. The crowds, certainly the television coverage, all of that is at a different level when it comes to the Solheim Cup.
Emotions come out of players that you would never see. Juli Inkster's bag dance in '98 at Muirfield Village came out of nothing but pure emotion. We've seen a lot of things over the years that have been brought out, just amazing play, when you're playing for your teammates and you're playing for your country.
DAN HIGGINS: I will bring up that people do get more passionate when they're playing for their country. Obviously everybody covering the matches seem to be a little bit more high strung or passionate. Of course, last Solheim Cup that was played in Europe, your passion came through. Obviously a mistake on our part on the air of a comment you made. I wonder if you would like to address that to the folks that are listening that.
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, I'd like to first of all address the nuts and bolts of it, the fact that we were in a commercial break for I believe YouTube says it's now 6.5 seconds. My niece was quick to bring it up, Dot Dot, you're on YouTube. Not exactly the way I wanted to make it there. The story line is there, the seconds are there. It's pretty obvious we were in a break.
Yeah, my passion bled through. As a journalist, you have to take yourself out of the player's mode. In a break, I'm rooting as hard as I can for the American team. I'm a passionate sports buff. When I saw the American team really back pedaling, losing control of the matches, I said what I said. I didn't hide from it. If the players wanted to chew me out, they did. If they elected to handle it differently, they did that, too. I didn't run or hide from it. I stand by what I said. Certainly hope our audio is a little better next time.
DAN HIGGINS: With that out of the way, I'll open it up for questions now.

Q. What are your thoughts, did Beth Daniel get her captain's picks correct?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I'll address them one at the same time. Michelle Wie, I believe over the course of this year, earned her spot. No wins, but certainly among the players who were in contention for a spot, she was playing the best, despite not qualifying for the U.S. Open going into the matches. I believe based upon that, she earned her pick.
Juli Inkster, certainly at this point in the year was not picked for her golf prowess. I don't believe she's had a top 10 this year, hasn't scored any points on the Solheim Cup list since the Kingsmill event back in May. But in my mind she was picked for what the Solheim Cup can do, and that's bring out the very best in golf, and I believe also what she brings to the team room, and that's a lot of enthusiasm. Granted, she also brought the median age of the group up by quit a bit (laughter). But experience, enthusiasm. Honestly I think she in some ways becomes a third assistant captain.

Q. I know what your thoughts are on the Solheim Cup. Is captaincy something you could see in your future, if offered?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Honestly, at this point with the schedule that I have, I think I would break down and cry because there's no way to squeeze it in. I would be very honored. But at this point in time, I don't know how it would be possibly manageable.

Q. On paper how lopsided does this Solheim Cup match look? Is it more lopsided than you remember? Am I not seeing something?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I do not believe this is going to be as lopsided as some people predict it will be. I believe Alison Nicholas has a much stronger and deeper team than most people think. I think she got the help she needed from two particular players. Laura Davies, who actually played an extra event, added an event on her schedule so she didn't force her captain to have to pick her via a pick, and also Catriona Matthew, obviously winning the Women's British Open last week, solidified her spot. She had two veteran players she didn't have to use as picks. I think it allowed her to fill out her team the way she did in a very good way. I don't think it's going to be the runaway that so many people think it would be on paper.

Q. Can you tell us about Beth Daniel as a competitor, what memories you have, any good anecdotes, and how does that translate to the team, or does it?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, I think her experience in the Solheim Cup team is going to be invaluable. One of the best ball strikers of all time. Later in her career, obviously Beth struggled with the putter. But ball striking-wise, she was a player when you played against her you sat back and really in awe of the shots that she could hit. The mechanics of her golf swing seemed very unmechanical. As a competitor, I'll share a funny story. In '94 when we were at Greenbrier, we lost the match, JoAnne Carner started what's become a bit of a tradition with some captains, getting everybody together the night before the matches end, just the players at a table for dinner. We were asked to go around the table and say what the Solheim Cup meant to us. Beth was among the last to speak. Then she asked for a little time after all was said. I want this team to know one thing, This isn't over till our fat lady sings. And everybody absolutely lost it. We held Carner to that to the closing dinner on Sunday night and the team party. It was fabulous.

Q. We're going to make the United States a big favorite going in. What are the dangers of that? Certainly you know from 1992 that being a big favorite can be a curse that you have to deal with?
DOTTIE PEPPER: It can be. Honestly, I played on a Curtis Cup team in 1986 that was much the same way. On paper, a very heavy favorite, but we got waxed. I think that set -- that was my mindset going forward. Not only is it match play, but it's a team competition, and emotions run high. I just don't think you can ever take yourself out of a guarded sort of mindset.
In '90, it was much the same way when Kathy Whitworth was captain. She said, You guys are on paper way heavy favorites. But I want you to know as a competitor, when I was and underdog, it made me bring out my best, and I want you all to play that way. There wasn't one player I don't think on that team that didn't take that to heart.

Q. Is that the way Juli will be a big help?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think so. She's been on teams that were on both sides, obviously winning and losing, but I think of the favorite or underdog role, sure.

Q. Is this the best team that Europe could put out there or do they need to take a new look at their qualifying procedure?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think the adjustments that Helen made were good. I think this probably is the best way, especially with the Rolex rankings starting to shake out, being a little bit more stable. I think it's pretty adequate.

Q. Given this golf course is pretty long, expecting some wind, do you think the Europeans may have a slight advantage since they're more versed hitting in the wind and hit the ball lower and longer?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I'm going to hedge my comments on I haven't been to Rich Harvest Farms yet. It's a very long golf course with penal rough and a quirky setup. I don't know about the ball flight necessarily being that big a deal. I do know for the very first time, there's a pretrip to an American site. That I think was brilliant on Alison Nicholas' part, something that will help them maybe even more than just the way they strike the ball.

Q. Michelle Wie is tied for leading the tour for putts in regulation. You would think that would translate to winning. What is she missing? Can you speak about her development now that she's out there regularly on tour.
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think a bit of a misleading stat. I think you have to look at the putting stats in conjunction with total putts per round because that's an indicator of how well you scramble and your opportunities that you give yourself, even though you miss fairways.
If you have a nitpick about Michelle's play, it's that she does not put the ball in play very well. She has struggled off the tee and hasn't been able to I don't think use her length quite yet to her advantage.
DAN HIGGINS: Dottie, what do you think about the marathon days out there and what you're going to go through in the booth with Brian?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I couldn't ask for a better partner than him for all those hours, that's for sure. This will be our third Solheim Cup together. We're getting to be like a sort of old couple where we can finish each other's sentences (laughter).
I'm really, really looking forward to it. He is just a consummate professional. He is always prepared. It makes long days really, really fly by. He's terrific.
DAN HIGGINS: What do you think the perception or awareness is out there of Solheim Cup, in terms of being a major event, not only in women's sports, but in sports, period, the average fan knowing what it is and what it's all about?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Honestly, with all of the controversy concerning the LPGA over the last few months, the awareness of this tournament is probably higher than it has been in quite some time. I think having Michelle selected, and Juli, too, adds a greater spotlight to the event. It's coming at just the right time 'cause I think with the LPGA being in the media, this will be a really positive experience for people to look at this tour and say, you know, it is pretty darn terrific.

Q. We've seen different captain styles, Jack Nicklaus basically throw the balls out and say go get 'em, and Paul Azinger's style. In your experience, how much does the captaincy really matter?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think your team takes on a bit of your captain's personality. I just know, like when Judy was captain in '96, and '98, I thought there was no stone left unturned. Literally in '98, we were staying in a house with Brandie Burton, myself and Judy and (indiscernible). Watched what she went through poring over pairings every night, how they both kind -- (indiscernible) with a football mentality, a coach's mentality, the other side is Judy is more soft, analytical, plods her way through. To see how they came up with their pairings, how they thought about the order in which they would go out was really fascinating.
The Kathy Whitworth, it was a team that was so respectful of her and her credentials and sort of the grande dame sort of atmosphere around her teams. It's an been important part of my professional life certainly.
DAN HIGGINS: Thank you, Dottie, for hanging in with us and for coming on the call. Hope everybody tunes into our coverage of Solheim Cup.

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