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September 2, 2021

Austin Ernst

Danielle Kang

Jennifer Kupcho

Lizette Salas

Toledo, Ohio, USA

Inverness Club

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Welcome back to the media center. Happy to be joined by our next pod with Lizette Salas, Danielle Kang, Austin Ernst, and Jennifer Kupcho.

Austin, we're going to start with you. Welcome back to Team USA. Good to have you back here. It has to be extra special back on Team USA. Had you in 2017, you missed the team two years ago, but now you're back; how does it feel?

AUSTIN ERNST: Yeah, it's nice to be back playing in front of a ton of fans, ton of home fans.

But yeah, just really looking forward to getting the week started.

THE MODERATOR: We hear everything blasting over there on the first tee. Overall what has the experience been like? When we were here this time a year ago there was nothing here, you'd never know, now here we are in a massive event. What's the experience been like?

AUSTIN ERNST: It's been great. There is a ton of people already out. There were a ton of people out on Tuesday, yesterday, and today. It's just cool to see a lot of people out.

The golf course looks way different with the builds, but it looks great. It's in great shape, and it's just kind of firmed up every day as we've played.

With the weather, I think they can kind of get the golf course however they want it, and I'm sure it'll be perfect come Saturday.

THE MODERATOR: Danielle, I remember in Des Moines you walking out on the first tee and pumping them up with the music. Are you as excited about that first tee on Saturday morning as I am?

DANIELLE KANG: I am just really excited for the whole week. The fans are out here, incredible to be back on U.S. soil. It was definitely different playing overseas, but really happy to see a lot of red, white, and blue.

But people have been excited and the tournament is even still three days away. The energy here is incredible.

THE MODERATOR: Last year you came here to the Drive On at Inverness right when we came back from the break and took the win. How helpful was that to get that early look at the course, and are you thinking back on that week at all as you stepped back here at Inverness?

DANIELLE KANG: A little here and there, but the golf course is playing a little bit more different. Back then it was colder and we had rain and wind. Now it's a bit hotter, the ball is flying further. It was soft back then; right now it's pretty firm.

I think it's only going to get firmer and faster. Around the greens are pretty difficult. You're just going to have to play really good golf out here. But it's definitely good to see the golf course early.

A lot of people have seen it, though, throughout that week. Coming back here, I just really like the -- I was saying earlier that I really like the vibe of Inverness. Everyone that works here is so kind and nice and super chill, so I'm happy to be here.

THE MODERATOR: Jen, a big week for you for many reasons. Just got engaged the other day, so congrats on that news. You're here for the first time at the Solheim Cup. How overwhelmed, happy, excited are you for this week?

JENNIFER KUPCHO: Yeah, I'm really excited, definitely overwhelmed. The whole entire experience has been really special. These girls have made me feel very comfortable, as well as Angela, just to get me comfortable and get me ready for what's about to come.

I know it's going to get more overwhelming, so just remind myself to slow down and relax.

THE MODERATOR: From a rookie to one of our veterans in Lizette, you've been around these blocks before; you know what it's like to be out there. What kind of advice did you have for Jennifer and for the rest of your team as you get out there and experience yet another Solheim Cup?

LIZETTE SALAS: You know, the more I'm out here, the more I realize that these rookies don't need much guidance. I think the fact that they earned their way here and have played amazing golf, like I don't have to do much. I don't have to say much.

My goal is to be the best team player that I can be, and if that means chatting with them aside, on the side, or just being like, hey, I'm here for you or just take it one day at a time, I'll gladly do that.

Jennifer has been doing a great job. Our pod is just -- we've meshed really well during these practice rounds.

I'm just here to play some good golf. We all have our own game. We're all very different personality-wise, but I think that makes this pod strong.

I'm really excited to be here. I'm excited for the fans. Yeah, I'm just happy and ready to play some Team USA golf.

Q. We know that the pods were all assembled based on behavioral characteristics. What behavior do you all share?

AUSTIN ERNST: We're all really good at golf.

LIZETTE SALAS: That's our only behavior that we have in common is we play some really good golf. We're called the star pod because we are so on different corners of that star, and our assistant captain, Angela Stanford, came up with that name, and that's what makes us strong.

We can adapt to each other, some better than others, but that's what practice rounds are all about. We try to see what options we can get, and at the end of the day we just want the strongest pairings.

Q. Austin, this is for you. How are you different today than you were in Des Moines in 2017?

AUSTIN ERNST: I think I'm a more complete player. My game has gotten better every year I've been on Tour, and I'm definitely more comfortable kind of just going out, and I kind of know what to expect this time around.

I think last time around I didn't really know what the week would hold. Now I kind of know exactly what to expect from it.

Yeah, I think my game is just so much better than it was then. I was little more than just a good ball striker then. I feel like my short game is way better than it was then.

Q. You have the one rookie sitting here; what have you all told Jennifer about what to expect, and how have you gotten her ready for this moment?

JENNIFER KUPCHO: They haven't specifically told me anything. I think it's more just me asking so many questions, and they're very helpful in everything that I ask.

LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, it's going to be overwhelming for a rookie regardless, especially being on home soil. I think acknowledging that and just saying, hey, like just take it one day at a time. It is going to be overwhelming, but just do your thing.

And Angela has been very good at talking to her about that, saying it's okay, you earned your spot, do your thing. We're just here to support you and here to help you in any way possible.

Q. Danielle, I remember you swinging through the crowd, getting them hyped up in Des Moines. What do you think the atmosphere is going to be like on that first tee and tenth tee, and how much do you think this extremely home crowd, considering there won't be very many European fans, be an asset to the team?

DANIELLE KANG: I think being on home grounds is probably more pressure, especially we're all trying to win the Cup back. With that said, the energy that the spectators have brought are incredible. Even today we were just walking to the first tee and I was waving through the crowd and they were all shouting already, and it's Thursday.

I'm just really excited to see how many people are going to fill the -- fairways filled up. If I recall Des Moines, I just saw red everywhere. I remember the flags being red, and I couldn't see where the flags were because the background was red, and I can't wait to see that again and people chanting, "USA."

Any time that we can represent our country is just such an honor. It's a sporting event where we can all come together and just work for one goal. So I'm just really excited.

Q. Mel Reid said she believes this is the strongest Team Europe has had, talked about them. How would you all assess your opponents?

DANIELLE KANG: I definitely think the European team is really strong. They've played some great golf this year. They have major champions.

With that said, we've had some really strong American golf played this entire year, had wins coming off from the beginning. I mean, we have a winner here -- she's --


Just kidding.

DANIELLE KANG: It's okay, I missed the cut.

But with that said, I think for us it's really easygoing this year in my opinion, because I really love my pod. Everyone -- the 12 girls, we've all known each other a long time. Even the rookies, we've all known each other. Having the pod moms like Angela has been a great assistant captain, has been an amazing leader, for me at least that I can say.

She's been guiding us really well throughout the week and making us feel comfortable and ready to tee it up on Saturday is I think the most important. I think we're getting that job done.

Q. Danielle, one of the fun, unique things about the Solheim and Ryder Cup is sometimes the American players with European caddies and vice versa. I know you have an especially unique situation. I was curious if you have any fun stories or if there's any lighthearted banter. What's that kind of like?

DANIELLE KANG: I mean, he says he's -- I can't really throw him in front of the bus. All I can say is that honestly I found his yardage book right now just laying around, so he's probably going to be looking for this. That's all I can tell you is I'm not going to give it back until the first tee on Saturday and see what happens.

It doesn't have -- it has -- all I can show you is that it's got Ollie Brett with USA on it.

Q. Jennifer, could you share some details on your engagement, how he popped the question?

JENNIFER KUPCHO: Yeah. Actually we went and picked out the ring together so I knew it was coming. He took me to a really fancy, nice restaurant, and it came out on the plate with dessert, and on the plate it said it, Will you marry me, so it was really cute.

Q. Tell us about shopping for the ring; what was that like?

JENNIFER KUPCHO: It was really cool. I mean, I kind of had a vision of what I wanted and he already knew that, but he wanted to go pick it out, make sure I really loved it. It was cool to just go in and do it together.

Q. How did you first meet and how long have you been together?

JENNIFER KUPCHO: We first met at Superstition Mountain down in Arizona, a golf course. He worked there. I was a member. I met him there. We've been together a year and a half.

Q. Danielle, you had mentioned earlier, addressed this a little bit about winning last year here. Just wondering what kind of vibe that gives you to come back at a place where you had success, and what, if anything, have you shared with some of your teammates that maybe weren't here?

DANIELLE KANG: The girls that are here have played the golf course. I just happened to win that week.

With that said, when I come back here, I know a lot of the people that work here, so it was really good to see them again and see the superintendents. We talked about the golf course.

One of the greenskeepers and superintendents' name is Jay Z and I gave him a Scotty Cameron putter because I asked him to make the greens fast and he did.

So with this week, I think talking to them, talking to the maintenance crew, and that's what I normally do in late afternoons, seeing how the greens are going to roll out, how much firmer it's going to get, I think that's the thing that I normally look out for.

The golf course is a monster of a golf course. It's not easy. It could host a major championship even. Solheim Cup itself is one of our majors, as well, for me.

I think it'll just be a really good match. There's a reachable par-5. Even if it's a short par-4, a lot of greens are protected by the chipping around the greens. I think they're pretty difficult.

What do you guys think?


LIZETTE SALAS: Second that.


DANIELLE KANG: Anyway, the golf course is --

LIZETTE SALAS: You won here, so, I mean, go ahead.

DANIELLE KANG: It is playing different, though. That is the one thing I can say. It was softer last year and the greens were still fast, but any time we come here, even when we got here for the team practice, the golf course was still in really great shape.

Hats off to those that keep this golf course up to absolute birdie level. I'm just really excited to see how the match is going to pan out. Some pars are going to win, and sometimes you just have to make a five-footer that breaks more than two cups.

Q. No extra confidence from that win, just you personally?

DANIELLE KANG: No, I'm just normally a confident person until -- and I'm still confident even if I fail. That's just how I am. Sometimes I fail confidently, and it's okay. But all I can say is that I'm giving it 110 percent to be here, and I'm going to give it 120 if I can to this team. I'm really excited to tee it up on Saturday.

Q. Lexi has the most experience on this team even though she might not necessarily be the oldest player on the team. Is Lexi sort of one of the team leaders, or is there somebody else that you look to, any of you, as a team leader?

DANIELLE KANG: I honestly genuinely think the beauty of this American team this year is everyone is at one point a leader at some time or another. We're all working together. Sometimes we have to ask some people for the bus schedule or the practice round schedule, whatever it may be. Everyone is helping each other guide ourselves -- like guide the entire group together.

With that being said, our assistant captains have been wonderful. Our captain has been great. I think we're all just having each other's back and just going together and moving together, and I think that's what's really great about this team this year.

LIZETTE SALAS: Just a correction on that. I'm the oldest one on the team.

Q. Oh, I didn't say Lexi was the oldest.

LIZETTE SALAS: Oh, I thought you said she's the oldest. I'm like, hello. Me and Lexi have been on the same team five times.

Q. I was curious how you guys would describe the vibe under Pat Hurst since this is a new captaincy and what you like about the pod system.

DANIELLE KANG: I'm just going to say quickly I really like Angela as my assistant captain. I'm just going to put that out there before everyone else talks.

When she explained the star pod, it's a chart that we all did the personality test and there's like the difficulty level of the people. I'm by myself on the right corner while everyone is here.

But Angela is just -- I said yesterday to her, one day I want to play for her. But with that said, please explain the pod system.

AUSTIN ERNST: I think Pat has been a great captain. I think -- obviously I only played under Juli once, so I guess Lizette could probably speak to that a little bit more.

But I think Pat's personality is a little different than Juli, but Pat is so laid back and we all love Pat so much, and we want to win the Cup back for Pat.

But I think the pods, the nice thing about the pods is you kind of hang out with the same people all week on the golf course and you really get a feel for how other people play and how the people that you're going to play with play, and you really get to know them way better so that when you do get into the fire of it on Saturday you know how they react, and with the behavior stuff, personality stuff, you kind of know what makes them tick, where it's a little bit different than what necessarily you do, which I think is nice.

LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, I've been with Pat for, wow, six years now. She was my pod mom for two teams, and really just kind of took me under her wing. This whole time that she was captain and coming out to events and even when I wasn't playing my best, she knew what I was capable of.

I think she believes in all of us, regardless if we're not playing our best or we're the most confident. She can relate and she can talk to us.

I think that's what makes her a really great captain. I think her ability to choose great assistants like Angela and to assign us to her, that's a great leader. And again, we all look up to Angela, and we kind of warned her, like you're stuck with us for a week, be ready.

She's done a fantastic job of talking to us one-on-one, on being relatable and really just making us comfortable and allowing us to be ourselves and to speak up when we feel the need to.

DANIELLE KANG: Even if Angela yells at you, like I feel good about it. (Laughter.)

Q. I know that the Solheim Cup is unique and everything that comes with that, but it seems like events like this are so much fun, you've got the match play component to it. Does golf need more fun, more match play type of events to bring more awareness and make it even better than what it already is?

AUSTIN ERNST: I think events like this are so fun because you get people that don't necessarily come to golf tournaments that they'll be reached this week, and they'll see higher energy and they'll see you're playing for more than just yourself, you're playing for the rest of your team, you're playing for your country, and that brings out more emotion from everybody.

I'm pretty calm when I play golf. You'll see way more reactions from me this week, fist pumps and that kind of stuff that I wouldn't normally give because it kind of means more. Whether that's match play or just more kind of representing your country, more team events, I think team events are fantastic for golf.

Q. Lizette, since you have so much experience with the Solheim Cup in the sense of all the energy and the nerves and the crowd, it's just so unique compared to your normal Tour stops. From a player's perspective, do you shut it off when you're over a putt, or do you use it and feed off of it?

LIZETTE SALAS: Well, like you said, a Solheim Cup is like no other event on Tour. You experience things that you would never experience, meaning like the adrenaline, the excitement, the nerves. You don't -- like Austin said, she will react more than she normally would, and I think she speaks for all of us in that sense.

Can you repeat the last part of your question?

Q. Talking about all the emotion that comes into it, and when you're thinking golf you want to be calm, but --

LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, I think throughout my four Solheim Cups in the past I've kind of learned to acknowledge that feeling and saying, it's okay to feel this, and this is what brings out the best in us and brings out those clutch putts or those amazing recovery shots.

I think that's the beauty about playing with and for your partner and for your team and for your captains. I think that's the beauty of this team event.

Yeah, it would be great to have more match play, more team events since golf is such an individual sport, but there's no other like first-tee feeling than at a Solheim Cup, especially home soil.

Q. Do you guys have any input at all into your pods? Does Pat just go, hey, this is what it is, or do you guys get to go -- is there any back and forth on that?

AUSTIN ERNST: There's a little bit. It goes both ways.

LIZETTE SALAS: The beauty about this, the beauty of being part of a team is that we all have a voice. It's not cutthroat here. You're in this; deal with it. It's more of like, this is what we came up with, they're giving us their feedback, they want our feedback, because at the end of the day we all want to be as comfortable and confident as possible.

They do ask our input, they value our input. I think they value our voice, which is fantastic, and that takes great leadership. You know, there was a few shifts after the first draft of the pods, and now we're 100 percent comfortable with it, and we're going to make the best out of it.

Q. How does that manifest itself? Three groups all week, or is it just like three groups when you're out there and then you guys are sitting -- the whole group is sitting together when you guys are meeting or whatever?

DANIELLE KANG: The pod system is honestly just playing.

AUSTIN ERNST: When we go back to the team room we're all 12 hanging out.

THE MODERATOR: I know you guys were out on the first tee watching the celebrity tee off, celebrity competition, big thing. I know one of the players who's there is Bubba Watson, who's been out with you guys. What's it been like having him around to get to pick his brain? I know, Danielle, we heard you were chatting with him a fair amount. What's it like having him out there with you guys for the week?

DANIELLE KANG: How do you guys know all that?

THE MODERATOR: We know things.

DANIELLE KANG: I was just picking -- I mean, I really like picking brains with a lot of the players. I'll get to Jennifer and Austin still. I have to ask you a lot of advices here and there. I just really like to know how each and every single player plays.

And I know Bubba has some special shots around the greens. This chipping here is really difficult, or at least for me it's been really difficult. The grass, the way it's sticky, how it grabs, how the ball runs out.

I can't really create top spin right now, so I didn't know what to do, so I kind of picked his brain on how he with play it, and he explained it really well. I asked him how he practices linings, eyesights. You've got to take advantage of the Masters champion, right?

LIZETTE SALAS: I was totally a fangirl when I saw him. He was wearing a mask and I kind of recognized his walk, and I go, that's Bubba. Me being a Ping ambassador, to have a Masters champion come -- he reached out to the team or to Pat and said he wanted to be here the whole week, and that just speaks volumes.

I have massive respect for him and what he does, not only for the game but now bringing more attention to women's golf and to the Solheim Cup, which is what it deserves.

THE MODERATOR: He's not the only Augusta champion here. You have another one in your pod, too.

DANIELLE KANG: I said Masters champion.

JENNIFER KUPCHO: It's actually funny, I do have a story about that. He was just sitting at the table in the team room, I walked up to the table, and he goes, hey, you know I was there when you won, right? I was like, yeah, I shook your hand. Like I wouldn't -- why would I not remember that? Like seriously?

It was just like really funny that he said that. I was like, I know, I talked to you and I shook your hand. I'm like, you've got to remember that you're pretty famous.

DANIELLE KANG: It's like Phil Mickelson coming up to you and saying, hey, my name is Phil. You're like, I know.

THE MODERATOR: Well, have a great week, ladies. We'll see you on the first tee on Saturday.

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