IN 1990 I wasprivileged to play in the inaugural Solheim Cup at Lake Nona in Orlando. KathyWhitworth was our captain, and the U.S. was heavily favored, but CaptainWhitworth cautioned us never to let down our guard because great players makeunderdogs better and inspire them to play over their heads. Whitworth, a winnerof a mere 88 LPGA tournaments, knew a thing or two about front-running andunderdogs, so we listened (and won). Annika Sorenstam's announcement that shewill be stepping away from competitive golf at the end of the season took meright back to that advice from Whitworth—because that's exactly what Annika hasdone to and for others. Her methodical pursuit of excellence made lesserplayers better and inspired them to reach heights that they, in reality, couldhave only considered a fantasy.
Of my Solheim Cupmatch victories I am perhaps proudest of the point Brandie Burton and I earnedagainst Annika and Catrin Nilsmark in the Friday-afternoon four-ball matches atMuirfield Village in '98 (right). We had lost to the Swedish duo two yearsearlier in a foursomes match and knew as underdogs that we had to put forth ourvery best effort to win. Although Brandie fell in a creek and lost a shoe whiletrying to play her second shot at the 11th, we scratched and clawed our way toa 2-up win in dwindling light. That late-day, momentum-building match was thespringboard to a U.S. team victory two days later. There is absolutely nothingmore satisfying than playing your best against the very best.
Annika receivedher share of criticism for being, at times, stoic and one-dimensional, but thatchanged with her opening tee shot at the 2003 Colonial. As she buckled at theknees, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from her: mission accomplished.Her facial expressions from that day forward seemed to change, and a real joyof playing the game shone through. I sensed that same sigh of relief this weekafter her retirement announcement: mission accomplished. After a long,sustained existence as the best of the best, she has decided that it's time tomove on and focus on family and other passions. None of us will ever forget,though, that in her quest for greatness she made others better, myselfincluded.
Dottie Pepper, a17-year LPGA veteran and analyst for NBC and Golf Channel, welcomes yourletters at email@example.com.