David Garrido of Sky Sports News has spoken to Solheim Cup star Suzann Pettersen about her new role as a Sustainable Golf Champion……..
Leadership. It seems the most obvious of qualities to want in an individual or within a team, whether on or off the field of play…and yet, it is even more obvious as a quality when it is absent.
It was surely one of the reasons why Suzann Pettersen was picked for the 2019 Solheim Cup despite having spent two years away from golf to start a family, during which time her ranking had fallen below 600th in the world.
What was scrutinised at the time as a questionable selection ultimately evolved into one of the best comeback stories ever, as Pettersen rolled in a knee-knocking, seven-foot putt at Gleneagles to win her singles match against Marina Alex 1up, and clinch the contest for Team Europe by a point. A half would not have been good enough, the USA would have retained the cup. Pettersen promptly retired after that.
Having led by example on that 18th green, the Norwegian is now leading in a different way, in ‘being green’. But, despite appearances, the sport of golf, like others, has work to do in the environmental field.
“When you think about golf, you think golf is such a great arena, it’s green, it’s outdoors, it’s fresh air. But there’s a lot that goes into maintaining a golf course…there’s water, you have all the chemicals, so if you start looking at how the golf course can harm nature, it’s quite a lot actually,” says Pettersen.
The 39-year-old has taken up a role as a Sustainable Golf Champion for the GEO Foundation, an opportunity which came up as a result of her relationship with long-time sponsors Dow.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years, and the more you learn, the more you feel like you want to commit yourself,” she adds. “There’s so many aspects to this, but I guess the most important thing is making sure that each and every one of us takes responsibility, and it was quite a natural fit for me to team up as a champion of sustainability.”
Pettersen cites her young son, Herman, as another key motivating factor in raising awareness of the threat the planet is facing, as well as wanting to represent in terms of taking meaningful climate action.
In that latter respect, she does have a slight advantage, though. Certain countries are further down the track in terms of sustainability, and Norway is one of the nations which has incorporated it better into everyday life.
“Being in the region, it’s a little bit in our blood, to be honest. We have a geothermal heating system, we obviously have recycling bins, we have four different bins in each house. They’re saying by 2025 that there’ll be all electric cars on the road. I feel we buy more used clothes for kids, the circular economy around products has a lot longer lifespan than you actually think,” she says.
So Pettersen is representing for the planet, but why haven’t other athletes done it before? Mainly fear of hypocrisy, being shot down on social media for flying from continent to continent to earn a living.
But, on this, Pettersen is clear. “I think it’s very hard in general to be 100 per cent totally sustainable in everyday life. As a golfer, for example, you need to get from A to B. Sometimes you have to fly. Obviously, you could probably have taken an electric car and driven 40 hours, but you won’t get there in time.”
And athletes, like all of us, have to do their jobs. It is the wrong message to coldly criticise, to undermine what they are trying to stand up for. Instead, concentrating on useful climate action steps is a better, friendlier approach.
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“Rather than focusing on everything you could do wrong, try to focus on what you can actually do,” says Pettersen. “You can actually buy clothes that are more sustainable, I’m involved in Norway with a water company that produces water in a carton instead of plastic.” Little things.
Those with especially thick skins are making their voices heard above the noise of Instagram and Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, and some sportspeople are increasingly driven by purpose rather than lucrative contracts.
“I definitely think the life of a top athlete has changed and there’s a lot more awareness of trying to use the platform that you’ve been given, to speak your word and the world will listen,” asserts Pettersen. “So I think it’s a great opportunity for athletes to speak their mind, in whatever topic that might be, because the world has changed a lot over the last 10 to 15 years – you have social media, you have so many channels, you can communicate, you can deliver messages…”
Those messages are being heeded most of all by young people – already very connected, already more clued up on the challenges the planet needs to overcome, already determined to set their own standards by which to live.
“What we are actually seeing here in Norway is that it’s the younger generation who really cares,” she says. “They are the ones who really want to try and be the role models, leading the way, rather than, say, my parents’ generation who have lived their lives, they’ve had their habits. It’s harder for them to change their routines and humans are all born into certain habits and sometimes it’s hard to break out of it. So it’s fun to see the knowledge and awareness that the youngsters today bring.”
You get the feeling that son Herman may well be one of those bringing the knowledge and awareness in years to come, given the environment he will grow up in. And if it is in the Pettersen genes, those traits of leadership will develop from a young age. Still, he will need guidance and mentoring to learn the skills that come with maturity and life experience, and where better to take those learnings from than the exacting world of sport, and a mother who has experienced the whole gamut of emotions that come with it?
In an open letter to her son, Suzann recounts her life as she discovered she was pregnant, the different shifts in mood and mentality as she realised she would not be able to travel to play tournaments, the falling back in love with golf once Herman had entered the world and the new-found, focused approach she had adopted…culminating at Gleneagles and the fairytale finish to her career.
The letter concludes: “I hope this story helps you understand our family. I hope it helps you appreciate the discipline and determination it takes to reach goals. Work over time will always pay off. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. I hope you find the passion in whatever you do that I found in golf – a love that dwelled deep in my heart. And I hope you see in this story, in my one incredible week at the Solheim Cup, that there is a time for everything in life. That Sunday was the time for me to step away from golf and be a wife and mother. I hope you can find the peace in your decisions that I have found in mine.”
But as one story finishes, another is just starting. A new passion has emerged, there is now time for new things in Pettersen’s life and every day she will get the perfect reminder of why she is taking on sustainability as her new goal: “As a mother of a young child, it is incredible how concerned you become over the future of the planet, its biodiversity, air quality and climate. These things are absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of future generations, so we all need to do our best to make things better.”
If her work ethic during her playing career is anything to go by, Pettersen will be a strong leader to follow.
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