There was never any question that Dottie Pepper bleeds red, white and blue.
But the Saratoga Springs native, who was one of the best players in Solheim Cup history, had serious doubts whether she would ever be associated with the U.S. team again in its annual competition with Europe.
Fortunately, her concerns were unwarranted. Pepper, a 17-time winner and a former Rolex Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour, received great news when she was named the U.S. Team’s assistant captain this week for next year’s event in Colorado.
Although Pepper compiled a sparkling 13-5-1 record in Solheim Cup play, her unfortunate remarks as a commentator during the 2007 Solheim Cup hurt lots of feelings and created plenty of questions about whether she would ever again have anything to do with the American team.
To refresh everyone’s memory, Pepper, a golf analyst for NBC Sports, called the U.S. team “choking freaking dogs” after Scotia native Laura Diaz and Sherri Steinhauer failed to close out their match against the Europeans. Pepper made her remarks during what she thought was a cutaway off air.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret that it happened,” the 46-year-old Pepper said in several wire reports this week. “And we all learn.”
I talked to the Capital Region’s most celebrated pro golfer by telephone Friday morning just before she headed out to the course to cover the U.S. Women’s Open in Kohler, Wis.
As usual, the straight shooter had plenty to say.
“This has been in the works for a few months,” said the two-time major champion winner. “But I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought over the last few weeks. I’ve been so busy.”
Pepper is one of the top golf commentators for NBC, and she does plenty of traveling. Her insights and opinions are extremely refreshing, although they got her into trouble five years ago.
Fortunately, Pepper has a great relationship with U.S. captain Meg Mallon, whose long LPGA career played out much like Pepper’s.
“I guess I was a little surprised that this all happened,” Pepper said. “I know Meg and I had dinner back in March, and we talked about a lot of things — partly about the kind of players the U.S. should have and partly about my job. She was wondering if I had the time to do it [help with the American team] and to do it right. Over the course of the last several weeks, she obviously came to the conclusion that it would be a good fit. She told me about it last Friday.”
Pepper couldn’t accept the offer until she informed NBC Sports about her plans.
“I still had a few phone calls to make to get permission,” she said. “I don’t know how this will affect me. I’m in the middle of contract negotiations right now, and I don’t have a set schedule for next year. But I told NBC that the Solheim Cup becomes a priority and that it would have to be part of any negotiations. That’s why I got things cleared with the upper levels of NBC before I agreed.”
Pepper’s Solheim Cup duties begin next month during the event’s one-year kickoff.
“We’re having a media exhibition with four women playing alternate shot. Then, I’ll go to the Women’s British Open, where the announcement of the entire Solheim Cup will be made,” she said.
Pepper, whose fiery personality helped her become the face of the U.S. team for almost two decades, said she will do whatever is asked of her.
“Meg has a big-picture mind-set. I am more detail oriented,” she said. “We complement each other in that regard. I have to do whatever makes things easier for Meg. That’s my mission. Meg and I have been together through a lot. We lost twice in Solheim Cup play, but we won three times as teammates. We’ll try to help our team get back to where it belongs.”
Pepper said the Solheim Cup is still a very big deal to today’s American players.
“I think it’s still very much respected and understood as a special event,” she said. “Americans have a completely different look at it now. They don’t have the cup any more. A lot of cups are off American soil right now, including the Curtis Cup, the Ryder Cup and the Palmer Cup. The Americans don’t have a whole lot of hardware. Plus, the Americans have never lost on home soil in the Solheim Cup. There is a lot to play for right now.”
Pepper, a Furman grad, is a former Gazette Women’s Amateur champ and a New York State Junior Amateur winner. She won a Future Tour title as an amateur.
Eventually, she should be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
But she’s not thinking about her legacy right now.
“It’s all about right now and what I can do to help the American team. My legacy has nothing to do with this,” she said.
But don’t be surprised if Pepper, who makes her home back in the area when not traveling, someday becomes the U.S. team captain, now that the fences appear to be mended.
I can’t think of a better choice.
Thursday’s Eagle Crest Shootout will have a major change in format.
Both the 18-hole qualifier and the subsequent shootout will use a best ball of partners format instead of individual medal play.
“We plan on having two divisions or flights, and it looks like we’ll get five teams making the shootout from each flight,” said Eagle Crest general manager Bill Paulsen Jr.
“Originally, I was going to have a junior flight and a senior flight, but we don’t have that many senior teams. Now, I’m thinking about having everyone play off the same set of tees. I’ll put everyone on the back of the gold tees instead of on the black tees so it’s not too tough for the seniors.”
Among the top tandems already entered are Dan Russo with Bill Sullivan, Steve Owens with Peter Broderick, former champion Jim Welch with Dave Pallas, former champion Ben Kelly with Matt Kelly, former champion Todd Czepiel with three-time Gazette County Am champ Rob Bigley Jr., Mike Wheeler with Tom Salmon, Joe Quillinan with Bill Hayden, former champ Donald DeNyse III with Matt McCaffery, Steve Quillinan Sr. with recent Troy Invy winner Steve Quillinan Jr. and Paulsen with former touring pro Steve Menhennet.
There are still openings. Entry fee, which includes golf, cart, range balls, prizes and a buffet lunch, is $160 per team. Call the pro shop at 877-7082 for more information.
• Local club pros from the Northeastern New York PGA will compete in the Cobleskill Classic — one of their major events — Monday and Tuesday at Cobleskill Golf & Country Club.
• Town of Colonie will host a local qualifier for the New York State Amateur and Junior Boys Amateur Championship Monday.
• Leslie Arakelian from Pinehaven Country Club and Jackie Quinn from Wiltwyck Golf Club won last week’s Northeastern Women’s Golf Association Gail Sykes Best Ball Championship at Saratoga National Golf Club.
• The Eastern New York Golf Association’s weekly event will be held at Winding Brook Country Club on Tuesday.
• Sarah Adamowski, Stephanie Bednar, Gail Brophy, Pat Mayne, Penny Schiek and Grace Ziamandanis will represent the Capital Region in the New York State Women’s Amateur & Mid-Amateur Championships today through Tuesday at Seneca Falls Country Club.
• The seventh annual golf tournament to benefit Amanda’s House, a home away from home for families of patients at Glens Falls Hospital, will be held Aug. 5 at Country Meadows, a 14-hole executive course on Route 149 between Fort Ann and Lake George. Entry fee for the four-person scramble is just $25 and includes a buffet after golf. There will be a 3 p.m. shotgun start. For more information, contact Country Meadows.
• The inaugural Puttin’ for Kids golf fundraiser to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region, will be held July 27. Entry fee for the four-person scramble at Western Turnpike Golf Club is $500 per foursome and includes golf, cart, breakfast, lunch, a hot and cold buffet after golf and a gift bag. Contact Joe Trapasso at 38-0870 for more information.
• The 14th annual Glenville Rotary Golf Classic will be held Aug. 2 at Van Patten Golf Course. Entry fee for the four-person scramble is $100 and includes a snack at the turn and lunch. Call John Weldon at 399-0048 or 596-0320.
• The Joe Merendo Invitational Swing Fore Kids will be held Aug. 10 at Amsterdam Municipal. The four-person scramble begins with a noon shotgun. Entry fee is $100, and includes golf, lunch, prime rib dinner, Titleist grab bag and prizes. Proceeds will help raise funds to benefit local junior golfers through Merendo’s summer clinics, and will also help support local high school golf teams. Call Joe the Pro or Laura at the Amsterdam Municipal pro shop for more information.
• The Gazette’s 15th annual Capital Region Newspaper in Education Junior Golf Tournament is scheduled for Aug. 3 at Schenectady Municipal. Entry fee is $35 for the 8 a.m. shotgun event, that includes lunch and prizes. The competition will be divided into the boys’ 12-14, boys’ 15-18 and girls’ 12-18 age divisions, with gross and net prizes in both. Entry deadline is July 23.
• Rotterdam Elks Lodge No. 2157 will host a junior golf tournament July 17 at 8:45 a.m. at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. This event is a local qualifier for a statewide Elks tournament in August, and the winners should be ready to commit to going to that tournament with a chaperone. There will be age divisions for boys and girls 12-14 years old, 15-16 and 17-18. No caddies or coaches will be allowed. Entry fee is $28, and includes golf, a sleeve of balls and lunch. The tournament is limited to 48 players, and entry deadline is July 13. Contact Muny head pro Brian Damon at 382-5155 for more information.
• Amsterdam Municipal will host the Dolly Day Tournament on July 27. The event is named after Dolly Lazarou, who held the course record for many years with a 64. Proceeds will go to the United Way of Montgomery County.
Sue Eklert used a 5-hybrid to record a hole-in-one on the 129-yard fifth hole at Brookhaven Golf Club.
At Amsterdam Municipal, Betty Donohue posted her first hole-in-one on the 154-yard eighth hole with a driver.
Eagle Crest general manager Bill Paulsen Jr. holed out with a 9-iron on the 115-yard 14th hole at Eagle Crest for his fourth career ace. He was playing from the red tees.
At The Edison Club, Richard Russman hit a 5-wood on the 180-yard 11th hole for his fifth career hole-in-one.
Bryan Gorman used a pitching wedge for his hole-in-one on the 138-yard fourth hole at Shaker Ridge Country Club.
Bill Leone posted a hole-in-one on the 152-yard 14th hole at Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club with a driver.
John Klingber hit a driver for his ace on the 212-yard 15th hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Dan Bartlett used a 3-wood for his ace on the same 15th hole, playing 200 yards.
Also at Schenectady Municipal, Mike Piscitelli holed out with a 6-iron on the 165-yard sixth hole.
Mickey DeMarco holed out with a 5-iron on the par-5 21st hole for an eagle at The Edison Club.
There were plenty of eagles at Schenectady Municipal this week.
In the A.O.H. league, Mike McGann eagled the 12th hole. Nick LaMalfa eagled the ninth hole while competing in the Handicappers league, while Gary Longfritz
eagled the first hole while playing in the MAC league. Don Mennillo Jr. eagled the 12th hole while playing in the Mohawk Valley league. Lee Quivey Jr. eagled the ninth hole.
Don Dennis eagled the first hole with a sand wedge while playing in the Big Bamboo league at Orchard Creek.
At Amsterdam Municipal, Dave Niezgoda and Dale Hulbert each eagled the 10th hole.
Tom Christoffel eagled the 11th hole at Saratoga Lake Golf Club.