No. 1 goal fuels Suzann Pettersen

NAPLES, Fla. -- Were you in Suzann Pettersen's path as she walked off the 18th green in the second round of the U.S. Women's Open this summer, you'd have been wise to get out of her way. Pettersen missed the cut and looked as if laser beams might come out of her eyes and vaporize anything that delayed her exit.

Who would have guessed that her poor showing at the most important tournament on the LPGA Tour would, in fact, be one of the more beneficial things that happened to her all year?

In the nearly five months since that event on Long Island in New York, Pettersen has been pretty much spectacular: nine tournaments, nine top-10 finishes. That includes three victories, one of them a major.

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One of the highlights of Suzann Pettersen’s summer – and career – was helping Europe to a Solheim Cup win on U.S. soil for the first time.

Oh, and she also helped lead Europe to the Solheim Cup, the first time the European squad ever won the event on U.S. soil. That was a huge career highlight for the proud Norwegian.

If you had told Pettersen that late June day at Sebonack Golf Club that things would go so well for her the rest of the year, it might have taken some of the sting out of her disappointment. But it's just as well she didn't know, because that's been a big part of what's fueled her.

"I managed to turn it around and do a few adjustments to how I prepare -- and it paid off pretty quickly," Pettersen said Tuesday at Tiburon Golf Club, site of the season-ending CME Group Titleholders tournament, where she is one of the favorites this week.

"The toughest learning experience is definitely when you don't do well, especially during tournaments where you have high expectations of yourself."

At age 32, she's well aware she's in the prime of her career, and she's been able to put together the various puzzle pieces needed to not just be a very good pro, but a contender for the No. 1 ranking.

All along, that has been in her mind. She's No. 2 right now.

"If I never thought I was going to become the world No. 1 player, I don't think I would be sitting here today. I would have quit a long time ago," Pettersen said. "This is what keeps me going. I'm probably now more keen and eager to get up in the morning to do the stuff that I know is needed to get there."

The LPGA's Rolex Player of the Year award is already decided; it's been clinched by South Korea's Inbee Park, who won the season's first three major championships. But Park hasn't won since the U.S. Open. While she clearly was the most prominent player on the LPGA circuit the first half of this year, Pettersen has been at the top of the ladder the second half.

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Inbee Park leads the world rankings and owned the first half of the year, winning the first three majors.

"Winning three majors, you should be player of the year," Pettersen said, applauding the accomplishments of Park. "I thought it was quite neat to get into a position where I actually had a chance."

We should also point out that it's not as if Pettersen was invisible during the first part of this year. She had six top-10 finishes before the U.S. Open, including one victory. She now has 14 LPGA titles and is more confident than ever about how she practices and prepares for tournaments.

It's been an evolving process for Pettersen, as it is for most pro golfers.

"You've got to practice the way you want to play," she said. "I'm a little more time-efficient because I have other things to do on my agenda. I'm very disciplined, very structured.

"I guess the easier part is I know what's needed for my game to be able to win on a weekly basis. I probably didn't know [early] in my career, it was more guesswork. Now I know where my strengths are and certain areas that need to be improved, which is always going to be a constant process."

Pettersen's most recent victory came at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship at the end of October. It was a great example of how ready she now feels to face anything on the course.

"The conditions were horrendous, [the wind] was blowing a million miles an hour, and I still felt like I had every shot in the bag," she said. "There's still the question of can you manage to pull it off at the right time, but at least you have the picture in your head to handle any situation."

Pettersen thinks her life away from the course is more well-rounded, too, as she's working on developing her business interests back home in Norway. And it's been a paradox: As Pettersen has looked ahead to what she will do when her golf career does end -- which won't be any time soon -- she's actually played better. She thinks that's in part because she has more things to occupy her mind, which has increased her efficiency in everything.

And as for the No. 1 thing, Pettersen doesn't just "hope" it will happen. She sounds like she almost believes it's her destiny.

"I know I'm going to get there eventually, but I just don't want to get there and disappear," she said. "I want to get there and dominate. I know I'm good enough to be there, and it's definitely one of my main goals."

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