Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Gift Of Empathy Why Judy Rankin ranks so high with the Solheim Cup rank and file

Let's give Judy Rankin the sandcastle test. Take her down to the
beach. Give her some pails, spoons and Popsicle sticks. Tell her
to build something. My guess is, we'll come back in three hours
to find her putting the final touches on a cathedral, complete
with flying buttresses, spires and brooding gargoyles. I'd
expect a lot of other detail too--mock stonework, maybe, or
window mullions drawn with a key.

Of course you don't need sandcastles, ink blots or
word-association tests to get a read on Rankin. In two winning
terms as captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team, Rankin has built
an edifice that future captains will find hard to maintain. "She
worked at the captaincy as if it were her full-time job," LPGA
commissioner Jim Ritts said on the final day of this year's Cup,
won by the Americans 16-12. "There was no question about whose
team this was. It was Judy's."

Ask the players why Rankin is so good, and they tend to gush.
They respect her for her playing record (26 LPGA wins, three
Vare Trophies for lowest scoring average, player of the year
awards in 1976 and '77). They are in awe of her organizational
skills ("All we had to do was put on our clothes and go play
golf," says one player). And they love her earnestness ("She's
fun to tease," says Beth Daniel, who played for Rankin in 1996).
The players also consider Rankin a wily matchmaker--although
some of us suspect that the players could do this overrated job

My own view is that Rankin is a great captain because she has
the gift--some might call it a curse--of empathy. As Rosie Jones
put it, "Judy's like someone who puts on a big party and wants
everybody to be happy when they leave." Rankin considers it her
responsibility to make every player's Solheim Cup experience a
positive one. Not only the players, but also the players'
parents, siblings and children. Also the caddies, who were
invited to team functions and treated by Rankin as full partners
in the U.S. effort. During Sunday's singles, Rankin even walked
into a bunker and raked the sand for one of her players.

O.K., men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Seve Ballesteros,
who captained Europe to victory in last year's Ryder Cup, is as
imperious as a medieval lord, and woe to the serf at Valderrama
who got in his way. But there are other means of motivation, and
Rankin is a master of the softer forms. "She has a little bit of
the maternal instinct," says Patty Sheehan, another veteran of
the '96 team.

But Rankin didn't become one of the game's best players and one
of television's better golf analysts by playing mommy to
grown-ups. This year she issued her players a "for your eyes
only" booklet about the Muirfield Village golf course--a
pamphlet filled with course management tips from the course's
co-designer, Jack Nicklaus, and a handful of PGA pros. For once,
an American team looked better prepared than its European
opponents, and the players were quick to credit Rankin.

The downside of Rankin's approach is that it consumes inordinate
amounts of her energy. After the U.S. won in Wales in 1996,
Rankin wandered the wooded grounds around the team's hotel like
an accident victim, talking to whomever crossed her path. This
time she had more bounce at the end, but she admitted that she
spent Sunday afternoon--when the Europeans seem poised for a
stunning comeback--haunted by the "fear...that this thing could
turn wrong." Builders of sandcastles know the feeling.

Rankin says she is through as Solheim Cup captain, but there may
be a move to draft her for the matches in 2000 at Sunningdale
Golf Club in Surrey, England. Team leader Dottie Pepper very much
wants Rankin back, and Dottie says, "I think there are 11 other
players who would agree with me."

Two years ago the players put their feelings in song, to the tune
of Guantanamera: "One Judy Rankin," they sang to their blushing
captain, "there's only one Judy Rankin...." Cute at the time, the
song now seems profound.

Golf Plus will next appear in the magazine's Oct. 12 issue.


There are other means of motivation, and Rankin is a master of
the softer forms.