Suzann Pettersen: Photo-Finish at Pumpkin Ridge

Oregon’s pretty good with pumpkins. Sauvie Island has a great Halloween labyrinth that features plenty of the things. The state is famous for the beloved “Great Pumpkin,” former football coach Dee Andros of Oregon State. It also has two golf courses at Pumpkin Ridge, Witch Hollow and Ghost Creek. One is private, one is public. Both are excellent, highly rated and dangerous. There is a racetrack nearby in north Portland, where on any given day one might see a photo finish. However, we never expected to see Suzann Pettersen cause one on the golf course this week.

Don’t jump to any conclusions about this part of Oregon. Pumpkin Ridge is built on farmland in the Tualatin Mountains, only they aren’t mountains, and they’re not soggy from constant Oregon rainfall. Sitting between Portland and the coast in North Plains, they’re a little drier, perfect for bunkers, and even have a touch of Tuscany with the multi-colored, gentle hills. The area is very near the center of a Pacific Northwest wine paradise, and the local monastery is famous for its fudge. That is misleading, though, for Norwegian families are in abundance and have been succeeding here for over a  century. In fact, to find some Pettersens here and there wouldn’t be at all surprising (and the monastery is named for St. Brigitte).

Amidst all these niceties, Suzann Pettersen beat Pumpkin Ridge silly last weekend in the Safeway Classic. It took her a little while to get going, but she overcame the course convincingly – just once, on the final day. For all intents and purposes, Pettersen was out of the tournament, making plans for the next travel segment and playing under the burden of two tragedies painfully close to her heart. Making up a nine-stroke deficit in a field such as this would, as a rule, be sheer fantasy. No matter what spectacular round she put together, one would think that someone in that top group would have played well enough to bar her way.

Some did, but it didn’t work, and the entire field fell away. Pettersen caught Na Yeon Choi from the clubhouse when the Korean’s final bogey forced a playoff in which the Norwegian was undeniable. Suzann Pettersen’s been undeniable a lot lately. The rhythm of her game is at the top of its arc. In May, she took the LPGA Sybase Match Play Championship, and dominated the Irish Open on the Ladies European Tour. Solheim opponents should be very, very concerned if this habit continues.

Searching for some analogy in other sports, I scanned the great comebacks in college football, tennis and basketball. It’s difficult to do that with golf, because it exists within its own passage of time. No other sport moves in the way golf moves. There’s one that made sense, though, despite the vastly different heart rate – the memory of  Secretariat blazing through from somewhere in the pack, making up an irrecoverable distance. I’ve never before thought of a golf tournament or player in terms of a horse race, but that’s what this one felt like. Suzann Pettersen did what Secretariat did, and in a strong field.

So, how do we pay tribute to the Norwegian victor in this part of Oregon where so many of her countrymen settled in past generations? Well…I suppose that calling her “The Great Pumpkin” is out. That just isn’t Suzann Pettersen. Until we think of something, we’ll enjoy the feeling one gets when an international guest creates excitement in our home state, elevating our international status as well.

The field will be looking over its shoulder from now on to avoid any more photo finishes, though. If she’s going to show up playing like this every week, Suzann Pettersen will definitely have to be watched.



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