U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon finally let Dottie Pepper out of the doghouse.
Five years after Pepper uttered her infamous “chokin’ freakin’ dogs” comment on what she did not know was a live Golf Channel microphone, Mallon named the six-time Solheim Cup player as one of her assistant captains for next year’s matches in Colorado.
“I want to put the best team around me that I possibly can,” Mallon told reporters Wednesday at Blackwolf Run, the Kohler, Wis., site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. “Dottie and I have spent our entire careers together and I know what a great complement she will be to our team.”
Pepper, a passionate player with strong opinions that have, at times, gotten her into trouble, has made no secret of her desire to head up the team one day. Wednesday’s announcement no doubt moved her one step closer to a goal that had seemed out of reach since her controversial choice of words went live after the 2007 U.S. team lost the leads in two late matches.
On that day, the Americans led the Europeans 6.5-5.5 until they lost the morning matches. Pepper’s remarks, for which she apologized, met with immediate criticism from Euro golfers as well as those on the American team.
“I don't know if there's a broadcaster in sports…that hasn't said something that they don't regret saying, whether it was intended for air,” an emotional Pepper, now an on-course NBC TV analyst, said after accepting Mallon’s invitation. “There's not a day really that goes by that I don't regret that it happened."
Mallon sought to put an end to the recriminations that have come Pepper’s way since her opinion went viral, 2007-style.
"There was no ill will on her part,” Mallon said. “I felt Dottie needed to stop carrying this burden."
Pepper’s Solheim Cup and LPGA Tour credentials are unquestioned. Winner of 17 tour titles, she amassed a 13-5-2 Solheim Cup record. She ranks third in U.S. Solheim Cup points with 14, with Juli Inkster (18.5) and Mallon (16) placing first and second, respectively.
But it was Pepper’s reputation as a fervent flag-waver that earned the backing of American fans and the ire of her European opponents. Annika Sorenstam even stuck a photo of Pepper to a punching bag and had her 1998 teammates whale away at it.
While the “chokin’ freakin’” crack is likely to dog Pepper forever, Mallon’s announcement should at least get the two-time major champ into the conversation about future Solheim Cup captains.
“I firmly believe that Dottie will be a U.S. team captain one day and I know how much being an assistant has already helped me,” Mallon said. “I think it’s important for any potential captain to be an assistant and I think it’s the right fit for her to be on my team.”
Mallon will add a second assistant captain -- rumored to be Inkster -- early next year.