For a country with just more than 10 million residents, and an area that traditionally has a shorter golf season than many countries around the world, Sweden has made its mark on golf, and specifically more so in women’s professional golf.
The first, and biggest and brightest star was Annika Sorenstam, an LPGA Hall of Fame golfer with 10 major victories, 93 worldwide triumphs and a player with first name only recognition.
Now retired for 10 years from playing competitive golf, Sorenstam set the bar high for the Swedes today, and over the past decade, there have been any number of women’s golfers who have followed her to the dream of playing on the LPGA Tour.
That next group of talented Swedish golfers included Anna Nordqvist, Dani Holmqvist and Caroline Hedwall. Nordqvist owns two majors and competed on five Solheim Cup teams.
The latest group, and perhaps the deepest group of talented players to begin their step up the golfing ladder, will be playing this weekend at the 5th Symetra Tour Garden City Charity Classic, which tees off at 8 a.m. Friday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
The 132-player field is chasing a $22,500 first-place check in the $150,000 purse. And, perhaps the gold in the pot at the end of the rainbow is a possible top 10 season-ending finish on the Symetra Tour money list, giving them automatic berths to the LPGA Tour for 2019.
Among the group this week from Sweden are three players, two of whom are rookies and the other played her inaugural season on the Symetra Tour in 2017.
That group includes Linnea Strom, who is coming off her first professional win last Sunday at the Sioux Falls (S.D.) GreatLIFE Challenge, cashing a check for $31,500, one of the richest paydays on the Tour.
Also competing in the Charity Classic are her fellow Swedes, Jenny Haglund and Louise Ridderstrom. Haglund is another rookie, and she captured her first pro win earlier this year (May 18) at the Symetra Classic in Davidson, N.C., making birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat the current No. 1 money winner Dottie Ardina. Ridderstrom, too, is enjoying the fruits of her second season on the Symetra Tour, claiming the Valley Forge Invitational in Pottstown, Pa., one week after Haglund’s triumph.
Additionally, Camilla Lennarth and Martina Edberg are LPGA Tour rookies by earning cards through the 2017 Qualifying School.
Strom has moved into the No. 2 position on the Volvik Race for the Card list, while Haglund is No. 6 and Ridderstrom No. 18.
So what is it with the Swedish women’s golfers, and why are they so good. And why are there so many of them.
“We have a great support system back home with our national team,” Strom said Wednesday prior to her Classic Pro-Am afternoon round. “We’ve got a swing coach, a physio coach and a mental game coach, so there’s a lot of assistance we get.”
For example, Strom said the national team support group traveled to South Dakota, and was available for any assistance to any of the current group of Swedish players competing.
“Most of us started between the ages of 11 and 13, so we’ve competed against each, and we are friends and give support to each other,” Strom said.
Haglund echoed Strom’s sentiments about the group, which now consists of four additional players on the Symetra Tour — Linnea Johansson, Louise Stahle, Emma Henrikson and Julia Roth.
“This group got together several years ago when we were playing junior golf,” Haglund recalled. “Our goal was to have at least one player from our group make the 2017 Solheim Cup, but we didn’t quite make it.”
But Madeline Sagstrom, the 2016 Symetra Tour Player of the Year, did — and made a big splash in that international match after successfully transitioning onto the LPGA Tour.
“I think meeting people who are a lot like you and have the same interests makes it easier for us to provide encouragement and support to each other,” Haglund said. “We’ve been together a number of years now, and we push each other out here.”
Haglund grabbed the first Swede win of the 2018 campaign, followed closely by Ridderstrom and then the latest one from Strom.
“It’s fun to see all of us being successful and getting wins,” Haglund said. “I think when one does well, it gives confidence to the others that they can win, too. So we’re always rooting for each other. That said, it’s an individual sport and we’re all competing against each other, so sometimes you just stick to your own routine, and then when you’re in position to win, sometimes, it’s just your time.”
Ridderstrom, like her contemporaries, said that the legacy of Annika Sorenstam (who also had sister Charlotta playing on the LPGA Tour) was difficult to comprehend.
“She retired just about the time we began playing junior golf,” said Ridderstrom of the legendary Sorenstam. “She put Sweden golf on the map. I think we have a lot of accessible golf courses, and there’s a lot of junior tournaments and people just made friends early. I think that encouraged all of us to work hard and pursue our dreams.”
All three players competed at the collegiate level — Strom at Arizona State, Ridderstrom at UCLA and Haglund at Southern Methodist — and the success enjoyed there has propelled them into making a big splash in their early pro career.
“I think the fact that all of us are having success that we just have that extra support out here,” Ridderstrom said. “I’d been in contention before but didn’t seem to get it as to what it took to win. Jenny and I drove from one tournament to the next and we talked about taking that next step. I think we’ve all just shared that with each other and know that all of us are capable of winning.”
Ridderstrom also supported the family-like atmosphere that they enjoy periodically.
“We’re all competitors and I think we gain help from each other,” she said. “I think there are times when we need to have your own space. We grew up together. We understand each other. I think that helps all of us become better at what we all want to accomplish.”