GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, NJ --- It is easy for golf fans to believe that professional golfers have the life, from private jets to multiple homes to “help”.
True, for some at the top of their game, and mostly PGA Tour stalwarts.
In the world of women’s professional golf the purses are smaller and the elite number in the handful, or less. It’s a whole different world.
Not that the golf isn’t good. On the LPGA Tour it’s week in, week out outstanding. Competitive. Fun to watch.
Still, the “life” is somewhat different.
There are planes to catch…hoping for an upgrade. There are outfits to pack. There are normal responsibilities. It can be all encompassing, and it puts a toll on relationships and friendships.
Anna Nordqvist has seen it all. She’s a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour, including the last two LPGA ShopRite Classics presented by Acer. She was runner-up in last season’s U.S. Women’s Open. She’s won three tournaments on the Ladies European Tour. Her resume is solid, and along the way she’s earned more than $8,000,000 worldwide.
But it’s not all fun and games for the 29-year-old Swede.
“It can be a grind, it’s very difficult to be with your family and friends when many are not in the United States,” explained the runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. “I kinda like the (Atlantic City) area and this golf course because it brings out the best in players. And it’s a venue where my mother has come over (from Sweden) to watch. It’s been so satisfying winning with her nearby. She’s a good luck charm.”
Now a resident of Florida, Nordqvist has a limited group of friends, but made a goal this year of spending more time away from the game. Picking her spots. Enjoying life as well as the game. She still practices and works on golf but she’s expanded her life horizons and friendships.
“Of course I think of relationships, starting a family, doing things outside of golf. And while golf is my number one priority right now I am cutting back a little of my schedule to enjoy life. I need to find ways to refresh myself, and that means playing a little less and doing other things. I must be a person, and not just a professional golfer.”
As with any goal, it’s not easy, as the Swede really wants to compete on the Solheim Cup team this fall for countrywoman captain Annika Sorenstam, which means she has to play a handful of European events. Thus, a recent tourney in Spain.
“Annika has been a great inspiration, so there’s nothing I want more than to be on her team,” said Nordqvist, who turns 30 later this year. “It’s been a while since I arrived in America with two suitcases and a golf bag to play college golf in Arizona. There are things I still need to accomplish.”
One goal is to three-peat at Stockton’s Seaview Resort, where a year ago she carded rounds of 64-68-64 for a 196 and successful title defense.
“Our tour is very competitive, and each week the best players in the game really go after it,” explained the one-time youth swimmer who would be a graphic designer if not a professional golfer. “Seaview is an outstanding course. It’s not that long, but it is immensely difficult with the fescue grasses and postage stamp sized greens. And when the wind turns itself on, wow, what a challenge.”
The ShopRIte LPGA Classic presented by Acer annually brings more than $19-million in economic benefit to the greater Atlantic City area, and regularly sees a great LPGA player win the event. In its 29 years names like Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Stacey Lewis and Brittany Lincicome have claimed championships. Nordqvist is proud to be part of that group.
“Strong players win here because the (Donald Ross designed Bay Course) is compact, tight and full of challenges. Hit the wrong side of the green and you will roll off and be looking at bogey. You have to be at the top of your game to win here,” said Nordqvist. “I love this place.”
Several years ago Nordqvist, despite her successes, considered giving up the game.
“I was lost for a while, I just was unsure about everything,” remembered Nordqvist. “I missed my friends in Sweden and from college, and I really missed my family. When you are in college you are so busy, going to classes, playing golf, doing those things full-time. That changed after turning pro, because you are always on the road and friends and family are in the background.
“I had some difficult months, went through some bumps in the road, and set some goals. I no longer think about quitting golf, but of doing the right things on and off the course. I’m at peace with myself and my game.”
Nordqvist smiled, took a deep breath, and stated: “I want to enjoy the moment.”
Seaview and the ShopRite Classic is a great moment in time for the Swede.
CHIP SHOTS: This will be the 29th playing of the event, and Nordqvist is the first to successfully defend her title….The Swede has 57 top-10 finishes…She was involved in call-in controversy last year at the Women’s Open, where a viewer dropped a dime on her and later she was penalized, causing her to lose that championship. At the time she was above the controversy, but admits it hurt…Neshaminy’s Brittany Benvenuto is in the tournament field, playing before "local" fans for the first time as an LPGA member.
Anna Nordqvist was still somewhat nervous an hour after her victory in the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer.
Nervous, as in, well, shaking.
The five-time LPGA winner was just feeling the pressure of battling the Stockton Seaview Golf Club and Spa's historic Bay Course layout, the winds that flow off Reed's Bay, and, well, playing for the first time in an LPGA event under her mom's eyes in person. On what was Mother's Day in Sweden. Now that's pressure.
Still, holding a two-shot lead on the final hole, victory would be a breeze, correct?
Not so fast.
Yes, runnerup Christel Boeljon missed an 18 inch par putt on the 18th hole to give Nordqvist the two-shot advantage, but nothing is easy.
Nordqvist hit a decent drive, then saw her layup eight iron shot blow up into the wind and well short of its designed landing space. "That left me between a six iron and seven iron to the hole, and the yardage was right in the middle of the two clubs. I didn't have total confidence. I was making a mess of things."
She hit the shot over the green, and needed a chip and two putts for a bogey six - but that was one shot to the good. She finished the tournament with a closing 69 after opening at 67 and 69 for a 205 total and the $225,000 winner's check. Boeljon was second after a 68-70-68--206, a pair of shots ahead of Morgan Pressel. Among those at 209 were former champion Karrie Webb.
"It was very emotional for me, especially with my mother here and it being Mother's Day in Sweden," said the champion. "It's the first time she's seen me play and win in person on LPGA Tour. A very special day, and I don't think I could have given her a better present. I fought hard all day for this."
It was a bittersweet ending for Boeljon, ranked 254th in the world. "I started feeling some nerves around the 15th hole, but I battled on," said Boeljon. "When the camera is following your every step, you know you are in the thick of things."
CHIP SHOTS: The various charities supported by the Classic fared well, with final details to come...Defending champion Stacy Lewis finished at two-over-par 215, the same as Hall of Famer and former champion Juli Inkster.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, NJ - Stacy Lewis has a huge heart and, when prompted, a friendly smile. Oh, that smile isn’t always plastered to her face, as she’s more likely to be concentrating on her game or some such thing.
The golfer who earned the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy and Money List title for 2014 has a lot to smile about – except she’s also her own worst critic. This year has seen her win exactly zero championships.
This isn’t to say she’s been coasting, as she’s had what most mere mortals would call a stellar season. Yes, there are zero wins, but her bank account has seen more than $700,000 in earnings on the strength of seven top-10 finishes that brought her lifetime earnings over the $10,000,000 mark.
Later this month she will defend the crown she won last year at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer (May 25-31 - ticket information at www.shopritelpgaclassic.com) The event is slated for 54 holes over the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.
“It’s been a mixed season for me, in that I’ve played really well and have challenged for several titles but just haven’t won,” said the 11-time LPGA winner. “I’m doing the right things, hitting good shots, and there will be wins. And, coming back to Seaview is a plus because, well, I love it here.”
Lewis is a two-time winner at the Bay Course, having won in 2012 and 2014. She finished 16-under-par last year including a closing 67 on a course she calls tantalizing.
“The Bay Course is very special, it’s not long but it is very challenging, especially with the winds off the bay,” said Lewis. “I love this golf course. It is all golf, no houses, just a Donald Ross gem. It features tricky greens and you don’t need to be a big bomber to win here.”
Lewis is from a long line of great players who have won the Classic. Annika Sorenstam and Betsy King claimed three titles, while Juli Inkster two. Other greats who have hoisted the championship crown include Nancy Lopez, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Dottie Pepper, Brittany Lincicome and Cristie Kerr.
“You need to be precise, but you also need to have a number of shots in the bag because the challenges are great,” added Lewis. “This is an Old School course, and it can frustrate players. There are subtile breaks on the greens. It’s demanding and the best players will challenge.”
Already committed to the event are 19 of the top 20 players off the 2015 money list and 94 of the top-100.
“The players love to come here, there’s so much to do outside golf. Many of us have stayed with the same families for years,” said Lewis with a smile.
Oh, she doesn’t smile as much as some, but her grace is second to none.
CHIP SHOTS: Lewis has been ranked among the top-3 women in the world of women's professional golf for the last 18 months...Tips on reading Seaview's Bay Course greens. "They don't break the way they look, but they do break they way they feel. I'll walk the green to get that feel."...Crowd favorites Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson have committed to play. Super 17-year-old Brook Henderson was given a sponsor's exemption.
Follow Bob Oliver on Twitter: @Arbyoliver
Absecon, NJ ---
Karrie Webb gave a shy, knowing smile at the question.
It was a simple one. “You look the same as when you won the 2001 McDonald’s LPGA Championship at DuPont. Do you feel you’re game is the same?”
What a dumb question. That was then. This is now. But Webb handled it like the Hall of Fame member she is.
“No, maybe not as athletically good, but mentally much better,” said Webb, the 2013 ShopRite LPGA Classic champion. “I am at peace with things, my game is good, and I feel great.”
Webb has won twice since claiming the 2013 ShopRite crown, bringing her career win total to 57, including 41 on the LPGA Tour. She’s won nearly $20 million in her globetrotting career, and believes she has a little more gas in the tank.
Webb returns to South Jersey and the Atlantic City area for the $1.5 million ShopRite, played on the historic Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club May 29-June 1. Joining Webb will be such stalwarts as Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome and teen sensation Lydia Ko. Hall of Fame member Se Ri Pak will play as will Lexi Thompson.
“I’ve always loved playing Seaview, it’s distinctive and a nice Donald Ross course,” said Webb. “Winning here and at Pine Needles must mean I like Mr. Ross’ designs. You have to be creative with your game on the Bay Course.”
On the north side of 40, when she enjoys navigating her boat equally as well as playing golf, Webb still has that urge and drive needed to succeed. “I haven’t lost the will to win,” she admits. I want to be in the hunt, I want the challenge and wining never gets old.”
Like fine wine, Karrie Webb has gotten better with age.