Back at the Lacoste Open of 2015, I chatted with two Danes, Emily Kristine Pedersen, then 19, and Nanna Koerstz Madsen, 20, who were vying for rookie-of-the-year honours on the Ladies European Tour. Madsen was ahead at the time, but when she missed the cut that week Pedersen overtook her and ended up at the top.
Five years on, and much the same has happened again. Madsen was the leading Dane on the Rolex women’s world ranking at No. 72 until a week ago. That was when Pedersen (above) shot up to the 69th spot after winning a rare hat trick of LET titles and with it the Race to de Costa del Sol. Meanwhile, yet another Danish woman, Nicole Broch Larsen, is in the top 100.
The reason I had sought out Pedersen and Madsen that day in France was to discover more about their twin advance. After all, we had had one great Dane on the LET in Iben Tinning, but to have two at the same time was unheard of at that stage. Their story went as follows: They lived only 500 metres away from each other in Copenhagen, they attended the same school, they were members of the same club and they shared the same coach in David Dickmeiss. They added that they played with and against each other all the time and that they had brought each other on.
When I suggested, lightly, that it was too much to expect them to be close buddies, Madsen was not about to pretend that they were. She put it this way: “We’re not enemies and we’re not the best of friends.”
Either way, their story went a long way towards satisfying my curiosity until I noticed the pair’s regular mentions of how grateful they were for the help they were getting from the Danish Golf Union.
Last Monday, after Pedersen had wrapped up her season’s success by winning in Andalucía with her much-loved father on the bag, I rang Claus Mølholm at the Danish Golf Union for details of what the organisation does for its players. After all, apart from the success they were having with their women, they also had twins Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard on their books.
Mølholm, the manager of all the national teams in Denmark, was happy enough to give GGP the Union’s story. “We didn’t set out to copy anyone,” he said in answer to my first question. “Instead – and this was way back in the 1980s – we looked at some research which was going on in Canada. It was all about developing athletes for the longer term. The reason we liked the look of that was because if any game needed its players to have long-term aspirations, it was golf.
“We told them how we were looking at the long term and said we would support them for as long as it took if they felt our coaching methods could help.”
“We had this vision to produce a major champion and, at the same time as we were learning from that Canadian research, we studied precisely what went into winning a major. Our findings showed that the average major champion needed to have seven years of professional golf under his or her belt before getting into contention in the big events. In time, we realised that we needed to ‘nurse’ our players through their early years, which was something we never did for Thomas Bjørn or Iben Tinning, both of whom came close.”
The Union’s next move was to discuss their plans with Team Denmark, as they call the 50 players on their various squads. “We told them how we were looking at the long term and said we would support them for as long as it took if they felt our coaching methods could help,” Mølholm said.
The squad members loved the sound of it and how could they not? For instance, when Pedersen won the British Ladies Amateur in 2014, the DGU covered her expenses as she started out on tour and continued to cover the coaching she had been having – and still has – from Dickmeiss. In contrast, when England’s Georgia Hall won the British Ladies Amateur the previous year, she had to mark time for a year because she could not afford to follow the professional trail and the English Golf Union were not about to help.
Pedersen’s progress as a professional was up and down after her fast getaway. Annika Sörenstam gave her a pick for the Solheim Cup of 2017 but, perhaps because she was on the losing side in each of her three outings, she did nothing to write home about in either 2018 or ’19. As Mølholm said, she lost her game and her confidence.
Nothing, though, changed in her relationship with the DGU, while the player herself continued to work her tail off. Both last winter and during lockdown, her Facebook page was strewn with mentions of how she was desperate to get back to playing competitively. There were pictures to go with those mentions, one of them showing her lifting weights in her pyjamas and another setting a new trend in hitting balls into a hanging blanket.
Typically, Pedersen's end-of-season prize-giving words were a mix of joy and gratitude. As she wiped away the tears, she said, “You don’t go through life without support and especially not through tough times. I have had the best of people around me. So a big ‘Thank you’ to my family, my friends, my coaches and my sponsors.”
It was a speech which came from the heart.