Hungry, cold and exhausted after sleeping in the woods all night with only a self-built fire to keep warm, Beatrice Wallin thought to herself, “this is the worst day of my life.” However, life became even tougher when a Swedish special forces officer directed her to fight a swift river current as her next endurance test.
Military-inspired survival training may sound ludicrous for amateur golfers, but you have to get creative when you’re coaching the elite Swedish national women’s golf team.
“My job is to challenge them so they realise they can achieve more than they believe,” said Fredrik Wetterstrand, the Swedish Golf Federation women’s coach.
During last summer’s pause of the global amateur golf schedule, Wetterstrand seized the opportunity to organise a two-day military-style training session in Halmstad, Sweden, an experience he hopes his team will never forget.
“They’re not going to sleep well the night before a major final round in the future, but despite being tired they’ll know they can still play great golf,” Wetterstrand explained. “They’ll remember they did it after sleeping in the woods once.”
“I have seen a lot of junior golfers, but these women stand out for a few reasons: They are tough, they are physically strong, and their extra determination will build confidence.”
His comprehensive approach is working, evident with four Swedish players now ranked in the top 10 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking and making names for themselves on the ultra-competitive U.S. college circuit.
Wallin, who plays at Florida State University and is ranked 10th, says she and her teammates look back on the unique experience fondly. It strengthened their bonds as a team and continues to pay dividends on and off the golf course this season.
“When I feel like I can’t do something, I remember to slow down,” said Maja Stark, who is No 6 in the world and plays at Oklahoma State University. “Whether it’s managing my hectic schedule at school or after scoring two bogeys in a row, I know to calm down and think because of that training,”
Joining Wallin and Stark in Sweden’s current wave of elite female amateurs is fourth-ranked Ingrid Lindblad, a second-year student at Louisiana State University, and world No 2 Linn Grant, who is coming off five consecutive individual tournament wins for Arizona State University. Their bonds run deep as they and their fellow national teammates have rallied around a “we against the world” attitude that has fueled their success as a team and individually for years. Their next challenge is this week’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where all four are considered strong contenders.
“If we do things together like practice and cheer for each other, we believe we’ll all do better,” Grant said. “There can be a lot of rivalry on teams, but we focus on us together versus being against each other.”
The world got a glimpse of Sweden’s team-oriented approach at the US Women’s Open in December. Grant played in the final group on Saturday, and Stark and Lindblad joined her with top-30 results, finishing T23, T13 and T30 respectively.
For a country of 10 million people and fewer than 150,000 registered female golfers, is this concentration of remarkable amateurs the result of the natural ebbs and flows of talent or something else? Sweden’s greatest of all time thinks they may have something special.
“I have seen a lot of junior golfers, but these women stand out for a few reasons: They are tough, they are physically strong, and their extra determination will build confidence,” said Annika Sörenstam, who has been following their careers for years through her Annika Invitational series of elite amateur events. Wallin won the 2016 Annika Invitational Europe, while Lindblad was victorious in the 2019 Annika Invitational USA.
While this current team of Swedish amateurs is special, their ability to visualise a path to world No 1 is possible, in part, thanks to the pathway Sörenstam and others cut before these women were old enough to hold a golf club.
Sörenstam was part of the country’s first wave of talent in the 1980s and 1990s when Lotta Neumann started winning on the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour, highlighted when Neumann became Sweden’s first major champion by winning the 1988 US Women’s Open. Helen Alfredsson joined the Swedish wave with wins on both tours and a major championship victory at the 1993 Nabisco Dinah Shore (now called the ANA Inspiration). Neumann and Alfredsson helped set the stage for Sörenstam’s World Golf Hall of Fame career of 10 major championship wins, 72 LPGA Tour titles and the only 59 shot on the LPGA Tour to date.
These three women are icons within Swedish golf. Dozens of fellow Swedes have followed the pathway they forged, making names for themselves around the world. Swedish surnames now regularly top leaderboards on the Symetra, LET and LPGA circuits. While that road was paved by those who followed Sörenstam, this current wave of talented young amateurs is now on a super-highway transporting them from their junior national programmes to top NCAA colleges to competing on golf’s grandest stage – Augusta National Golf Club in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“This event is an amazing platform for women’s sport and a great experience,” Sörenstam said. “Standing on the first tee at Augusta National, they will feel the jitters. But it is preparation for their next step.”
This Swedish team has experienced and survived a lot together in preparation for this moment, starting with that night in the woods outside of Halmstad. Wetterstrand has prepared them far beyond fine-tuning their numbers on launch monitors. He knows they will sleep better in their hotel rooms the night before making that iconic drive down Magnolia Lane than they did last summer under the stars.
Top: Ingrid Lindblad, who won the 2019 Annika Invitational USA, ranks No. 4 in the world and hopes to follow the path Annika Sörenstam blazed for Swedish women's golf.