Watch out world, the next wave of talent in european womens golf is arriving.
This is definitely inspired by my recent visit to last week’s Ladies Norwegian Challenge, where I saw not only Tonje Daffinrud of Europe’s 2009 Junior Solheim Cup team and Jacqueline Hedwall, little sis to 2011 Solheim hero Caroline Hedwall. But it was truely great to see all of the young players out there competing on what is rapidly becoming the world’s best womens professional golf feeder tour.
There is a bit of fan-boy in that last sentence, but I don’t think that it exaggerates what’s going on.
Around the same time that the LET made the decision to begin to engage with the other European (womens) feeder tours, it was also announced that golf would become an Olympic sport. This has mobilised the national federations throughout the world to build (or enhance) their development efforts.
This is particularly true in regard to womens golf, since relatively few countries had development programs which fully reached across the gender barrier. The BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), among others now have fully modernised programs, including great coaches and support systems. And we’re only just starting to catch a glimpse of the potential result.
The tours, including the LET Access Series, have grown, amplifying the good work done by the national federations and are creating new playing opportunities for the aspiring golfers. The LETAS agenda for 2012 features 13 tournaments across Europe, including co-sanctioned tournaments with the Nordea Tour, the Generali Ladies Tour, and the Banesto Tour. Each of these tours and their sponsors deserve a great deal of credit for realising that by working together, they can raise the profile of womens golf and its golfers.
At the Ladies Norwegian Challenge, one of the interesting bits that I noticed is the great work that was done by the referees and tournament officials, led by the tournament director. They were really working hard to keep the girls moving along, using the same timing that is used on the LET. Players or groups who moved slowly were “put on the clock”, much as they would be on the main tour. But it was done as much as to teach as to ensure the competition moved along smoothly. That balance really helped many of the amateurs, who were already very nervous competing alongside the pros.
Credit is due for this to the LET and LETAS players councils, which fully support/empower their referees in terms of the timing issue. Best in class in this area. The LPGA should take note – they could learn a lot from what is going on on this side of the pond.
Five amateurs were among the top twenty at the Ladies Norwegian Challenge, including the tournament runner-up Daniela Blomqvist. Fellow swedish amateur Camilla Lennarth led after the 1st round and remained in contention, paired with Marianne Skarpnord for the final round. Another nine amateurs were among the 41 players competing on the final day. All impressed.
Naysayers might look at that or at the scores from the week and say that it was a weak field. I would disagree. The scores were more indicative of quite tricky pin positions and a difficult layout. Fairways were not tight, but if you strayed off course, you were dealing with knee-high links-style grass – that is if you could find the ball. And if my memory serves me correctly, nine holes had blind uphill approach shots to the pins, a test even for the more experienced players.
One of the greatest things about European tournaments is the support.
Jacqueline Hedwall and Pamela Pretswell had their mums helping out as caddies. Norwegian amateur Mariell Bruun had her grandfather out there, complete with fist bumps to celebrate great shots. Lots of family and friends giving positive encouragement. This type of positive, un-pushy support is critical for developing players and gives a significant boost to the competitors in terms of the mental side of the game.
The national federations are also very supportive. Being in scandinavia, I was quickly reminded of how involved the national federations are. And really the Swedish and Norwegian federations are models for doing it the right way. I remember from last year’s Womens British Open how the swedish federation set up a “swedish house” for their players – a place where they could relax, enjoy downtime, and have swedish meals prepared by swedish chefs. It made me wonder a bit why more countries didn’t do this.
I met some great young swedish amateur golfers who play summer golf (as amateurs) on the Nordea Tour, then return to the States to continue with university in late summer. There were several golfers who attend the Univ. of Arkansas-Little Rock, including Sofia Berglund, whom I spoke with a bit. By the way, she’s not only a quality golfer, she’s got a great photographer’s eye as well. Check out the photo below that she took of her friend Malin Lundberg during the final round. Sweet swing & perfectly timed photograph ! Bit of a shame that the watermark covers the clubhead & ball, but you probably get the idea.
Finally coming back to Tonje (Daffinrud) and Jacqueline (Hedwall), you can just tell that if they continue to put in the work that they will be ones to watch in the coming years. Tonje has grown up a lot since the last time (Sept 2009) I saw her compete. And Jacqueline’s not just a great caddie, having helped her sis on the bag at many events including last year’s Evian Masters and Solheim Cup. She’s a great golfer in her own right.
Overall the atmosphere at the tournament was fantastic. Hauger Golfklubb did a great job hosting the tournament – friendly volunteers, welcoming members, great hospitality. Great to meet the gang from the Nordea Tour itself. Really, really enjoyable.
And after three days of photographing the golfers, I walked away with the strong feeling that I now have images of several future major winners and Solheim stars at their diamond-in-the-rough stage of development. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
By the way…
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