September 29, 2008

World Beaters

For the second time in three tries, Swedish women claim the WATC title

A quick start from collegians Hedwall, Lindberg and Nordqvist propelled Sweden to its wire-to-wire win.

A quick start from collegians Hedwall, Lindberg and Nordqvist propelled Sweden to its wire-to-wire win.

No doubt, Annika Sorenstam's retirement marks the end of an era in Swedish golf. Anyone wondering, though, whether the country's future in the game might suffer need only look at the results last week in Adelaide, Australia, at the 23rd Women's World Amateur Team Championship to find their answer.

Not since the United States accomplished the feat 18 years ago had any nation gone wire-to-wire in winning the biennial event, referred to by many as the "Olympics" of golf. Yet when Sweden's Caroline Hedwall, Anna Nordqvist and Pernilla Lindberg combined to build a 10-stroke lead after the opening round at Grange GC, then broke the event's 36-hole scoring record (posting a 15-under 275), the Scandinavians were well on their way to claiming the country's second Espirito Santo trophy in three tries.

Two anticlimatic days later, Sweden finished with a 19-under 561, three strokes off the lowest 72-hole score in WATC history and 12 strokes ahead of runner-up Spain. "It's a fantastic feeling. I am not surprised we are here because they are really good players," said Swedish captain Walter Danewid of his talented threesome, all of whom play college golf in the U.S. "It's been advertised that this event would have the stars of tomorrow. They lived up to that."

While only five golfers in the 144-player field broke par over four days, Hedwall, a freshman at Oklahoma State, shot a 10-under 280, and Nordqvist, a junior at Arizona State, posted a nine-under 281. The next closest competitor was Spain's Azahara Munoz, Nordqvist's teammate at ASU and the defending NCAA individual champion, who shot a three-under 287.

Finishing 14 stokes back of Sweden in third place was the U.S. team of Amanda Blumenherst, Alison Walshe and Tiffany Joh. The Americans were hoping to end a 10-year victory drought, the longest stretch the country had ever gone without winning the event, and shot the lowest score of any team over the final 54 holes (not to mention the lowest final 36-hole score, 279, in championship history). However, a six-over 152 in the first round, leaving them tied for 17th after Day 1, made claiming the title almost impossible.

"The first day," said Blumenherst, who shot an opening-round 79 but rebounded with scores of 71, 73 and 68, "was like the wind out of our sails."

In victory, Sweden remained the only nation to play in all 23 WATCs and never finish outside the top 10. "I was asked what is the secret to our success," Danewid said. "It's hard work. There's no secret."

It's no coincidence that hard work was a mantra Sorenstam espoused throughout her career. Apparently her example has made an impression on the country's next generation of players.