Madelene Sagstrom, the 54-hole leader at the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, hadn’t been looking at leader boards during Sunday’s final round. So when Nasa Hataoka missed a short par putt on the 18th hole at Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton, Fla., Sagstrom had to turn and take a long stare at the board next to the hole to fully digest what had just happened.
Moments earlier, Sagstrom had rolled in a seven-footer for par to finish the day with a two-under 70 and a 17-under 271 total. Hataoka needed to make her four-footer to finish at 17 under and force a playoff. But when Hataoka pushed the putt right, Sagstrom had become a first-time LPGA Tour champion.
“I have never been in a situation like this before, so obviously it was all new to me,” Sagstrom said. “I didn't know how I was going to handle it or if it was going to go my way or not, so my whole goal today was just go out and stay patient and do what I have done the other days.”
It was a triumphant ending to an up-and-down day that saw Sagstrom, a 27-year-old from Sweden, start with a two-stroke lead only to fall two shots back after two early bogeys on the front nine. But birdies on the eighth, 10th and 11th holes allowed her to grab it back at 16 under.
A birdie by Hataoka on the 15th hole brought her back into a share of the lead, which the Japanese native took back outright on the 16th hole when she made another birdie. Hataoka was looking for a win after being the vanquished playoff foe to Gaby Lopez last Monday morning at the LPGA's season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Sagstrom had reason to be frustrated given the chunked chip she had on the 16th, which cost her a chance at a birdie on the short par 5. But she regrouped on the tee at the 142-yard par-3 17th and hit an 8-iron to two feet, making the birdie to match Hataoka at 17 under.
On the 18th, both players were in the fairway off the tee, but Sagstrom pulled her approach shot, leaving her with a delicate pitch from 45 feet. Hataoka hit the green in regulation, her ball stopping 30 feet past the hole. Hataoka’s birdie effort went by the cup. Par seemed assured, thus putting the pressure on Sagstrom to get up and down, which she did before shockingly seeing Hataoka miss her short par putt.
It was Sagstrom’s first LPGA victory in 69 tour starts as a professional, but the Swede was not unfamiliar with winning. She was a first-team All-American at LSU before turning pro in 2015. A year later, she played the Symetra Tour, winning three times and posting 12 top-10 finishes to earn player of the year and secure her LPGA Tour card. Many were surprised that Sagstrom hadn’t yet been victorious on the LPGA Tour, but the 2017 European Solheim Cup team member had a good attitude about it.
“I just told myself keep fighting,” Sagstrom said. “It will happen if it’s meant to happen.”
And on Sunday, it was.