U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN

Swedish Amateur Lindblad Does a Star Turn Next to Sorenstam

By Ron Sirak

| Jun 02, 2022 | SOUTHERN PINES, N.C.

Swedish Amateur Lindblad Does a Star Turn Next to Sorenstam

77th U.S. Women's Open Home

One of the many great things about golf is that it is a game for a lifetime. In no other sport can generations share the playing field as competitors for as long as in this game. And Thursday’s Round 1 of the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica was all about generations, especially in the grouping that included Annika Sorenstam and Ingrid Lindblad.

There was 51-year-old Sorenstam, who won this championship at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in 1996, being followed over those same fairways by her son Will and daughter Ava. Playing next to Sorenstam was Lindblad, a 22-year-old amateur who was born four years after Annika won the U.S. Women’s Open in the Sandhills of North Carolina, followed by her mother Cecilia.

And while it is way too early to say there was a passing of the torch from the Swedish legend to the rising Swedish star, the 6-under-par 65 by Lindblad, the lowest round by an amateur ever in the U.S. Women’s Open, certainly turned heads. That Lindblad and Sorenstam are paired together these first two days is simply a symmetry too sweet to ignore.

“I played her first event in 2014,” Lindblad said Thursday at Pine Needles. “I played a junior Am for the Annika Invitational Europe; then the next year I played Annika Cup, which is a junior event in Sweden. Then when I saw that I'm playing with her I was in shock. I was like, this cannot be true. Then on the first tee box I get her scorecard, I'm like, I have Annika's scorecard in my hands.”

Lindblad was only 8 years old when Sorenstam stepped away from competitive play in 2008, so her knowledge about Annika’s achievements were learned more from stories than from observation. She was to Ingrid, literally, a legendary figure, almost like a mythical character from Norse folklore – only Annika is very real.

“That's a very good question,” Lindblad said when asked when she was first aware of Sorenstam’s exploits. “I don't think I knew how good she was. I knew the name, but I didn't start playing competitive until I was 14, so then I kind of realized that oh, she was a great player, and she's still a great player.”

Starting her round on No. 9, Lindblad opened with a birdie, followed quickly by a bogey, then after a par made back-to-back birdies. After five consecutive pars, she reeled off three birdies in a row to get to 5 under through 13 holes, capping the stellar round with a birdie on No. 8 – her final hole – to finish off the 65.

“We talk about growing the game of golf, we talk about the next generation of girls and having tournaments, and to have an Annika winner like that, it's so neat so see that women's golf is in good hands, and come out here and play so solid,” Sorenstam said about Lindblad.

“Yeah, she's authentic,” said Sorenstam, who finished at 3-over 74. “She's got a special look, but she's a fearless player. I think she's confident in her own game. I know she doesn't shy away from the limelight that maybe I did as a young girl.”

The 22-year-old from Halmstad on Sweden’s west coast will be a senior at LSU in the fall. In 2020, she became the first golfer from the school to be Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season, winning twice in the COVID-shortened season and setting the LSU women’s scoring record at 70.33.

In 2022, her junior year, Lindblad had a spectacular spring, winning four of the first five tournaments. She won the SEC Women's Individual Championship with a 38-foot putt for eagle on the final hole and posted a 2-0-1 record in team match play to help LSU win its first league team title in 30 years. With nine career wins, she topped Jenny Lidback’s school record of seven set in 1985-86.

At the NCAA individual tournament, Lindblad finished T-3, five strokes behind Rose Zhang of Stanford, the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. The LSU team placed 11th, missing the eight-school match-play bracket for the team title.

Lindblad has progressed at a steady pace. She won the 2019 Annika Invitational USA, captured two professional events on the Nordic Golf Tour and finished T-30 in the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. She almost didn’t make it to Pine Needles, losing a playoff for the final spot in a Texas qualifier. When she got in as an alternate, the Swedish Golf Federation reached out to Sophie Gustafson, a retired LPGA player who won five times on Tour and competed in the U.S. Women’s Open 15 times, finishing 11th at Pine Needles in 2007, to caddie for Lindblad.

“I didn't have a caddie, and then Patrick, our coach for the national team, he texted her and asked her if she was available,” Lindblad said. “I didn't really know her before this. I looked at her Instagram, but – I was like, whoa, she's won a couple times on Tour.”

Gustafson played on the LPGA Tour during the first Swedish wave, led by 1988 U.S. Women’s Open champion Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Carin Koch, Catrin Nilsmark, Maria Hjorth and, of course, Sorenstam, who won 72 times, including three U.S. Women’s Open titles among her 10 major victories. In recent years, Anna Nordqvist has carried the load for Swedish women virtually alone. But help appears to be on the way.

“Yeah, we have a group right now that's really, really good, six to eight of them,” Sorenstam said about a generation of Swedes she has both motivated and mentored. “Like Maja Stark is here, Amanda Linner is one, Beatrice Wallin is another one, and obviously Ingrid. That's four of them.”

Sorenstam sounded almost like a proud mom when she spoke of the current crop of young Swedish talent.

“So yeah, it kind of goes in waves,” she said. “I think we have a really nice wave, and what I like about these young ladies, they are solid. They are good players, and they work hard. I think they inspire each other. I think they're going to do well at the European Championship this summer. I think we've got to look out for some more Swedes.”

On the first day of this championship, there was no one to be more on the lookout for than Ingrid Lindblad. Playing next to a legend, she played like a legend. Now she will try to do something only Catherine Lacoste of France accomplished, in 1967 – win the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur. That would be truly legendary.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.