BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA | Of course it’s a physical game. Anybody who tells you that golf is 80- to 90-percent mental should play a hole with a 200-yard carry over water and be made to stay there until they get one over. Don’t tell anybody who has hit 300 or 400 balls preparing for a tournament that golf is a mental game. When you wake up the next morning and everything hurts but your earlobes, you know just how physical it is.
But at the tour level, the level that puts you on the first page of the leaderboard in the U.S. Women’s Open, your mindset can push you onto the right side of that razor’s edge between good and great; between household name and “who is that?”; between nice player and major-championship contender.
At age 25, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom has that figured out. “So much of tour life is having your mind right,” Sagstrom said after shooting 2-under 70 on Saturday at Shoal Creek to play her way into a tie for fifth. And while she is eight shots behind leader Ariya Jutanugarn with one round to play, as Sagstrom said afterward: “Anything can happen when you play golf. I think everybody is trying to go out and play their game and do as good as they can and hopefully shoot as good as score as they can. You never know what’s going to happen out there.”
— USGA (@USGA) June 2, 2018
There is a certain Zen in the young lady from Uppsala who has let a little Louisiana southern slip into her Swedish accent. Both are probably attributable to the four years and the psychology degree she got from Louisiana State University. No matter where it comes from, she is as centered a second-year player as you will find. And that’s no accident. She’s made a concerted effort this year to improve her mental edge. She’s sworn off social media. “I have haven’t been on Instagram in three weeks,” she said. “I haven’t clicked on the button once and I’m really excited about it. I feel like I love social media for what it is. I want to use it in a good way. But I started noticing that I was avoiding doing other important stuff so I decided to take a break. Let’s focus on myself. Let’s spend time with family and friends. I like to draw and read. Just putting time away for stuff that I enjoy and not trying to compare myself to everybody else in the world.”
She recently finished reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***,” by Mark Manson and she’s now in the middle of the “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself,” by Michael Singer.
“I read a lot of books. I’ve listened (to the audiobook) of ‘The Secret’ and ‘The Power,’” she told me beside the clubhouse after her round. “I’m really a self-help nerd. But I really enjoy gaining as much information as possible and seeing what works for me, trying to figure things out for myself.”
She has the physical side of her profession down pretty well. She’s ninth in driving distance, averaging more than 271 yards per pop. And the fundamentals of her swing are flawless. But as she said, “How do I take myself to the next level? Out here, one way or another, we’re all just as good. So how am I going to be different? How do I take myself to the next level? I start by reading a lot.”
As any psychologist will tell you, it’s also important to have a goal. Not a vague goal that bleeds in and out of view but a crystal vision of what you want and how you want to get there. Byron Nelson had the ranch he wanted to buy, the one he carried around a plat of throughout his historic 1945 season where she won 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 overall.
For Sagstrom, the goal is the house she doesn’t yet own in Orlando but the one she already has designed and decorated. “I get a lot of house ideas on Pinterest,” she said. “My other site is Realtor.com. It’s slightly over budget but I’m very inspired at the moment.”
Being in the antepenultimate group in the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open is certainly an inspiration.
“I have always loved the challenge of golf. I love the fact that you can always get better the next day. I’m going to hit some balls now,” she said less than an hour before sunset on Saturday. “There’s always something you can do better. That’s the biggest charm of the game. You can never be too good at this. That’s what inspires me to become the best player I can be every day.”