When Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg went to the hairdresser’s in Bollnas over Christmas, an old friend who was snipping away at her blonde locks regaled her with a memory from their junior days at the local Bollnas Golf Club.
Apparently, they had played on the same children’s squad, a highlight of which was a mid-morning stop for a hot dog. Of the entire group, only Pernilla would give the hot dog a miss.
“I can’t say I remember this too well myself,” laughed Pernilla, “but I gather I used to prepare a whole-wheat sandwich for myself because I was so into healthy living. Even at the age of 12, would you believe.”
The now 32-year-old Pernilla, who defends her lone title starting tomorrow at the ANA Inspiration, heads for her homeland every December. “I grew up with white Christmases,” she explained. (Bollnas, for the record, is just 361 miles short of the Arctic Circle.)
The town’s residents are never closer than when the snow wraps itself around their little community and, during the latest turn-of-the-year break, their line in chat was not too different from the hairdresser’s. They were all airing memories from Pernilla’s golfing days in Bollnas and her extraordinary feat in winning what was at once her first major and her first LPGA title.
Pernilla could not have been more touched, with the magic of that week having started when she walked through the door of the family home to the sight of two freshly-framed photographs. The first showed her holding the ANA trophy, while the second captured her father, Jan, and Gunilla, her mother, along with Pernilla and Daniel Taylor (then her caddie-cum-fiancé, and now her husband) taking the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond.
This past Monday, in much warmer conditions in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Pernilla assumed the role of unofficial host at the ANA Inspiration Champions Dinner. Unlike the dinner at the Masters, where the only non-past champion present is the club chairman, the ANA dinner is held in a large tent behind the 18th green of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills with 16 tables full of dignitaries and invited guests. Pernilla’s contribution to the menu was at the opposite end of the spectrum to one of her whole wholewheat sandwiches – a combination fudge brownie and carrot cake dessert.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to choose the entire menu,” she said. “I showed my indecision in not even being able to pick one dessert. So, we got two.”
That little quip reminded Pernilla of last December when, at Christmas lunch at home, her father, who has just stepped down after 41 glorious years as the Bollnas Golf Club president, told her, “Never doubt yourself again.” He has said it again since – and you can guarantee that Pernilla will be repeating those words to herself during this year’s championship.
“To be honest, I would never have expected myself to handle the situation as well as I did.” – Pernilla Lindberg on last year’s ANA Inspiration playoff
She also made cheerful reference to the golf club members who attended the holiday festivities. They had all wanted to remind her of how, as a teenager, she would be on the practice ground when they started their summer rounds and still there when they finished.
Yet she was not, at any stage, a golfing geek.
“I never,” she stressed, “felt like I was missing out on having a good time. It was simply that golf was what I wanted to do and I always felt that I had to take advantage of our six or so snow-free months. I suppose I was one of those kids who wanted to give everything her best shot.”
Alpine ski racing – she was the highest-ranked Swede in the 12-13 age-group – was her first love. But when skiing and golf training sessions started to overlap, she chose golf, though never at the expense of her schoolwork. With good exam results all the way, she went on to pick up a bachelor’s degree in international business at Oklahoma State before turning professional in 2009.
Jan, who has played to scratch, and Gunilla, who has hovered around the 15- to 18-handicap mark – have made a habit of joining their daughter in the States at the start of each year. Like many Swedes, they have usually had enough of their Swedish winter by March and the ANA comes at precisely the right time. Last year, it was the first event on their American sortie and they followed up with two weeks in Hawaii, one for a tournament and one for a holiday.
They would have needed that holiday after the drama, which attached to their daughter’s ANA play-off.
What turned into an eight-hole affair had started out as a three-way battle involving Pernilla, Jenny Song and Inbee Park. Song fell out after three holes and then, when Pernilla and Inbee were still locked together after a fourth hole, the decision was taken to suspend activities for the night.
On the Monday morning, three more holes came and went before the pair found themselves back at the 10th tee.
Overnight, Pernilla’s mind had kept returning to how, on paper, she didn’t stand a chance against an opponent who had seven majors and a total of 19 LPGA victories under her belt. “I thought about Inbee a lot, only then I kept telling myself that I had nothing to lose. I’d done all the hard work to play myself into that position. In the knowledge that she wasn’t going to make mistakes, I had no option but to step up to the plate.
“To be honest,” she continued, “I would never have expected myself to handle the situation as well as I did. It wasn’t a situation I could force; it was about leaning on my experience and using my energy to push away the doubts.”
The coup de grace came with a holed 30-footer at that eighth extra hole. It was a putt which left Inbee needing to make a 20-footer to keep the match alive and, when her putt missed, Pernilla could just about hear Inbee’s kind words – “Great play, your win is well deserved” – before everything became a blur.
A blur for which the leap into Poppie’s Pond was probably the best solution.
Pernilla Lindberg and caddie (and now husband) Daniel Taylor celebrate her winning last year’s ANA Inspiration in Poppie’s Pond at Mission Hills Country Club. Photo: Kelvin Kuo, USA Today Sports
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