Steve Eubanks / LPGA
There’s a reason winning multiple different majors puts you in elite company. Each major presents its own test. Examinations of precision and mental fortitude, patience and devotion to craft.
The ANA Inspiration is about remaining in the present on a course everyone knows well.
The U.S. Women’s Open tests exact placement and requires a deft touch around the greens.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is about knowing when to attack and when to be conservative.
The Amundi Evian Championship is about your ability to close strong on a golf course where birdies are obtainable and double-bogeys loom.
But the AIG Women’s Open, when held on the classic links courses of Great Britain and Ireland, offers the most unique test, demanding players be artists instead of engineers; that they play the game on the ground, along the knobs and knolls of the worlds’ oldest courses.
While there is some overlap, no major is exactly like the next. That is why, since WWII, only 22 players have ever won more than two different major titles.
No. 22 joined that group on Sunday as Anna Nordqvist added the AIG Women’s Open to her previous KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and Amundi Evian Championship titles. Only two of the other 21, Jan Stephenson and Beverly Hanson, won only three majors with no repeats.
It’s easy to forget that Nordqvist was one grain of sand away from possibly making it four. In 2016 at CordeValle in San Jose, California, Nordqvist was neck-and-neck in a playoff with Brittany Lang when the Swede received a two-shot penalty for inadvertently dislodging a grain of sand on her backswing from a fairway bunker, an infraction that was only caught after hi-def television images were examined in slow motion. That penalty led to a change in the rules of golf. It also knocked Nordqvist out of the hunt for yet another major.
“I think this is the most special one,” Nordqvist said minutes after capturing the AIG Women’s Open. “Just because it’s taken me a couple years and I’ve fought so hard and questioned whether I was doing the right things. Also, knowing how my caddie has been working so hard and I really wanted to do it for him, too. My husband has been supporting me so much, too, and all friends and family. And having spectators back and feeling that adrenaline kicking in again, I think this is definitely my most special win.
“There’s just something about golf that keeps driving me,” she said a few minutes later. “I hate losing probably more than I like winning. … I hate to give up. I feel like things have been coming together. I saw a lot of good things coming last year and a lot of good things happening this year. To be able to get things clicking; I felt like last week at The Scottish Open, I played really well. I hit the ball really well in that wind. So, I think that was a confidence boost for me.”
She was second in the field for the week in greens hit in regulation and would have been first but for an 11-greens-hit day on Thursday. On Saturday she hit 17 greens (and the one she missed was by inches) and on Sunday, she hit 15 greens and putted from off the putting surface on all but one of those. In short, it was a ball-striking clinic and an exhibition in how to master the ambiguities of links terrain.
It was also a lesson in how being comfortable with the rest of your life brings you peace on the golf course.
“I moved back to Arizona (where she attended college) a couple years ago and I absolutely love it there,” Nordqvist said. “I have a lot of great support there. I’m married now and I think just a lot happier off the course. So, I have a good balance there. I’ve done this long enough now where I feel like you can’t really force anything. There were times that I doubted if I would ever win again. For it being quite a few years in between victories, I think sitting here now, winning the (AIG Women’s) Open is a dream. I mean, I couldn’t really dream of anything more. It was definitely worth the wait, definitely worth a lot of those struggles and being able to push through. But it’s been a lot of hard work to get here, too.”
Nordqvist, with 9 career victories, is tied with Mary Mills, who also has three majors. The other players with three majors are Beverly Hanson, who won 17 times in her career; Betty Jamison, who had 13 wins, Nany Lopez, who won 48 times on the LPGA Tour, and Jan Stephenson with 16 victories.
Given how well she strikes the golf ball, nobody believes Nordqvist is done collecting trophies. But no matter how many wins are to come, this AIG Women’s Open win will remain special for all the right reasons.