A rookie on the Epson Tour in 2018, Linnea Ström (Hovas, Sweden) captured her first career professional win on Sunday, Sept. 2 at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge in Sioux Falls, S.D. at Willow Run Golf Course. The Arizona State University alumna moved up 22 spots in the Volvik Race for the Card to No. 2 and is in the field this week for the fifth annual Garden City Charity Classic.
After the Final Stage of Q-School last year, I faced a tough decision: stay at Arizona State University for one more semester, or turn pro and play the full Epson Tour season. I talked to everybody in my circle, but in the end it was going to be my decision.
There was a mix emotions once I decided to turn pro and leave ASU to pursue my dreams of professional golf. I did not know what to expect on the Epson Tour and was nervous, but at the same time I could not wait for the season to start. The first couple tournaments I played steady golf and many times felt that my game was close to being great. However, frustration started to build inside me and I tried to force good scores. I just couldn’t figure out what I needed to do in order to breakthrough.
Once the PHC Classic in Milwaukee concluded, I decided to skip the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship at Battle Creek Country Club and instead go home to Sweden for 12 days. As soon as I landed in my home country I felt like a completely new person. It was an indescribable feeling to finally be back home at the place I grew up, and to also practice at my home course with my coach, Ola Lindgren. One thing I’ve learned on the Epson Tour this season in my first year as a professional is how to deal with travel. It is so different from college and amateur golf, especially playing four straight weeks. There was definitely a transition period and it takes a while to get used to, but I have been lucky with the support.
You could definitely say that I left Sweden with some newfound energy and motivation going into the last stretch of tournaments. My dad Jonny and I went straight from Sweden to Sioux Falls, S.D., and we also had the Sweden Performance Team in town, including head coach and swing coach Patrik Jonsson, physiotherapist KG Nissén and mental coach Marcus Börjesson. It is not a coincidence that I am the third Swedish player to win on the Epson Tour this year, joining Jenny Haglund who captured the Epson Classic title and Louise Ridderstrom, the Valley Forge Invitational champion. We have always received great support from the Swedish Federation and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, my family and friends around me. Thanks to the Federation, all the players from Sweden are close and we always push each other to work harder and get better.
Now back to Sioux Falls and Willow Run Golf Course, where the first two days were very windy. It was a perfect week for me to sharpen my mental game and make sure I stayed in the present at all times. When it is windy, one of the most important things is to accept the conditions and be patient. I reminded myself of that everyday and my only goal during the week was to trust every shot and control what I could control. If I did that, I would be happy and proud no matter the result.
The final round was a battle between me and Charlotte Thomas. We both played great golf and birdies were what had to be made. When we came to the last hole I held a two-shot lead, but I was still nervous. Many thoughts ran through my head as a stood on the tee box, about to hit my 3-wood. The whole week I thought No. 18 was one of the toughest tee shots with water on the left, bunker and rough to the right. I ended up pulling it left into the hazard. Surprisingly, I felt pretty calm and accepted the fact that I had to try and save bogey. I noticed right away that I could walk back in the flag line and take a drop to be able to hit it over a tall, bushy tree, hopefully landing it somewhere close to the green. When I saw the ball actually land on the green with my 8-iron, I became a little more relaxed.
I still thought it wasn’t over and believed Charlotte would make a birdie. Therefore, it seemed I would need a bogey just to force a playoff. I had a 30-foot downhill putt and obviously wanted to make it, but at the same time I didn’t want to be too aggressive. I gave myself an easy tap-in for bogey and Charlotte ended up making par. My first professional win felt amazing and I couldn’t be more proud of how I handled myself that week. Now for the final five events of the season with the goal of finishing in the top-10 in the Volvik Race for the Card to continue advancing my dreams to the next level.