Pernilla Lindberg’s love affair with New Zealand and in particular the Central Otago and Lakes District was never more evident than during her time competing in the 2020 NZ Men’s Golf Open. She may have missed the cut but the quality of her golf and persona should have won over even the most disgruntled tiny few who thought it was a gimmick or robbed some male of a spot. I have no doubt she left a memorable mark and endeared herself to all who watched or came in contact with her.
It was a few years ago that her love affair began. She played the 2010 New Zealand Women’s Open at Pegasus near Christchurch where she finished second to Laura Davies and followed with the Open at Clearwater. Then eventually she came back for the 2017 event at Windross.
Queenstown was a huge attraction and so she and long time caddy Daniel Taylor decided why not get married in Queenstown. On 31st January 2019, they married in front of their parents and siblings after being helicoptered from Queenstown to Wanaka where the ceremony took place high on Coromandel Peak next to Mount Roy overlooking Lake Wanaka.
Then it was back to their Queenstown home for dinner provided by an on-site chef.
“It was low key and exactly as we wanted,” said Lindberg. They continued their honeymoon in Australia and while Daniel caddied for her at the Victorian Open, they had decided after her major win that it may be better for him to caddy for another player. So he became bagman for Ariya Jutanugarn.
It is easy to see why Lindberg loves Queenstown. Where she grew up in Bolinas, Sweden, she always thought of herself as a mountain person hence her love for skiing.
“With lots of snow, skiing became a natural sport for me to do for six months,” Lindberg relates. “Until I was 16 years old. I split my time between golf and skiing. Skiing was not just for fun, I competed in slalom, giant slalom, downhill and Super G. I could easily have ended up skiing for a living. But one day I saw a top Skier crash, breaking both legs. From then golf was my game.”
Lindberg took the same avenue as many aspiring golfers and earned a scholarship at Oklahoma State University, graduated in May 2009, then made it through LPGA Qualifying School at her first attempt. “I then jumped on a plane to Spain to try for my European Tour card. It was a long three weeks of pressure golf but I did it.” Thus began her 10 years so far on the LPGA Tour.
Lindberg, 33 years old, was just a three year old when she began playing golf with her golfing parents. She had a wonderful time, “Picking flowers along the fairways or eating ice cream. My greatest influence growing up was Annika Sorenstam (Sweden’s legend and one of the all-time greats).”
So to 2020 and time for celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Where better than the Queenstown region. “The opportunity to combine our holiday with the NZ Open was too good to turn down. After all, Queenstown is my favourite place on earth.”
As for the golf, Lindberg struggled on the first day with her length and putts just would not drop. “I’ve not been nervous on the tee for a long time nor had 260-yard second shots to the pin on a par 4.”
The few holes I saw on a windy difficult day revealed enough to suggest the second round at The Hills would be better and so it proved. Some of her play was stunning. It was a sheer delight to see her four birdies on the front nine. Six in all over the 18. She birdied three of the long par 5’s. Outstanding.
Birdies on the difficult 5th and 6th both par 4’s were the result of pinpoint accurate second shots. Possibly her best was a bunker shot from 130 metres on the par 4 second to 3 feet. As an All Blacks fan, she was delighted to be paired with Beauden Barrett who was likewise happy.
“It was great getting to know Beauden. We were both pretty nervous but I think we did just fine.” They obviously enjoyed their time together and it was good to see large galleries following them.
After her round Lindberg was happy to open up about her Major win at the Ana Inspiration in 2018 and the difficulty of repeating that success.
“I am obviously not the first one to struggle a bit after a major win but I think it has a lot to do with expectations that you put on yourself and also outside expectations. Suddenly you expect a lot more from yourself because you know what you are capable of and that can be hard to handle.
“I have an excellent coach and we have a great process that I believe in. We are doing lots of good things so it will just come down to letting it happen.”
Commenting on the women’s game, “It is in a really good place right now and it has been fun to be part of the women’s game for the past few years. We are adding more sponsors, more prize money and more events so we are on a good upswing. Yes, a good time to part of it for sure.”
As for New Zealand she offers measured insightful thoughts, “I would love to see a NZ Women’s Open back at some point but I know how tough it is. We haven’t had a Swedish Open since 2015, but being an Olympic year it is back on the schedule.
“Maybe a smaller event in New Zealand. It is good to have a National Open. It has to start somewhere and hopefully, it would keep growing. We may have to think outside the box.”
At this point, she leaves to attend to more of the many fans and volunteers wanting photos and autographs. She satisfies them all with that winning smile.
After the dust has settled how does the “Lindberg experiment” rate? Bearing in mind it was a New Zealand friend of Lindberg who floated the idea and her call to Tournament Director Michael Glading got the ball rolling his comments were glowing.
“I think she added value and I would want her back. She took on a big challenge and aimed to enjoy the experience, nothing else,” Glading said.
“If you look at the big picture, a friend of mine sent me a lengthy article from Sweden in an international newspaper with a picture of her swinging a club in Queenstown. This added value to the tournament, the region and New Zealand. As a great lover of New Zealand which is helpful to us, she is a honey and knows she will be welcomed back.”
This writer would love to see her return..and maybe…with two rounds like her second round this time, she might even make the cut. Now wouldn’t that be something?
Let Lindberg have the final say. “ The week was such an amazing experience in so many ways. While playing with the men was quite a challenge, this week was more about my love for New Zealand and trying to add something to this great event. Being an ambassador was so cool and the welcome Daniel and I received was incredible.
“Being the first female to play in 101 years was a privilege. Meeting so many wonderful people and playing two wonderful golf courses amongst amazing scenery was so good. I’m pretty excited already about perhaps getting an invite next year…..” and so are we.