GRAND RAPIDS, MI - JUNE 16: Anna Nordqvist of Sweden hits her second shot on the first hole during the third round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club on June 16, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Arizona on Her Mind – Nordqvist Returns to Founders Cup

Writer Shannon Severson
Photography Courtesy of LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup

At this year’s 10th annual LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, 2017 tournament champion Anna Nordqvist returns to Arizona, the state she first fell in love with while attending Arizona State University, to compete for a $1.5 million purse. Along with last year’s champion, Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park, and top earnings player Cristie Kerr, she will be part of a celebration that honors the history of women’s golf and promotes the sport to the next generation.

“This is our ninth consecutive year at Wildfire Golf,” says Scott Wood, tournament director. “It’s a very special event that celebrates where we came from. We’re not only honoring the past and celebrating the game of today, but ensuring the future of the sport. 

“Over the past six years, and with the support of PGA, the Bank of Hope Founders Cup has raised almost $3 million for the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf program. We serve 80,000 girls between the ages of 7 and 17 at over 450 sites.”

“It’s always so special to visit Arizona,” says Nordqvist. “Thinking about Phoenix makes me smile. It feels like home. I loved every single day of school and look back at it as some of the best years of my life. I sometimes wonder what my life would be if I hadn’t chosen ASU. I wouldn’t have met the special, supportive people I did. I’m grateful for the opportunity and enjoy coming back every year. 

“When I won the Founders Cup tournament in 2017, it felt like winning at home. I was able to share the victory with those who were always there for me.”

That year, 2017, was a year of challenge and pure perseverance for the now 31-year-old Nordqvist. She battled mononucleosis, then worked her way to a stunning, come-from-behind, playoff victory while being pelted with cold, driving rain at the Evian Championship in the French Alps. 

Since her debut on the professional tour as Rookie of the Year in 2009, Nordqvist has made a reputation for herself as someone who puts in a lot of hours, trains intently, performs consistently and has a steady stream of wins, including two majors. 

Of course, no one can win every competition, much less in the challenging and often frustrating game of golf. So, how does she overcome obstacles and stay motivated between the big wins?

“The feeling of winning when you work at something for so long and win a tournament is such a strong feeling,” says Nordqvist. “Once you’ve been there, you get a feeling for what it’s like. 

“You see a lot of hard work come together and it’s what motivates me to get up early; it’s something to strive for. This year is a Solheim Cup year. I want to make the team and help Europe get the cup back. I’ve been fortunate to play on five Solheim teams and I want to be there again. It’s one of my biggest motivators.”

Nordqvist was always an athlete in her native Sweden and was Swedish Player of the Year in 2004. An all-around athlete, she began playing golf because both her brothers played, and both went pro for a time. 

She credits her parents for their support, but much like the young golfers who are inspired by Nordqvist and her cohorts today, she drew inspiration from those who went before her, including the legendary Swedish golfer Annika Sörestam.

“She was Swedish and the best player in the world,” says Nordqvist. “We grew up in the same environment. Over the years, I’ve admired a lot of different players and have seen how they give back to the game. Lorena Ochoa of Mexico touched people just by being who she was, sticking to her values and love of her family. I admired her for the way she went about her career. She retired very young, but she’s still giving back to the sport. I’ve always drawn inspiration from people who are playing with their heart and prioritizing their families.”

That balance remains a priority for Nordqvist. Outside of the game, she enjoys graphic design (she designed her signature logo with the assistance of her aunt), playing and watching sports and sharing her photography skills with her fans via Instagram. 

Despite a schedule that has her traveling 51 weeks per year, she found time to fall in love on tour and became engaged in December to Amy Yang’s Scottish caddy, Kevin McAlpine.

“I’m very happy to have met Kevin and my goal since being on the tour was to find a balance,” says Nordqvist. “I didn’t know what would happen when I left Sweden in August 2006, but I’ve been pretty fortunate. When I came on tour, golf was my life 24/7. Now, it’s nice and refreshing to be able to come home and not have to think about golf and just be myself. 

“We’re looking forward to getting married next summer. I’m not going to play golf forever and we have started thinking about [having] a family. For now, I really enjoy playing and trying to get better, but I enjoy the normal life. The last couple years, the priority is changing. Golf isn’t everything anymore. It’s definitely a different drive than when I first came on tour. I continue to chase my goals, but in a little bit different way.”

Those values are right in line with the Wood’s goals for fans at the Founders Cup. From pricing and junior clinics (for boys and girls) to local female executives playing in the ProAm, the message is that the LPGA is an affordable and accessible way for everyone to enjoy the game of golf. 

“We want to be the ultimate family golf experience,” says Wood. “Women’s golf is a niche within a niche, but we are making a lot of headway and we have more people who are willing to tell our story to a new audience. 

“It’s our mission to connect both the avid and casual golf fans at Wildfire. It’s a multigenerational sport; we want moms and dads and grandparents to know that when they ask, ‘What are we doing with the kids this week?’ the answer is to bring them out to the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Our players are some of the most approachable in sport. They don’t mind signing autographs or taking selfies. They love being here at the Founders Cup and understand that it’s important to connect to fans to grow the sport.”

There has been an 85 percent increase in total attendance over the last seven years, a testament to the continued growth of the sport and year-round outreach efforts, including the What’s Fore Lunch program in which women can hear speakers and participate in golf clinics. 

It’s all about supporting the future of women’s golf and breaking down gender barriers on the green, which is exactly what the event was founded on.

The Founders Cup celebrates the “Founding 13”—pioneering women who first established the LPGA and paved the way for today’s players. Three are alive today, still enthusiastically supporting the cause, including Marilyn Smith, 89, of Goodyear. 92-year-old Shirley Spork, who still works as a golf instructor in Palm Desert, Calif., and Marlene Vossler, the youngest of the founders.

“They are so inspirational,” says Wood. “They love to interact with the players and the players love to interact with them. It’s so rewarding to see. We also have 50 to 60 young girls golf members who volunteer on the course, shadowing staff and the broadcast team from the Golf Channel. They can see that there are many opportunities in the golf business. It’s not just for men.

“A putt will drop on Sunday and we will have a winner who’ll walk away with $200,000, but we will also have 80,000 girls who benefit from the event.”

Bank of Hope Founders Cup
Tuesday, March 19–Sunday, March 24 | Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa | 5350 E. Marriott Dr., Phoenix| lpgafounderscup.com

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