Finding Strength In Adversity

Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

March 26 2012, Katie Ann Robinson

Suzann Pettersen is no stranger to facing setbacks in her career, but even more so, overcoming them with unwavering success.

The Oslo, Norway native earned her LPGA Tour card after tying for 10th at the 2002 Final Qualifying Tournament. After just one year on the Tour and four top-10 finishes, Pettersen missed five events at the start of the 2004 season following surgery on her elbow. However, a quick recovery led Pettersen to four top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at the State Farm Classic to end the season.

Her hopes of returning to the course and continuing the success she found after the preceding season were diminished after collapsing during the off season and suffering a career-threatening ruptured disk in her back. Pettersen was sidelined for eight months.

“Did I think I would golf again? Maybe not,” said Pettersen. “When you can’t walk, golf is the last thing you think about. But at the same time things that don’t kill you, you get stronger from. I believe in that and I think there’s a reason for everything.”

Although the recovery process was extensive, she pushed herself to fight through the pain.

“It was hard,” she said. “But as competitive as I am, I set myself goals. When you're lying on the couch, your goal is to start walking and when you start walking, you want to start walking for hours and when you start walking for hours, you want to start running and when you start running, you want to bike and then you want to do weight training.

“You just have to be more disciplined and you definitely come back to the game with a different attitude. You appreciate just being able to compete and play again.”

Determined to get back on the course, Pettersen competed in the remaining nine events of the season recording three top-25 finishes including a tie for sixth at the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic. She was a captain’s pick on the European Solheim Cup Team and did not disappoint as she registered a 2-0-2 record.

It didn’t take long for Pettersen to get back in the swing of things. The 2007 season marked a huge milestone in her golf career after becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill. She overcame a four-stroke, 54-hole deficit to defeat Jee Young Lee in a three-hole, sudden-death playoff. Pettersen went on to record four more victories that season, including her first major win at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola, becoming the first Norwegian to win an LPGA major.

Since that season, Pettersen has kept a steady pace in her golf game with 57 top-ten finishes including 12 runner-ups and three victories at the 2009 CN Canadian Women’s Open, the 2011 Sybase Match Play Championship and the 2011 Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola last year. She has also competed on six Solheim Cup teams.

Nearly halfway through the 2011 season, a tragic event in Pettersen’s hometown left her solemn as she competed in the Evian Masters.  She wore a black band around her arm for the final two rounds to mourn the death of 77 people in two bombings and the shooting at a youth camp on a nearby island. Although saddened by the news, her strong sense of pride in her native country allowed her to still finish in the top ten with a tie for sixth.

Two weeks later, Pettersen grieved another loss after a family friend was killed in a skydiving accident. She went on to win the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola and dedicated her win to those back home.

"It makes you realize life's not all about golf," she said. "It makes you put things in perspective."

Pettersen’s attitude and ability to fight through adversity has only strengthened her passion and dedication to golf. As an ambassador for Right to Play, a Norwegian organization devoted to using sports for child development in disadvantaged areas of the world, Pettersen has decided to host her own charity golf tournament to raise money for the program. The event will take place in September 2012.

“We use sports to have fun and play as a kid and we want every kid to have that same opportunity,” she said.  “So that’s kind of the main purpose (behind the tournament) and I hope we can raise a little money and also kind of create a stage for golf back home.”

Pettersen credits her two brothers and father for introducing her to golf at the age of 5. She believes the lessons golf taught her at an early age helped shape the golfer she is now.

“I don’t know what I loved (about golf) but it was probably the challenge,” said Petersen. “You always feel you can get better. It’s a difficult sport. You always feel like you can learn something new and it was a good sport for me to grow. You grow a lot playing the game. You learn a lot like the integrity of the game, the dedication and honesty.”

The speed bumps throughout Pettersen’s career have given her a mental toughness and calm demeanor on the course. She now holds the No. 3 spot in the Rolex Rankings behind Yani Tseng and Na Yeon Choi. Although she claims it takes a while for her to get back in competitive mode after the offseason, she has consistently stayed in the top 25 at every tournament this season. As a 10 year veteran in the field, Pettersen is always looking for ways to grow her game and setting new goals each season.

“I want 2012 to be better than 2011 for sure,” she said. “I want to keep improving. Try to pick up on parts of the game that I feel I can get better. My goal is to just stay in the top week in and week out. If you do that then the results will come.”

Topics: Pettersen, Suzann, Player Feature

Andrews Sports MedicineArpin Van LinesMedjet AssistPrudentialSmuckers