Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland – Six years ago, Anne van Dam watched Carlota Ciganda, Anna Nordqvist and Suzann Pettersen compete in the Solheim Cup. It was in that moment that she made a decision that would alter the course of her life.
“Seeing the real Solheim Cup from up close and winning in the U.S. changed my whole look at golf and wanting to turn pro and be on the same team,” van Dam said on a call from her home in Netherlands, one week before the Solheim Cup.
It was 2013. A 17-year-old van Dam was representing Europe in the PING Junior Solheim Cup at Inverness Golf Club in Colorado. The English duo of Bronte Law and Georgia Hall were also members of that same team. After losing to the American juniors, the trio headed out to the course to watch their counterparts crush Team USA, 18 to 10. It was a life-changing experience for the amateurs.
“We were screaming our lungs out for every shot they hit. It was pretty surreal to be honest,” van Dam recalled. “We looked at each other and said, ‘we want to be on this team.’”
Now six years later, that dream has been fulfilled.
Once a wild-card selection for that junior squad, van Dam earned her way onto this year’s team at No. 2 in the European Solheim Cup point standings. She’ll join not only Law and Hall, but also Ciganda, Nordqvist and Pettersen, her long-time idol. Van Dam was blown away watching Pettersen compete in person in Colorado. The performance Pettersen put on, at such an elite level in the raucous atmosphere of the Solheim Cup, impressed van Dam, who would relish the opportunity to play alongside her hero.
“For me, I would really like that combination,” van Dam said about a potential pairing with Pettersen during the Solheim Cup. “I think we could play really well together.”
Van Dam is a huge asset for Team Europe. A four-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, van Dam led the tour in driving the last four years. As a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2019, she leads in driving distance at 284.15 yards. At 5’11”, van Dam’s length will be an advantage as a soggy Gleneagles will likely play longer than its whiteline yardage of 6,434. Van Dam pulls driver as often as possible on the LPGA Tour and she intends to use the same approach during the Solheim Cup. She anticipates being able to clear several fairway bunkers, which have been strategically positioned around 250 yards out, where most players will be landing the ball. That will give van Dam a larger landing area in some fairways.
“I think that’s definitely going to be useful,” van Dam said about using her distance to her advantage. “I’d say especially for the fourball sessions, it’ll be easy to hit driver on every hole and play really aggressive.”
The question for every long hitter is how do they generate their power? For van Dam, that answer lies with her introduction to the game.
Van Dam started playing golf at age 4 during a family vacation. By 9, she joined the Dutch National Team and began working with their coach Eric der Kinderen, who encouraged van Dam to swing as hard as she could on each and every shot. The distance followed.
“Hit the ball as hard as you can,” van Dam remembers him telling her. “And if you’re in trouble it doesn’t matter because you learn to hit out of the trees or recover. That’s something I’m thankful for today.”
While van Dam is known for her distance, her ability to scramble is what makes her proud. She can be unwieldy. She ranks 138th on the LPGA Tour in driving accuracy, hitting just over 64% of fairways and 71% of greens in regulation. But van Dam is happy with those numbers given her distance, and she considers herself more of a solid ball striker than a long hitter. She prides herself on her ability to draw and fade the ball with ease.
“I think for people that know me quite well they would say I’m a really good ball striker,” van Dam said. “If they see me hit one shot, they’d say she hits the ball really long.”
Making the European Solheim Cup team is the latest in a long line of firsts for van Dam, who is in the midst of playing her first full season on the LPGA Tour. The challenge of moving from the Netherlands to the United States has been challenging for the 23-year-old but adding her boyfriend Roelof Koopsman, himself a professional golfer, to her bag has helped make the transition easier.
“It’s been a good learning process [discovering] what areas I need to improve on to contend,” van Dam admits. “Playing in the U.S. the first time in regular competition is just a lot of fun after being used to only seeing the players and your idols on TV.”
Six years ago in Colorado, van Dam watched from afar as Ciganda, Nordqvist and Pettersen competed in the Solheim Cup, hoping one day to be a part of their team. This week in Scotland, she realizes a dream come true.