It’s not her first time at this event. It’s just her first time playing.
Madelene Sagstrom has been a fixture at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions since the season-opener joined the LPGA Tour schedule in 2018. She could always be found walking the range and chatting with new and interesting people (two things she loves to do). But up until now she has observed the competition from outside the ropes.
“Everybody kept asking, ‘Why are you not playing?’” Sagstrom said. “I was like, ‘You have to win.’”
And win she did, almost exactly a full year ago at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. In her fourth year on the LPGA Tour, the 28-year-old from Enkoping, Sweden, finally broke through with a victory after having already competed on one Solheim Cup team and represented her home country at the UL International Crown in the Republic of Korea.
“So now I get to play,” she said with a smile on Tuesday.
But the answer begged another question. Of all the events on the LPGA Tour calendar, why did Sagstrom hang out at this one before she was eligible to be in the field? “Because I play out here,” she said of the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., less than a mile from the front gates to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. “I’ve lived here four years and really enjoy being out here.”
Sagstrom lives about 15 minutes from the course and is a regular, especially in the last year. During the COVID breaks, she did what she always does – made friends, engaged with different people and represented the Tour and the women’s game with brilliance.
“When the pandemic was happening, we tried to bring some more ladies out to play because the guys always have a bunch of games going on,” Sagstrom said. “I just wanted to grow the women's membership a little bit. So, we were out playing a bunch of golf. It was really fun. I think one day we had 12 buggies out there. I’m just trying to do what I can to grow the game from my part.
“I do spend a lot of time on the practice range (here). I don't tend to go on the course too often. But everybody is super nice. They're very supportive. They feel like family more than they feel like members. They're always asking about my life and how everything is going.”
Everything is going pretty well at the moment. Sagstrom had a strong December, finishing 10th at the Volunteers of America Classic in Dallas and then closed the 2020 season with a tie for 13th at the CME Group Tour Championship. But throughout the year, she carried herself with a certain poise that hadn’t been there before.
“I think I have more confidence in myself,” she said of the difference after her win last January. “I know I can perform against the best players in the world. Just feeling that calmness in myself more has made the biggest difference.”
She has always been a joy to be around, a cerebral conversationalist and aggressive listener. The current book on her nightstand is on military leadership. But she devours tomes on everything from Zen philosophy to ancient history. Pick a topic: Sagstrom will either have a cursory knowledge of it or an eagerness to learn.
Now, players want to learn from her about the Four Seasons course. Annika Sorenstam, who is playing in the celebrity division of this two-tournaments-in-one event, picked Sagstrom’s brain during a recent practice round. “I was like, ‘Okay, I can give you some home course knowledge,’” Sagstrom said. “I said, ‘I think the pins are going to be there.’ Now, watch me be completely wrong. But I tried to give her as much knowledge as I could.
“Right now, (the course) is still playing quite soft off the tee, so it's going to be quite long. Obviously, the cold and the wind is the biggest factor in determining how long it's going to play. But I also think it's going to be kind of a putting competition in the end. You have to not mess up and take advantage when you have the chances, because you're not going to get too many of them. The greens are quite large.”
Will that knowledge play to her advantage?
“Obviously, I know all the spots to be and all the spots not to be. So, I think that it's a little bit of both,” she said, giving, as always, a thoughtful and thorough answer to what could have otherwise been a throwaway question. “I'm just going to try to use (my knowledge) to my advantage, knowing that I'm very comfortable here. I have a good feeling about this place in general.
“I see it as a good opportunity to go out and perform well. I mean, every time you can stay at home it's great. It's still a little bit of a weird feeling because it feels like a normal week when I'm here practicing. At the same time, you know in the back of your head that it's a tournament. So, I'm trying to get into tournament mode.”
Sagstrom tees off at 8:10 a.m. on Thursday with NFL stars Brian Urlacher and Adam Thielen. Don’t be surprised if she understands the intricacies of the wheel route and blitzing options from the nickel defensive by the end of the day.