Emily K. Pedersen’s story isn’t new. It’s just unique.
Pedersen made the meteoric rise from the Danish junior ranks to earn Rookie of the Year honors on the Ladies European Tour at the age of 18, only to lose her LPGA Tour Card within two years and drop outside the top 500 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. For most players, that’s a cavern far too deep to crawl out of. But that’s where Pedersen’s story is different. She didn’t just claw her way back to the top of the women’s game, she returned even better than when she started. And she did it by retooling her mindset.
Pedersen followed the model of so many of the great champions who have come up through the game. She began playing at the age of 10, dismantled her junior competition, and by the age of 12 had qualified for the Danish national team.
She demonstrated her strength as a competitor early with victories at the British Ladies Amateur Championship and European Ladies Amateur Championship. With a fourth-place finish at the Ladies European Tour’s qualifying school she turned professional at 18 and made a seemingly easy transition. She won in her first season on the LET at the Hero Women’s Indian Open.
“I want to be the world No.1 one day, hopefully,” Pedersen said after a decorated rookie stint. “Hopefully, I'll win the Order of Merit, and hopefully I'll win the CME Globe on the LPGA. Hopefully a lot more victories, both on The European Tour and LPGA.”
Pettersen’s rookie performance earned her the attention of Annika Sorenstam, who captained the European Solheim Cup team in 2017, and she picked Pedersen to join her squad competing in Des Moines, Iowa. That same year Pedersen also played her first full season on the LPGA Tour.
That’s when everything changed.
For many who make an impressive rise through the junior and amateur ranks, the promise is often lost in the transition to professional life. There’s a realization that golf is hard and professional golf is even harder. But Pedersen appeared to have figured that out with her early success on the LET. So what changed with the Solheim Cup?
For Pedersen, it was a case of too much, too soon.
When Pedersen lost each of her matches in Des Moines, she struggled to cope with the questions and criticism surrounding her selection to the team. Her ability to block the outside noise took a mental toll.
“I think maybe I wasn’t ready; I was upset, and it knocked me. I didn’t perform my best but then the fact that people were criticizing that I was a pick meant that I had to put all my energy into proving to myself and to others that I was good enough to be on the team,” Pedersen said of her Solheim experience.
“Before that week, and every week since I was 14 years old, I only thought about the round ahead of me and developing as a golfer. But my focus changed. I listened too much to the crowd.”
Pedersen’s struggles continued on the LPGA Tour. She made 11 of 35 cuts over the course of the 2017 and 2018 seasons on the LPGA Tour. In 2019, she returned to the LET after making just one cut in seven starts.
In 2020, the COVID break gave Pedersen a much-needed chance to regroup. She saw an opportunity to approach the quarantine differently than her counterparts.
“I sat down with my coach in March and he said, ‘How are we getting through this lockdown better than everyone else?’ And that motivated me. If I hadn’t had my struggles, I don’t think I would have learned.”
Pedersen met with a psychologist. She learned how to separate her identity on the golf course from who she is as a person. With that new mindset and recharged for a return to competition, Pedersen emerged from the hiatus as a world beater. She made history with four consecutive wins to close out the 2020 LET season and earned the Order of Merit. She nearly won for the first time on the LPGA Tour that same year, losing in a playoff to Stacy Lewis at the 2020 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open.
“I think I was 500-something in the world when I entered this event last year, and obviously I'm coming in a little bit more confident this year,” Pedersen said after her second-place finish. “But I'm happy to be where I am. I'm happy that I've grown from last year but I'm still trying to grow. I'm still trying to achieve a lot more than I have. But it's all good steps in the right direction.”
Those positive steps continued in 2021 as Pedersen tied for fifth at the Tokyo Olympics and contributed 3½ points for the European Solheim Cup team en route to victory at the Inverness Club in 2021. Pedersen then set her sights on making a return to the LPGA Tour at the eight-round gauntlet known as Q-Series.
“I feel like I'm a better player now than I was the last time I was in the LPGA, so the goal is definitely to get back there.”
Better equipped to deal with the pressures and challenges that come with competing on the LPGA Tour, Pedersen finished tied for 14th at Q-Series to once more earn her card. In 2022, Pedersen climbed to a career high No. 65 in the Rolex Rankings.
While her journey isn’t a new one, it is certainly unique. The setbacks she faced were enough to make a weaker player call it quits. But Pedersen has shown she has the champion’s mindset to battle through the toughest of challenges, learning from her mistakes to become stronger as not only a person, but also as a player.