It’s not regulation size. On Saturday morning, for the third day in a row, Maja Stark incorporated a unique wrinkle into her warmup. Out of the bag came a green ball, about volleyball size, that she dribbled with her feet. A kick or two caught a couple of caddies off guard, but Stark followed her own pass, napping the ball with her right toe and trotting away. With a few sideways glances from spectators, Stark turned the area between the driving range and putting green at Pelican Golf Club into her own personal soccer field.
“I like scaring the caddies,” she said with a sly grin after going out in the morning wave and firing a 63 to move herself into position with one round to go.
You might think the 22-year-old Swede might put on some semblance of a serious air. After all, in the last 14 months she’s notched four wins on the LET and a fifth that was co-sanctioned with the LPGA Tour, a five-shot victory in Northern Ireland that earned Stark LPGA Tour Membership and put her on a path to Naples and the CME Group Tour Championship. But you would be wrong. Stark is one of the least-serious superstars in the game, quick with a joke and always self-deprecating.
Cometh the question: Given your success, have you splurged (on anything) yet this year?
“No, not really,” Stark said. Then she flashed a huge grin. “I bought Invisalign (the invisible teeth-straightening system). That's one thing. That's kind of expensive. That’s the most expensive thing.”
When asked how much, she said, “Like $5,000.” The natural follow-up, given the $2.3 million that’s on the line this week and next: “Imagine what you could do,” to which Stark quipped, “I know. Imagine what I could fix.”
She is so worth following. In addition to the quick wit and engaging personality, Stark is an extraordinary talent with a fast, athletic golf swing and a highlight reel of iron shots that have eaten up flagsticks all year long.
After three LET wins, which had her leading the Race to the Costa del Sol, she went to Northern Ireland as one of the hottest players on the planet and fired rounds of 69-62 on the weekend to walk away with the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics. Since then she has sprinkled in a few more LET starts (and three more top-5 finishes) into her schedule and she currently sits second in that tour’s season-long race behind Linn Grant. The Pelican Women’s Championship is also Stark’s 10th LPGA Tour event of the season. She is No. 53 in the Race to the CME Globe and looking to move up considerably with a strong finish on Sunday.
“Very intense,” Stark said when describing her year. “So, I pretty much knew straightaway that I wanted to start playing on the LPGA Tour as soon as I got my card. But it's been an adjustment just looking at the schedule and doing everything like that. I thought that I would've been able to manage more, so I played like five events in a row. Then I got sick during the last event. After the ISPS I got sick again. So I always think I can play more than I actually can because I get sick and injured, so I have to stop doing that.”
A much-needed break recently seemed to do the trick.
“I haven't played a tournament for three weeks,” she said. “I barely practiced, to be honest, because I was sick and then I was away coaching.”
Hold on, wait, coaching? Do tell.
“Yeah, I was with the Swedish (National) team in Spain,” Stark said.
When asked how she was received by that group of starry-eyed young Swedes who had to see her as a model, Stark smiled again. “I think they looked up to me too much in the beginning of the week,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I told them that my goal for the week was that they wouldn't look up to me anymore because they would get to know me and know how stupid I am, like with my decision making. I told them, ‘I can tell you what not to do,’ but then like choose your own way. Don't just follow all the things I've done in my career.”
Most could only hope for the career start that Stark has had. No matter how things end at Pelican, the lone young lady kicking a ball around on Sunday will head to Naples having had a big, fun time this week.