She shot 69 on Thursday and 67 on Friday, good enough to be on the first page of the leaderboard going into the weekend at the AmazingCre Portland Classic. Not bad for your first start as an LPGA Tour Member.
Sweden’s Maja Stark made her debut on the LPGA Tour this week at the AmazingCre Portland Classic having earned Tour Membership through her victory at the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics. At the time the 22-year-old was leading the Ladies European Tour’s Race to Costa del Sol. She was also one of scores of Swedes to come through the Oklahoma State college program, including major champion Pernilla Lindberg, who when she signed was the 13th Swede to tee it up for the Cowboys.
But Stark, who was the 2021 Big 12 Player of the Year, is just one of many Swedes making noise in the game these days, giving rise to the notion that there is another wave of Scandinavian superstars. The first batch of Swedes to splash onto the LPGA Tour included champions like Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Carin Koch, Catrin Nilsmark and, of course, arguably one of the greatest athletes the nation has ever produced, Annika Sorenstam.
Today, in addition to Lindberg, there is three-time major champion Anna Nordqvist, Madelene Sagstrom, Linnea Strom, Dani Holmqvist, Frida Kinhult and Linnea Johansson among others.
Even with Stark making the move to the LPGA Tour, Linn Grant, who broke into the consciousness of the golf world with her victory in the Scandinavian Mixed against a healthy crop of DP World Tour players, and Johanna Gustavsson round out a Swedish top three on the LET at the moment.
Throw in the hands-down favorite for Amateur of the Year, Ingrid Lindblad, who plays collegiately for LSU, and you are looking at another outsized presence of great players from a small, cold European country known for Vikings and cross-country skiers.
One of the reasons for this extraordinary national success is the fraternal relationship past players have with the present. Annika is always available to coach up the latest crop of Swedish amateurs.
Among those past champions is five-time LPGA Tour and 16-time LET winner Sophie Gustafson. But the 48-year-old does more than give advice. She is one of the few past champions who has spent more than a few weeks carrying a golf bag for fellow players – not as a one-off, but as the most credentialed caddie on any professional tour.
“When I stopped playing in May of 2015, I took two months off and then started working for Beth Allen in Europe,” Gustafson said recently. “We worked together for two years but since a year and a half of them were in Europe, it was far from fulltime. After we split in the summer of 2017, I've done about three to eight events a year.”
Gustafson didn’t work at all in 2020 and only caddied once in 2021, in her words, “because it was 10 minutes from my house.”
In 2022 she was back, not in a big way, but certainly in some high-profile settings. At the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Gustafson caddied for Lindblad during the amateur’s great run and silver medal performance.
Then she went out with Stark for several weeks. Those included Stark’s victory at the co-sanctioned ISPS Handa event in Ireland.
“I had heard (Ingrid’s) name but never met her at that time,” Gustafson said. “I'm not great at following golf anymore. The reason I ended up caddying for her was cause Patrik Jonsson, who is the head coach for the Swedish team, called me up the week before (the U.S. Women’s Open) and asked if I would be interested in coming over for the week and work for Ingrid. She got into the event last minute and didn't have a caddy.”
That led Stark’s agent to ask Gustafson to take on Maja’s bag for a few weeks.
“I think I have an advantage since I've been where she is,” Gustafson said. “I know what she is thinking and feeling. That way I think I'm more capable of helping. Like the last round in Ireland, I know how pumped up she was and that the ball was going a mile. We hit clubs that we never imagined we would hit playing the course earlier in the week. Knowing when to let the player go and when to reel her in, I think is key in being a caddie.”
Gustafson also has perspective from seeing past champions come out of Scandinavia.
“I don't think there is a whole lot of difference when you compare the youngsters today with my generation,” she said. “We were pretty decent in our time and the girls now are good. The one thing I would say is that they seem to be a few more and they look to be a bit more consistent than we were, except, of course, for Annika. It's great fun to see so many really good youngsters coming up. I can't wait to see what will happen in a few years.”
Gustafson has no plans to take another bag. She gardens and enjoys her time at home. But like all mentors, you never say never. “I'm happy to work a few weeks here and there if a fun opportunity presents itself,” she said. “But I'm never going to work fulltime.”