Drive On Reflections: What Is Important In Life

If I had given it a moment’s thought, I might not have made it. When you ever sit down and ponder life in North Dakota (if my square state between Minnesota and Montana ever enters your mind at all) the last sport that pops to mind is golf. Maybe quail hunting or ice fishing, calf roping or barrel racing, indoor pickleball or cross-country skiing – anything but a warm weather, green grass, outdoor sport normally played in short sleeves. Don’t get me wrong, my state is beautiful. The colors of a summer sunrise on the plains, the jaw-dropping splendor of the badlands, the glistening waters of Lake Sakakawea, and the friendly and incessantly polite people make it one of the greatest places to grow up and live. But if I had thought about my future life as a professional golfer back when I was a kid, I might have listened to naysayers who said, “You live in North Dakota? There’s no way you can make it on the LPGA Tour.”

Thankfully, that’s not how the game came to me. My dad Mark Anderson introduced my older brother Nathan and me to golf when I was two years old. The game was a fun, family activity that no one took too seriously until Nathan started competing in local junior tournaments at age eight. I saw him and said, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’ We pushed each other and supported each other. I began winning junior events but never focused on the other players or even the golf courses. I always chased my mythical goal of perfection.

Then in 2008, I qualified and made it to match play in the U.S. Girls Junior Championship. That was the first time I had succeeded on a national stage, and it was a huge confidence boost. A year later, I became a USGA champion, winning the Girls Junior at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey.

I stayed near home to go to school at North Dakota State, where I continued to focus on process, trying to get a little better every day and not lose sight of the reason I loved golf. That allowed me to collect a good number of individual titles at college tournaments. But it wasn’t until reporters and photographers from Sports Illustrated showed up in Fargo my junior year that I realized what I was doing. Someone at the magazine figured out that the all-time record for individual college victories was 17, held by Juli Inkster. I was on the cusp of breaking that, which I did my senior year. By the time I graduated, I held the record for most individual wins in NCAA history with 20.

When I qualified, I became only the second LPGA Tour player from North Dakota and the first LPGA Tour player since Beverly Hanson in 1951. In addition to the 62 years between our rookie seasons, the big difference between Beverly and me was the fact that she won the very first LPGA Tour tournament she entered and raked up 17 wins in an 11-year career. As of this writing, I am in my ninth season on Tour and have yet to hoist a trophy.

I’ve been close. In fact, the two toughest weeks of my career came in events where I had a chance to win late in the final round. At the Amundi Evian Championship in 2018, I led every day. And after every round, in chats with the media, I gave some variation of the same spiel I mentioned earlier – can’t think ahead; one step, one breath, one shot at a time. What I didn’t say then but that I say often now is that I pray, sometimes before a round, sometimes two- or three-times during a round, and sometimes on every hole. I don’t pray to win. I pray to do my best in every situation and to glorify God in all that I say and do. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes I feel as though I have been a good and faithful servant, and other times I’m not as quick to show the grace that I pray to receive every day. Only one person in history has been perfect and He is our savior.

That Sunday at Evian, I held a one-shot lead with one hole to play, a par-4 so long and treacherous that we now play it as a par-5. After hitting my tee shot in the left rough, I tried to chip out. But the rough was so thick that I didn’t make it to the fairway. From there I hit an 8-iron to the lower tier of the green. From there I three-putted to lose to Angela Stanford, a wonderful friend and deserving champion.

My second disappointment came at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Club in Houston. Again, I led late and again another player came from behind with a flurry of birdies to beat me. But that final round was hard for another reason. Saturday night of that week, my father-in-law, Lee Olson, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Thankfully, Sunday’s final round was rained out, so I had an extra day to process the news and be with my husband, Grant. But the final round was still an emotional rollercoaster. That moment I realized the depth of God’s strength. I did not have what it took to process everything and be in contention for a victory. God did. Just as He has always allowed me, through wins and losses, ups and downs, to use every moment as a mission.

That day and every day, God gives me the strength to deal with whatever is thrown in front of me. He provided that Sunday in France and that Monday in Houston. On my own, I had nothing. I relied on God’s strength and on His plan. That is easy to do when things are going your way. But in hard times it’s important to believe that God’s plan is perfect, even if it makes no sense to us at the time.

Winning in golf is the goal every week. That’s the measure of success. But you can’t think about winning. You can only think about what you control. One of the things I can control is my faith in God and His son, our savior Jesus Christ. A lot of people speak about the strength of their faith as if the faith itself is the source. I know that my faith is not strong, but my God is all powerful. He lifts me up in times of sorrow. Without him, I am nothing.

Grant is now the linebacker coach at our alma mater. As such, I’ve been able to be a part of one of the most success college football programs of the last 20 years. The North Dakota State Bison have won seven NCAA National Championships in the last nine years. Being a coach’s wife and a fan, I get to see a dynasty being forged. It’s very inspiring. But I realize that this program’s success is because of ordinary people doing all the little things they need to do well every day. That’s how success is born. That’s how champions are built.

I keep working on my process – my swing, my short game, my decision making and my attitude and temperament. I have learned from my past, and I’m hopefully wise enough to have learned from the successes and failures of others. But most importantly, I have a solid foundation in truth. Because I trust God to show me the way, even when it conflicts with my own feelings or the opinions of those around me, I know that I am on the right path in life.

Through grief and heartbreak, joy and celebration, good times and bad, if you trust in God and submit to his priorities for your life, you will never be steered onto the wrong path. You will live your life in truth. And truth will always set you free.