Sport produces winners and losers – and not in equal measure. There are very few winners compared to losers, so it must be a very bitter pill to be firmly in the former camp only then to spend years and years unable to open that magic door into the winner’s circle again.
Last weekend two players rediscovered that magic key. Caroline Hedwall, a 29-year old twin from Stockholm turned pro late in 2010 and won an incredible four times in Europe in her rookie year in 2011. The following year she won again and twice in Australia in 2013, so in no time at all she had seven titles to her name. The upward graph continued with three consecutive Solheim Cup appearances, the highlight undoubtedly coming in Colorado in 2013 where she became the first player in the history of the game to win five points out of five, a massive contribution to Europe winning the Cup on away soil for the first (and, at the moment, only) time.And then? Well, that’s the problem. And then……..nothing. Things were already beginning to unravel. She sustained a hip injury in 2012, rumoured to be due to a change in her fitness and training programme. It kept her out of action for much of that season but she appeared undaunted each time she returned to action. Of course, her confidence was sky high. Niggling injuries persisted, however, and slowly, insidiously, the game became more and more difficult. Hedwall never slacked in her commitment but the golden touch was gone and every ounce of confidence built up by her previous stellar appearances ebbed away. Last October she had a ganglion cyst “as big as a ping pong ball” on her wrist removed, restoring her flexibility and enabling her to begin to use driver again after twelve months of only hitting a 3 wood from the tee. And then a week ago she teed it up in the Lacoste Ladies’ Open de France at Golf du Medoc. An encouraging performance was transformed into so much more by a blistering record-breaking final round of 62 for a two-shot victory over Stacy Lee Bregman of South Africa, who had herself closed with a 66. Let’s hope this win signals the end of a desperate five-year stretch for the likeable Swede and total justification of her self-belief, no matter how deeply it was buried at times. Her joyful reaction was music to the ears of her family, friends and supporters. “It was a long time ago since I won and it feels great to get another win under my belt. It’s been a struggle over the past years with quite a few injuries and it’s been tough on my confidence. I haven’t felt good when I’m under pressure. Today, I really pulled it off and enjoyed being back there and in contention. I performed under pressure and that gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Next stop is this week’s final major of the year, the Evian Championship. A chance to build on that upward moving graph again and who knows, perhaps next year a fourth Solheim Cup call up? I, for one, certainly hope so.
Switching continents now and gender….. Keegan Bradley ultimately triumphed in the third of the four Fed-Ex Cup play-off events, winning the BMW Championship in a rain-delayed finish on a soggy, wet Monday in Pennsylvania. His extra hole victory over Justin Rose ended a six-year wait since his last victory and a two-year stretch of misery during which he had to learn how to putt again post the anchoring ban in January 2016. Starting in May 2011 Bradley had won three times in fifteen months – with a major and a WGC (World Golf Championship) event among his titles. And then, a little like Hedwall, absolutely nothing and the slow inevitable erosion of confidence began.
“A lot has happened to me over these six years,” he said. “The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought, and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while. It’s tough to go from being on Ryder Cup teams, being on Presidents Cup teams to outside the top 100 in the world. That was difficult.”
As he got his long game back in shape the putting still eluded him. “When I used the belly, I just putted,” Bradley said. “There was no thought process. And I had to really sit down and focus in on my putting stroke, which was something I had never done.”
And so he began the slow climb back up the mountain to success. If he had thought it was difficult first time around, this was something else.
“It’s scary when I look back because I didn’t know I needed this much improvement,” Bradley said. “But to put it all together, especially with the putter the way it was this week and the way it’s becoming, is so gratifying, because for a little while, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back to this spot, and today I did it.”