Tough venues favor tough people, steel sharpening steel, that sort of thing. That is true of more than golf. The more intense the environment, the stronger the people who survive it. If you’re old enough to remember a relative who lived through The Great Depression you saw this firsthand.
In golf, we have Carnoustie, the toughest major-championship course in the world: harder than Oakmont; more unrelenting than Winged Foot; more unforgiving than Olympic Club; and when the wind blows off the Firth of Forth, it can make you look sillier than a four-putt at Augusta National. You see it in the winners there. Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Padraig Harrington, Bernhard Langer, Yani Tseng: tough as nails, each of them. In 2021, Anna Nordquist added her name to that list with a win at the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, a victory that shocked not a soul who knows her.
Anna Nordquist, memories
Nordqvist is like the infantry: steady, ready, and always moving forward. Nothing flashy. Just accomplishing the mission no matter how difficult. That’s one of the reasons three of her nine LPGA Tour wins are majors. She did it as a rookie, winning the 2009 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship by four shots. Then, eight years later, she did it again in an ice storm off the Alps in Evian, France. That victory at the 2017 Amundi Evian Championship came in a playoff with sleet peppering the 18th green and players dressed more for a day on the ski slopes than major championship golf. Nordqvist was 9-under par for that week, tied with Brittany Altomare. Then, as the weather went full school closure, Norqvist made a five on the first extra hole while Altomare made six.
Keep in mind that a year before, Nordqvist was one head-scratching penalty away from perhaps capturing the U.S. Women’s Open. Tied and in the midst of a three-way, three-hole aggregate playoff with Brittany Lang and Sung Hyun Park, Nordqvist inadvertently dislodged a single grain of sand on her backswing in a fairway bunker, a rule violation at the time that resulted in a two-shot penalty, even though the naked eye could not see it. It took magnified, slow-motion television images for officials to see the infraction. Lang cruised to her first major title.
That’s the kind of twist of fate that can scar you for life. It could have altered the trajectory of Nordqvist’s career and sent her off a cliff. Instead, she won the Cognizant Founders Cup and the Amundi Evian Championship the following year.
After that, she hit a three-year dry spell where she struggled with her chipping, developing what her harshest critics called “the chip yips,” an inability to hit solid short ones from around the green. It’s the kind of problem that has led to many a retirement. But Nordqvist continued to press ahead. She worked tirelessly on her wedges and improved her already great ball striking. As she said in her Drive On story for LPGA.com, “I have always had to work harder and longer, day and night, winter and summer… Even when I thought about quitting, I heard my grandfather’s strong words in my heart. ‘Never give up,’ he’d always tell me.”
In 2021, Nordqvist had posted a couple of top-10 finishes but nothing to make her a favorite entering the final major of the golf season, the AIG Women’s Open. But Carnoustie rewards ball striking and grit. Hit fairways and greens, be patient, and understand that anything can happen.
She did just that. With six players who either held or shared the lead at various points in the final round, Nordqvist plugged along, never getting greedy and understanding the pars win majors. She played the final three holes, the hardest stretch on the toughest course, in even par, avoiding the burn that was Jean van de Velde’s downfall in 1999, and steering clear of the bunkers that were the undoing of her closest competitor.
Nanna Koerstz Madsen was tied for the lead at 12-under par on the 72nd hole. But the Dane caught a bad lie in a greenside bunker and hit an embarrassing shank that led to a double-bogey six. All Nordqvist had to do was two-putt from the center of the green to win by one over Georgia Hall and Madelene Sagstrom. No one was surprised when Nordqvist almost made the first one. She tapped in and the words of Richard Kaufman, calling the action for Golf Channel and Sky Sports, echoed through televisions around the world: “Anna Nordqvist is a major champion again.”
“I think this is the most special one,” Nordqvist said. “Just because it’s taken me a couple years and I’ve fought so hard.”
The fight isn’t always about who can hit. It’s about who can get hit and keep coming. Nordqvist has always been that player. Never give up, indeed.