Caroline Hedwall is a fast starter.
The Oklahoma State sophomore won in her first start as a freshman at the Duramed Fall Preview. Almost exactly a year later, Hedwall recorded her second victory at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. And now she has started the spring with a third tournament title Feb. 9 at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic.
It was a strong finish that sealed the deal for Hedwall in Puerto Rico. Starting the final round one shot behind Baylor’s Hannah Burke, Hedwall closed with three birdies for a three-shot victory. Hedwall went low in Round 2 with a 7-under 65, but got off to a rough start in the final round. She found an extra kick from her playing partners, who were also near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds.
So is Hedwall competitive? You bet.
Her desire to win growing up was fueled by competing against twin sister Jacqueline, who now plays for LSU. Caroline Hedwall was named the Big 12 Player and Newcomer of the Year in 2009, and as the ninth-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, a strong spring could set her up for even more accolades. But for a player who has plenty of press clippings to read, Hedwall isn’t interested in thinking about anything other than fairways and greens.
“I play golf because it’s fun,” she said. “I don’t want to think about (rankings) because I think that takes away what’s fun about golf. I’m very competitive, but I don’t really care about rankings.”
Something else that’s doesn’t plague Hedwall? Nerves. It’s one reason why Oklahoma State coach Annie Young thinks Hedwall will soon break the pattern of only winning season-opening events.
“Last year she had a few situations where she probably could have come out on top and she pressed it a little bit. I think she’s grown as a player in that regard,” Young said.
With each win Hedwall collects, she builds more experience in pressure situations. Winning also builds her confidence – which is an especially good thing at the beginning of a season – and proves that the practice she’s put in during the offseason is paying off.
During winter break at her home in Loddekopinge, Sweden, Hedwall honed her swing technique, then got in putting and chipping sessions when there wasn’t snow on the ground in Stillwater, Okla.
Hedwall used her length to her advantage in Puerto Rico at the Trump International Golf Course, set up at nearly 6,200 yards, and backed it up with a laser-like wedge game.
That’s another distinction of Hedwall’s game: it travels well. Hedwall competed for the Swedish national team before arriving at Oklahoma State, and has met and conquered tough competition on both sides of the pond, winning the European Amateur in 2009 and teaming with Pernilla Lindberg and Anna Nordqvist to win the team title at the 2008 World Amateur Team Championship. But she believes the best test of her game has been on the collegiate circuit.
“I think the fields in the British Amateur and the European individual championship, it’s good competition but coming over and playing aginst the world’s best amateurs, that’s what I think is difficult,” she said. “There’s players from Asia and South America and from everywhere so it’s just more good players.”
If this is the where the best players are coming to compete, then Hedwall is right where she belongs.
No Curtis Cup for Ewart: Jodi Ewart has taken herself out of the running for a second Curtis Cup appearance. The New Mexico senior will turn pro following the NCAA Championships.
Ewart was waiting to make the decision until the Duramed Futures Tour schedule was released. Playing in the Curtis Cup would have meant missing two or three of those events, which could delay her final destination: the LPGA tour.
“I decided that I want to get out there as soon as I can, play professionally as soon as possible,” she said.
When the Lobos kick off their spring season Feb. 22 at the Wildcat Invitational, it also will mean the beginning of Ewart’s last hurrah as an amateur. She has four collegiate victories and advanced to match play at both the U.S. and British Women’s Amateurs in 2009.
“I’m excited to get back into it this spring and play some more college golf, but I definitely feel like it’s time for me to make that transition,” she said.
Missing from action: UCLA sophomore Stephanie Kono wasn’t in the field at the Northrop Grumman this week, making it the first tournament she’s missed since becoming a Bruin. Kono is rehabbing a sprained muscle in her back, and hopes to be back in fighting form for the Bruin Wave Invitational March 1-3.
Kono, who has spent the past month resting her injury, said she’s feeling better each day as she slowly gets back to her usual practice routine.
“I’m starting to hit balls now, but the doctor didn’t want me to start preparing for a tournament as soon as I stopped resting,” she said.
Despite not being in the field, Kono made it to Palos Verdes Golf Course as a spectator, and learned a lot from watching her team, especially at the difficult 13th, 14th and 15th holes.
“I’m a little bit glad I’m not playing because those holes killed me last year,” she said. “I shudder when I look at those holes.”
A look ahead . . .
What: Peg Barnard Invitational
When: Feb. 13-14
Where: Stanford (Calif.) GC
Why it’s important: After The Gold Rush was rained out last week in Seal Beach, Calif., a handful of teams will get their start at the Peg Barnard. Cal is the highest-ranked team in the field, coming in at No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. UC Davis will be looking to win a second consecutive tournament after closing the fall season with a victory at Turtle Bay. Host Stanford, ranked No. 25 by Golfweek, looks to land a third consecutive title at its home event. Fresno State, Hawaii, Long Beach State, Oregon, San Jose State, Santa Clara Texas, and Washington also are in the field.
Five questions with Florida International junior Paula Hurtado, the No. 71-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings who won the Bettie Lou Fall Invitational in September . . .
1. You played squash in high school. How did you get into that, and how does it affect your golf game?
Actually, my high school back home (in Medellin, Colombia), we didn’t have sports and stuff like that. I mean, I played squash just by myself and I competed nationally. I was very athletic and I used to do squash, volleyball and all this ofther stuff before I got into golf but I think that helped me become competitive. I think it bettered me mentally as well.
2. How popular was golf in Medellin? How and when did you pick up the game?
That’s not really a popular sport back home. We used to play squash, but they played other sports. My dad is not a golfer but he sometimes went to the driving range and hit balls. I started to like it. I was seven (when I started).
3. You’ve made a big climb in our rankings since you were a freshman. To what part of your game do you attribute that?
I think my long game. My irons are pretty good, and mentally I don’t give up even if I’m hitting the ball bad. I never give up. I think my mental and long game are the best parts that helped me freshman year.
4. What have you learned being on a team with players from all around the world?
I love it because we have different cultures, different ways to think and we support each other a lot. We are all away from home and our families are not here so pretty much we create a family, so that helps a lot. We just feel like we are sisters.
5. You have a year and a half left of college golf. What do you still want to accomplish?
I really want to play pro and that’s what I’m working on these last seasons. I don’t see myself doing anything else. I was pretty close to winning conference my freshman year. I want to win conference and go to nationals.