2005: Can Stahle conquer U.S. college game as freshmen?
Louise Stahle may start baking apple pies and humming the “Star Spangled Banner” before too long in Tempe, Ariz. Unlike some of her Arizona State predecessors (Paul Casey, perhaps?), the Swedish transplant can’t say enough good things about life in America.
What’s not to like? On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Stahle (pronounced STALL-ee) has nothing but golf and gym scribbled in her planner this spring. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
she’s out of class by high noon, soaking up the desert rays.
“It’s like paradise,” says Stahle of Tempe’s temperate climate. Forget the beach, nothing excites this Swede like clear skies, crisp turf and a well-worn club.
A strong work ethic has propelled Stahle to No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after runner-up showings in three fall events. But Stahle isn’t accustomed to playing second fiddle.
A three-week tear last summer found the 19-year-old racking up titles at the Swedish Pro Tour’s Beint Cafe Ladies Trophy in Stockholm, the St. Rule Trophy at St. Andrews and the Ladies British Amateur Championship at Gullane, Scotland. Stahle defeated Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup player Anna Highgate, 4 and 2, to become the first Swedish player to win British Amateur title. That opened the door to the Women’s British Open, where the No. 1-ranked Swedish amateur played a practice round with Annika Sorenstam.
“Watching her made me hungry to practice even more,” said Stahle. “Her ball striking is amazing.”
Stahle tied for 42nd at Sunningdale and entered her third HP Open the following month bursting with confidence. An opening 5-under 67 put her ahead of Sorenstam and the field in Sweden. Stahle returned to earth for the remaining rounds, however, shooting 75-72-73 to tie for ninth at the Ladies European Tour event.
Her early success only served to whet Stahle’s appetite. She’s eyeing nothing less than a victory at the NCAA Championships and Player of the Year honors this May. Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen doesn’t doubt Stahle can reach her goals, but is more concerned with process than outcome.
“One thing she’s really working on at my suggestion is making sure that she has good balance in her life,” Luellen said. “She’ll wear herself out if she goes the clip that she’s going.”
In her quest to catch Sorenstam (who attended the University of Arizona), Stahle is leaving nothing to chance. Like her childhood idol she gave up tennis to pursue golf, and she began working with Sorenstam’s longtime instructor, Henri Reis, last spring. Through her ties with the Swedish National Team, Stahle also developed a relationship with Pia Nilsson, the woman behind “Vision 54” who works out of The Legacy Club Golf Resort in Phoenix.
Nilsson, who has advised Sorenstam for 16 years, sees similarities between Sweden’s present and future.
“The level of motivation, to be willing to spend a couple of hours extra a day,” said Nilsson, “and the openness and honesty to look at what you’re good at and what you need to be better at. In that way, they’re similar.”
While Stahle was home in Sweden over the holiday break she added another golf guru to her entourage – a stretching coach. Turns out Stahle can’t so much as bend down and touch her toes.
“That’s a pretty big issue,” said Stahle, who now has an hourlong daily stretching routine in her regular workout. “It’s to prevent injuries, and sometimes Henri wants me to rotate more in my swing and I can’t do it.”
You would be hard-pressed, however, to find any other profound weaknesses in Stahle’s game. Her worst score of the fall, a 3-over 75, came at the opening round of the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, where Stahle teamed with top-ranked Karin Sjodin of Oklahoma State to
win the title for Sweden.
Stahle’s consistency and enthusiasm added a spark to Luellen’s already seasoned Sun Devil squad. After closing the 2003-04 season ranked No. 28, Luellen and her five returning starters hoped to win a title for the first time in 41⁄2 years with the addition of Stahle. It didn’t take long.
At ASU’s second event last fall, the Price’s Give ’Em Five Intercollegiate, Luellen encouraged her players to “take home some hardware.” Before going out on the final day the Sun Devils huddled for a brief rah-rah session where Stahle shouted, “Let’s bring home some silverware.” Riotous laughter ensued, and ASU ran away with the title.
Winning, of course, translates universally. The Sun Devils added another title two weeks later at the Stanford/Pepsi Intercollegiate, and are full of optimism as the spring season begins.
“Now we’re going out thinking about winning golf tournaments, which I can’t say was really in the cards last year,” said Luellen. “It’s like night and day.”
Before embarking on a professional career, Stahle felt it necessary to immerse herself in American culture while honing her English and gaining a sense of independence. Her academic load this spring even includes a music appreciation class on the King of rock ’n roll – Elvis Presley.
It doesn’t get anymore American than that.