Gustafson, 39, leaving LPGA; eyes on LET return

Sophie Gustafson tees off on the seventh hole during the second round of the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge.

Sophie Gustafson tees off on the seventh hole during the second round of the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge.

Sophie Gustafson is not retiring. Let’s clear that up to start. She’s just taking a break from the LPGA and moving back to her European roots.

“My swing is as good as it’s ever been but my head needs some pampering,” Gustafson wrote in an email to Golfweek.

She can’t do that on the LPGA, where the competition is too fierce. The tall, athletic Swede with the beautiful smile, sharp sense of humor and severe speech impediment will take her act back to the Ladies European Tour, where she has won 16 times. Gustafson, 39, has a lifetime-membership there.

“I want to go back home and just have fun again playing,” Gustafson said. “If that brings my confidence back, who knows? All I know is, I won't be on the LPGA in 2014.”

Gustafson tweeted Friday after missing the cut at the Safeway Classic that she was stepping away from the LPGA. On Saturday, she followed up with this classic: “My parents got a bit of a shock watching the sport news at home tonight.. Guess I forgot to tell them.. Daughter of the year?”

Twitter has been especially significant for Gustafson, enabling her to connect easily with fans and show off that tremendous wit.

"The strong talent lurking inside her has always been evident to me," said Pia Nilsson, founder of Vision54 and a former Swedish national-team coach who has known Gustafson since the late '80s. "She has the courage and strength to just keep talking, and I love that about her."

A pro since 1992, Gustafson inspired many with her first taped TV interview at the 2011 Solheim Cup, where she went 4-0 to lead Europe to dramatic victory. It was a monumental week for the Swede.

Strange then to see her two years later walking inside the ropes at Colorado Golf Club as a helper for Liselotte Neumann’s squad, her game having gone so far south that she wasn’t even a mention when it came time for captain’s picks.

Gustafson’s season can be summed up in numbers, but the following tweets out of the CN Canadian Women’s Open are more fun:

Aug 23: @SophieGustafson: "Bogie free 66 today!! Haven't done that since Jesus wore sandals."

Aug. 25: @Sophie Gustafson "Not the ideal weekend but still better then a sharp stick in the eye which has been most of my season."

Gustafson, a five-time winner on the LPGA, has won more than $6 million in her U.S. career, but in 14 events this season made only $13,751.

“I think I've had a pretty good career even though I never really did much over here in the States,” Gustafson wrote. “I feel I had capacity to do more, but I would never complain.”

Gustafson topped the LET’s Order of Merit four times, made eight Solheim Cup appearances and counts the late Seve Ballesteros and Laura Davies as the players who most influenced her career. In returning to Europe, where she has a home in Sweden, Gustafson will find old comforts.

"It makes perfect sense to me," Nilsson said. "She's going to be 40 at the end of the year. It's not enough to have golf at the center of her life."

A lover of photography, Gustafson climbed to the roof of the clubhouse in Taiwan two years ago to take pictures of the remarkable turnout for then-World No. 1 Yani Tseng. It was the woman with the speech impediment who best put that week into perspective: “I've seen Annika in Sweden, Lorena in Mexico, Ai in Japan, Karrie in OZ. Nothing compares to Yani in Taiwan.”

This bright player could fill a reporter’s notebook time and again with her humorous observations and keen perspective. If only Twitter had come along years before.

At the Solheim Cup in Colorado, Gustafson wrote a blog for a Swedish outlet and it went so well that, not surprisingly, she has been offered a part-time gig.

While Gustafson will see many players and caddies down the road in Europe, she had a hard time saying goodbye to the LPGA staff in Portland, Ore.

“Paul the club repair guy, Rob and Curtis, the physios brought me to tears yesterday,” Gustafson wrote. “It's tough when you've been out as long as I have, you create friendships.”

There’s a chance she’ll get an invite to The Evian Championship next month, but she won’t find out until Monday.

“Would be funny if I get it,” Gustafson wrote. “What do I say? ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in?’ ”

She’s a tough one to let go.

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