Amy Olson finds slice of heaven on Easter at ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 31: Amy Olson of the United States acknowledges the crowd after making a birdie putt on the par 4, first hole during the third round of the 2018 ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on March 31, 2018 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Amy Olson finds slice of heaven on Easter at ANA Inspiration

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Amy Olson finds slice of heaven on Easter at ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Amy Olson (née Anderson) grew up Oxbow, N.D., a town so small its entire population could fit into the 18th grandstands at the ANA Inspiration. When Amy was young, her father, Mark Anderson, put a 12 x 15 foot putting green in the family basement. Later the Andersons sold the dining room table, moved the piano and installed a net in the living room, where the cathedral ceilings were 18-feet high.

“In North Dakota, you have to be creative,” said mom Twyla.

Olson, 25, finds herself in the final group of an LPGA event for the first time in 88 starts. She’s ranked 218th in the world, stands three back of leader Pernilla Lindberg and is soaking up every minute of her time in the sun. As of Saturday evening, she had yet to let her mind drift to a potential celebratory jump.

“I do hate getting wet,” she said, “but I won’t let that stop me if I have to.”

Sunrise service to afternoon swim?

The player with the final tee time began Easter Sunday with an early wake-up call, attending a sunrise service held at 6:30 a.m. on the 18th green with her parents and caddie, Taneka Sandiford. After that she considered playing pickle ball, a new passion of late. So far this week at Mission Hills Country Club, Olson has played pickle ball with LPGA legends, current players, mom and dad and complete strangers.

Olson was 9 years old the first time she told her father she wanted to compete in a golf tournament. Dad said “Great, give me one month’s practice.” In the month of July, Olson hit 150 bags of range balls. In August, she won the 13 and under division of the Iron Man Classic in Detroit Lakes Minn., about an hour east of Fargo.

The Andersons built a house on a par-3 at Oxbow Country Club. Amy and older brother, Nathan, started out putting on that green. Then graduated to playing the full hole, followed by a four-hole loop, and eventually, they were unstoppable. Not to mention inseparable. Though Nathan is 19 months older, they began homeschooling at the same time. Because Amy, the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, graduated from high school at the age of 16, she didn’t want to go far for college. Both siblings enrolled at North Dakota State University, located about 20 minutes from Oxbow. Both played on the golf team and majored in accounting. Amy set an NCAA record of 20 collegiate victories, but Nathan clipped her in the classroom. (Nathan 4.0; Amy 3.97).

“He does not let her forget it,” Mark said, laughing.

Numbers run in the family

Nathan used to be a regular on Amy’s bag. He’s now an auditor at Deloitte in Minneapolis, but plans to use his vacation time to caddie for her this summer. Amy, by the way, studied and passed the CPA exam shortly after she joined the LPGA. She’s the go-to person on tour for tax questions this time of year.

The Andersons have since moved from Oxbow to Fargo, and Amy now resides in Terre Haute, Ind., where husband Grant is the linebackers coach at Indiana State.

Grant wasn’t here earlier in the week because recruits were on campus, but flew in Sunday to surprise her.

From age 12 to 23, Amy learned the game from Dale Helm of Mayville, N.D. “He’s the one who got her on tour,” said Mark.

While Helm set the foundation, Ron Stockton has taken her game to another level. Stockton straightened out the draw, that was more of a hook, and taught her to work the ball both ways.

“I tended to swing a lot with my arms and my upper body before,” said Olson, “and I’m trying to get my lower body more timed up, I guess. I used to have a huge dip in my swing with my head. I still do, but it’s a lot better than it was.”

It took time, Stockton said, to not only change Olson’s ball flight, but for her to get used to the new normal. The ball flies twice as high, he said, making it easier for her to hold firm greens and reach tucked pins with her shiny new fade.

Four times this year Olson has come to Mission Hills to meet up with Stockton. She stays on the grounds with former player Lisa DePaulo and comes out in the evenings to chip and putt on the tournament course.

“I’ve gotten to know some of the different deceptive areas,” she said.

When asked about the best part of her game, Stockton didn’t hesitate: attitude.

Indeed, it’s downright impossible to find Olson in a foul mood. She’s habitually upbeat and smiley, and she’s found something similar in Sandiford, a local caddie she picked up in the Bahamas who played and coached at the collegiate level.

Longer, higher, straighter

“Amy is amiable,” said Twyla. “It’s the perfect name for her. We must have nailed it.”

The attitude, her father said, stems from a strong faith. Golf is not the most important thing in Olson’s life. (Hence the pre-dawn wake-up call on a day with a 2:01 p.m. tee time.)

Three-time ANA champion Betsy King was at Mission Hills earlier in the week but had already left by the time Olson skyrocketed to solo second. She planned to drive back to Rancho Mirage on Sunday to watch Olson, a player who joined her in Africa not long ago for a humanitarian trip. Olson came back from Zambia changed and energized, raising money to fund a mechanized well that would bring clean water to a rural village. She now wears the organization’s logo on the front of her hat.

“It helps her not to get rattled,” said Twyla of Amy’s big-picture perspective. “I think she just trusts that good or bad, it will be to her benefit.”

For Olson, Easter Sunday in the desert has already been divine.

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