Pernilla Lindberg perseveres in playoff for first major win at ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - APRIL 02: Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden jumps into the water with her fiance Daniel Taylor and her parents Jan and Gunilla Lindberg after winning the the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 2, 2018 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Pernilla Lindberg perseveres in playoff for first major win at ANA Inspiration

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Pernilla Lindberg perseveres in playoff for first major win at ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Pernilla Lindberg wrote down a list of goals in high school: win a major and leave a mark in history. Super-sized dreams don’t often come true, but the 31-year-old journeywoman climbed into the ring with South Korean royalty and, after umpteen rounds, delivered the knock-out punch. Lindberg beat seven-time major champion Inbee Park at her own game – holing a massive putt.

“The putt Pernilla made on the last was a champion’s putt,” Park said. “You really can’t beat that.”

What couldn’t be decided in the dark on Sunday, became an instant classic in the warm desert sun, with 1,500 fans making their way to the Dinah Shore Tournament Course for the first Monday finish in tournament history. They packed the 18th grandstand and scurried around the three-hole playoff loop of 10, 17 and 18, dodging the customized carts of Mission Hills members. For a tournament that felt flat at times over the weekend with sparse attendance, night golf and free tickets kicked up the atmosphere to the level the golf deserved.

“Last night when a couple of my friends said they were sticking around till Monday, I said, ‘Oh, great, at least there would be a few people out there,’ ” Lindberg said. “And I couldn’t even see them because there were so many people. It was incredible.”

Lindberg dined on Vietnamese cuisine Sunday evening, and slept on the lead for a fourth consecutive night. Her fiancé/caddie, Daniel Taylor, said she was calm. As luck would have it, Lindberg’s parents were in the midst of a month-long trip to follow golf. Gunilla reported that scores of people from their home club in Bollnas, Sweden, were up until 4:30 a.m. watching her compete Sunday night. Her father, Jan, has been club president for 40 years and was once a scratch player.

“I’ve probably given my dad I don’t know how many heart attacks over the last few days,” Pernilla said.

Lindberg tends to leave putts short when she gets in contention, and that happened time and time again during regulation play on Sunday. She has always been a good putter from 5 feet, said putting coach Jon Karlsen, but even he had to admit this streak was special.

After a three-way playoff that included Jennifer Song dwindled to two, Lindberg and Park made their way back to the 18th tee in the dark, as tournament organizers brought out floodlights. Both players made testy par putts to extend the four-hole playoff to Monday.

Lindberg, a self-described grinder, never got down about being winless on the LPGA because she kept seeing incremental improvements. She was content with baby steps, so long as they were going in the right direction.

But there was something different about this week on her favorite course. Lindberg felt exceptionally calm as she set scoring records and played with the pressure of the final group.

“I just felt this is mine,” she said.

Back on the 18th, the seventh playoff hole, Lindberg went for the green in two for the first time, finding the “go-zone” with a hybrid. She hit it on the left side of the green, leaving herself a difficult two-putt. Park laid up and hit her approach to 8 feet. A surprisingly tentative putt from Park left Lindberg with a 7-footer for birdie to win it outright. Instead, a three-putt sent them back to the 10th tee, eliciting groans from fans who weren’t keen on leaving the grandstand, but they persevered.

Both players faced similar putts to what they’d seen the first time around. Lindberg stepped up first from 30 feet and struck it firmly, knocking it dead center.

For once, it seemed, she didn’t leave it short.

Park couldn’t answer from 20 feet below the hole, making Lindberg’s childhood dream a reality. Lindberg didn’t just win a major, she took down an LPGA Hall of Famer, gold medal-winner and seven-time major champion.

‘Kind of speechless’

“I’m kind of speechless thinking about it,” Lindberg said. “It just proves so much to myself. You know, this game is hard. It’s so many times that I doubt myself out here, and sometimes just a little change that’s needed, it goes from one week to the next, and you feel like you’ve got it again. But to be able to do this, wire-to-wire, under the pressure, playing against Inbee, it just proves so many things to myself that I just should never doubt myself again.”

Lindberg became the fourth player to win wire-to-wire at the ANA, joining Pat Bradley, Betsy King and Pat Hurst. She’s also the fifth player to make the ANA her first LPGA title, joining Helen Alfredson, Nanci Bowen, Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis.

Most remarkably, Lindberg became the sixth Swedish player to win a major on the LPGA, with all six earning their first title at a major championship. (Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann, Anna Nordqvist and Jenny Lidbeck, who was born in Peru to Swedish parents.)

“I guess it brings out the best of us,” said Neumann, a Mission Hills resident who walked with Lindberg on the back nine Sunday and during the Monday playoff.

Leap of faith after 80 holes

In a year when the ANA celebrated the 30th anniversary of Amy Alcott’s inaugural leap, it felt like a victory jump would never come thanks to the longest playoff in major championship history.

Lindberg didn’t have a pre-planned jump, relying on instinct as she’d done the rest of the week.

“I had a bag packed in the hotel room with clothes and I forgot it!” said a drenched but happy Gunnila, who joined the fun in Poppie’s Pond with Jan and Daniel.

For so long Lindberg felt like she had so much more to give in this game, so much more to prove. She set a goal for 2018 to win, maybe something smaller like a Ladies European Tour title, never imagining that her game, and her loved ones, would make such a leap.

“We’re going to have so many good memories to share for the rest of our lives,” Lindberg said. “Hopefully tell our future family about.” Gwk

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