Braving the bitter Scandinavian cold during a practice session last weekend, a question nagged at Camilla Lennarth: why does Sweden produce so many good golfers when its courses are unplayable for much of the year?
The country has a population of just 10m yet has enjoyed wildly outsized success in the sport, especially in the women’s game. It is behind only the USA and South Korea for major wins and has contributed six of Europe’s 11 Solheim Cup captains.
Sweden is also at the vanguard of the next generation, with Linn Grant and Maja Stark two of the most exciting young players in women’s golf. They are among three Swedes in the world top 45, more than any other European country.
This prolific production line is a mystery even to Ladies European Tour pro Lennarth, who will line up at this week’s Aramco Team Series in Riyadh, although she puts some of it down to a camaraderie instilled at a young age.
“For so many years we’re in Sweden in the winter time, hitting into hitting bays, we don’t see the ball flight, it’s cold, you go out to hit 10 balls just to have some sort of clue and there is frost. I don’t understand what we’re doing,” she told City A.M.
“I think we’re feeding off each other a bit. It sounds weird because golf is an individual sport but I feel like we work as a team. Growing up you go to these camps where you become really good friends and you find people you travel with and help each other out. I think that mindset helps us to produce more good golfers.”
Grant and Stark are better than good. The pair have hoovered up 18 titles between then since turning pro just two years ago, in Grant’s case including an eye-catching win at the 2021 Scandinavian Mixed, where she beat major-winning male compatriot Henrik Stenson by nine strokes. In Lennarth’s words “they have their shit together”.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that they can become top, top in the world. I’ve got to know them pretty well and they are humble but know exactly what they want. They’re very focused but they’re also chilled,” she said.
“It’s easy to be relaxed when it’s going well but it seems like they’ve been that way since they were younger because they’ve followed their goals. I’m impressed and I think they’re going to go a long way.
“I feel like they’re playing the younger type of golf – they’re fearless. They hit the ball a long way. They have an extra gear. They attack pins, are very good around the greens so aren’t scared of missing on the wrong side.
“When I was growing up we were taught to hit it straight and keep the ball in play, it didn’t matter if we didn’t hit it that far, but all the girls who come out, they’re just bombing it and Maja and Linn are the same. They are fearless, they just attack and it’s really cool to see.”
Lennarth also made waves soon after turning pro, winning her first Ladies European Tour title in 2014 and establishing herself in the world top 150. But a chronic injury which sidelined her for most of 2021 has forced her to revise her goals.
The 35-year-old has a hip problem similar to that suffered by Andy Murray, which means she is in near-constant pain on the course and has to severely restrict her hitting. Operating is an option but would force Lennarth out of the game she loves for another long spell.
“I feel I have the potential to play pretty well but I never practice too much because if I do then I’m not sure I’m even going to make it around on tournament week. So it is quite frustrating,” she said.
“I was told not long ago that I could have a surgery where they cut off a bit of the bone, but if I do that I’m going to sit out for another year and I feel like I’ve done my fair share of not golfing for a very long time. I miss it, so I’m trying to work on my strength to put muscles around the hip joint so that I can play more.
“The funny part is I could also have a new hip joint but I am too young. In Sweden you only get one chance to get a new hip joint and you have to wait until you are at least 55, so I either live with it, shave it off or go somewhere else and get it done.”
Lennarth says she feels she is striking the ball better than ever, but is having to keep her expectations in check for this week’s Aramco Team Series in Riyadh.
“The frustrating part is that ever since I was young I’m there to win if I’m competing, but lately I’ve been coming just to survive, make the weekend or stay pain-free for one round, which is a mindset so far from where I want to be,” she added.
“I won’t be pain-free so I just want to put a good score together. I used to take more chances because I felt I had practiced so much that if I made a mistake I was going to make up for it. But now I’m trying to be more strategic, which is more boring golf, but the goals are different.”
While the future is bright for Swedish golf, Lennarth is encouraged by progress in the women’s game more widely. Five $1m Aramco Team Series events per year have helped to swell prize money. She hopes the esteem in which players are held goes the same way.
“I think we deserve a lot more attention. We don’t play the same type of game as the guys do, but I think it would be good if golf supporters realised that women’s golf can be compared a lot more to their game and be relatable,” she said.
“We hit it shorter than the guys do but we can still stick it. I think we deserve a lot more credit and more TV time. If the media put some of the amazing characters out there and showcase another side of the game I think we can grow it even further.”