At the beginning of August, Emily Kristine Pedersen came out of lockdown ranked 491st in the world. Three years on from her debut appearance in the Solheim Cup, the talented 24-year-old Dane was way down the pecking order in world golf.
A fortnight later, after two great weeks in Scotland, Pedersen was inside the world’s top 150 and on the rise. Now, Pedersen heads into this week's U.S. Women's Open having picked up four victories on the Ladies European Tour, including her last three events, and as a genuine contender for a major championship.
“It’s been crazy, really,” Pedersen said of her recent three straight victories. “I started off winning the first one and it was overwhelming because it’s obviously been a struggle for a few years, but then to go on and win another two is pretty hard to describe.
“It’s been a bit hectic coming home, a lot of people wanting to chat to me. It’s been a little crazy, I don’t know if I’ve actually had time to take in what’s happened.”
Pedersen’s extraordinary form since coming out of lockdown may represent a remarkable change of fortunes for the 24-year-old, but it is not a totally alien experience. Despite dropping down the world rankings over the past couple of years, Pedersen has elite pedigree, having won the 2014 Women’s Amateur Championship and a maiden Ladies European Tour trophy the following year prior to her Solheim Cup bow in 2017.
Injuries and poor form, however, including 10 missed cuts in 2019 after the jubilation of competing in the Solheim at just 21 years of age, left Pedersen without an LPGA Tour card and well down the LET pecking order. But some glimpses of form before lockdown would foreshadow a shift in mentality to come, and a three-month period that Pedersen used to her benefit.
“The break of three months was quite good for me because it gave me time to dig into a few technical changes that I needed to do, and I had time to do it,” Pedersen said. “Sometimes it’s hard when we play 20-25 weeks a year, it can be a lot of quick fixes to get through the season, but the three months gave me time to really work hard, see my coach a lot, and get the levels of my game up. Even the worst levels have become a lot higher, I think.
“(We never get) that long of a period to work. Obviously, our seasons normally finish at the end of November, start of December, and then we start up again in January, February. And you take some time off in December and then you suddenly have two to three weeks to get ready for the season.
“So yeah, it was crazy actually having three months to just work. It was the first time in 12 years, I think, that I’ve had that sort of time to work on my game, so it was quite interesting.”
“I've learned the difference between being a golfer and being a person.” Emily kristine pedersen
The positive effects of that period were not just technical, as Pedersen’s mental strength, often considered a weakness of the Dane even by her own admission, improved greatly too.
“I think I’ve kind of grown up and matured a little bit,” Pedersen said. “I’ve kind of learned the difference between being a golfer and being a person, which has had the effect of making me more productive in my practice and not so emotionally controlled all the time.”
Pedersen’s first event back after golf's extended break was the Ladies Scottish Open in August, where the 24-year-old excelled in links conditions to finish tied for second, narrowly missing out on a maiden LPGA Tour victory in a play-off.
That performance gave Pedersen huge confidence heading into the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon one week later, where she produced another impressive display.
Pedersen added: “It was amazing because when you haven’t played for that long, it’s a little hard to figure out ‘where is my game at?' The ultimate measure to how your practice is going is how you do at a tournament and, having not played in three months, you go into it maybe a little uncertain as to how you will perform.
“Coming back in Scotland, it was my best result ever on the LPGA Tour and my best result ever in a major, so it was incredible. I’ve always really liked playing in Scotland and in the UK in general, but to perform like that was just incredible.”
Although Pedersen eventually placed in a tie for 11th at the AIG Women’s Open, there was a possibility that finish could have been a lot higher, Over the first three rounds, Pedersen was within a few shots of the lead after each day. The Dane credits that impressive golf to her new-found mental approach, and her love of links golf.
“I think it’s because I kind of embrace the challenge a bit,” Pedersen replied when asked why she enjoys links golf. “I like it when it gets quite tough. I love when you’re having to think out of the box a little bit. In links you have to play the slopes, you have to play the wind.
“You have to find different ways to hit the shots and I really like the fun of that. And then I go out with the mentality knowing that it’s going to be tough and let’s grind through it. And I think that’s why I quite like playing there.”
Rounds one and two proved particularly tough at Royal Troon, with just a handful of players breaking par amid gale-force winds.
“Oh yeah, it was so tough” Pedersen said of Thursday and Friday. “When you play in conditions like that at Troon it’s more about survival. Sometimes you can think too far ahead or you can think too much about what’s happened, but in conditions like that it’s just about surviving every single shot and there’s no room to think forward or to think backwards. I think I was really good at doing that and I think that’s why I could perform like that.
“It gave me a lot of confidence because it doesn’t really get tougher than that, I don’t think. If it does, play will be suspended. So you think if you can manage that you can get through anything really.
“I think that mentality just made me push harder and I learned a lot mentally from playing that event, about being present for each shot and what it gave me, just being able to focus on what’s right in front of me. I think that did me good for the rest of the year.”
Pedersen just missed out on a top-10 finish, but she took confidence from her excellent play and how she was right in the mix for the championship early on Sunday after birdieing three of the first six holes.
“It was the closest I’ve ever been in a major and obviously I started off super well and then I don’t know, I got a little nervous maybe." she said. "And I was a little bummed about the finish actually.
“I would have finished higher but I made quite a few mistakes on the last stretch, and looking back at it I was very frustrated with that middle section of the round. But I think I learned from it as well. I learned that you need to let go when you make a mistake. And I’d been so good at not thinking ahead all week and then suddenly on the Sunday when I started off well, I probably started thinking ahead a little bit and that kind of got to me.”
Shortly after her best ever finish in a major championship, Pedersen claimed the Czech Open for only her second LET victory and her first in five years.
“That was quite a good way to get back into it again and get over it,” she said. “I think it was good for me to go straight into competition again and kind of get a do-over.”
Pedersen then continued her excellent form with a tie for third in the Swiss Ladies Open, before claiming three straight victories in a November to remember, eventually claiming the LET Race to Costa del Sol crown by an astonishing margin, accumulating three times as many points as runner-up Julia Engstrom.
The amazing run of form would appear to represent a long-awaited coming-out party for an incredibly talented player, still just 24 years of age.
“Obviously it’s been amazing and hopefully I can bring some form into this week,” Pedersen said. “My next goal is I would really love to be playing for Europe at the Solheim and I would love to be at the Olympics, and then I’d love to get my card back on the LPGA Tour as well, so these are the next goals for me.”
Now inside the world's top 70, Pedersen is well on track to achieve those ambitions, and she could be set to make a major breakthrough this week at the U.S. Women’s Open as she searches for a fourth straight victory. When she returns to the AIG Women’s Open next year at Carnoustie, there is no doubt Emily Kristine Pedersen will be one to watch.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot. Carnoustie has a lot of history just like Troon. I remember saying to my caddie, we’d been on the range practicing at Troon and then we walked on to the first tee and I said to him ‘this is what a real Women’s Open is like’. You just get that feeling of history and I think it’s going to be the same at Carnoustie.”