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Walton Heath 2023

Euro stars


Sweden's Nordqvist, Sagstrom and Grant well placed for title tilt

Swedish pair Madelene Sagstrom (left) and Anna Nordqvist

With some of the continent’s star names enjoying an upturn in fortunes in recent months, a European winner of this year’s AIG Women’s Open appears a real possibility.

Ireland’s Leona Maguire – who picked up the Smyth Salver in 2016 – won the Meijer LPGA Classic last weekend, while France’s Celine Boutier and England’s Georgia Hall gave Europe a 1-2 in the Drive On Championship at the end of March.

Three of the last five editions of the AIG Women’s Open have been claimed by Europeans in the shape of Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist (2021), Germany’s Sophia Popov (2020) and Hall (2018).

Some familiar names will lead Europe’s charge at Walton Heath in August, none more so than the aforementioned three-time major winner Nordqvist.

She said: “I think probably European golf is as strong as it's been. There's a lot of young girls coming up, which I think is exciting.

“A lot of us grew up competing in the other Championships and have played a lot of links golf growing up and kind of have an advantage in that sense a little bit.

“But it is nice to come home every summer and play in Europe, and I think everyone, knowing the history, [the AIG Women’s Open is] the Championship that means a lot to all the Europeans.

“You may not even have to win, but to play good in a week like that means the world to most of us.”

When Nordqvist triumphed at Carnoustie she became the only non-American woman to win a major in three different decades.

To get over the line on the famous Angus links, Nordqvist had to hold off 2018 winner Hall and compatriot Madelene Sagstrom, who both finished in a tie for second place alongside the USA’s Lizette Salas.

Madelene Sagstrom reads a putt at Muirfield

Madelene Sagstrom reads a putt at Muirfield

Agonisingly, Sagstrom bogeyed the last hole, meaning she missed out on a play-off with Nordqvist by a single shot. But she still looks back on that week with great fondness.

“When you’re close you want to win,” admitted Sagstrom. “But if somebody had have told me at the beginning of the week that I was going to finish tied-second I would have been super excited. It’s still the best major finish of my career.

“It’s one of those things where, when you’re in it, you always want to do more but when you step back and look at it, you realise that you’ve finished second in a major. That’s huge. It shows how good my game was.

“It was a huge uplift for my career and for my belief in myself so a lot of good things came out of that week.”

Another Swedish star who has been making a splash is Linn Grant.

Linn Grant at Muirfield

Linn Grant in action at Muirfield

The 24-year-old made history last year by becoming the first female to win on the DP World Tour when she triumphed at the Scandinavian Mixed, an event which featured 78 male and 78 female golfers.

More recently, Grant – whose grandfather is Scottish – has been excelling on the Ladies European Tour, claiming her fifth title at the Jabra Ladies Open in May.

She enjoyed her first experience of the AIG Women’s Open in 2022, when she finished tied 19th, and is looking forward to another taste this summer.

Grant said: “It [the AIG Women’s Open] has a lot of history.

“It’s one of those events where it’s just a different game, especially if you compare it to the US Open. It’s two totally different weeks.

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“I feel like it requires so much more of you. You have to take so many more hits, and different hits, than you do in the US Open.

“It’s different, but it’s worth more, especially as a European and with my background… it’s a bit more special for me.

“I haven’t played Walton Heath before but knowing the characteristics of it, I know I’ll enjoy it.”

While Nordqvist is the only member of the Swedish trio who knows what it feels like to win a major, Sagstrom has placed in the top four in the last two editions of the AIG Women’s Open so she is entitled to travel to Surrey feeling she can be in the mix once again.

“My game is good enough to win, I just need to get my head in the same space,” she said.

“I think to allow yourself to win, you have to allow yourself to fail. You have to go for shots where there’s a good possibility that it could go wrong and it could cost you. It’s fine lines.

“You have to have a little bit of momentum going your way and also you have to be fearless out there because there’s 100, 150 girls out there trying to do the same thing."

Nordqvist has spoken of her joy at being announced as the AIG Women’s Open Champion at last year’s event at Muirfield.

Ashleigh Buhai may have wrestled the trophy from her grasp, but the 36-year-old remains proud of what she cites as one of the highlights of her stellar career.

Nordqvist said: “I think the Saturday of the AIG Women's Open at Carnoustie is probably going to be the round I look back on in my career where I had the most fun.

“But just the memories, the putts, the shots, the whole experience, nothing's ever going to beat that, but I'm just so proud of myself to have pulled through and [won] that one.

“I think growing up as a European golfer that is the Championship everyone dreams about winning, but I guess it's just so hard to pull through and to do it at a course like Carnoustie.

“There's still times that I'm pinching myself that I did it.”

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