PHOENIX – The LPGA Tour’s arrival this week in Gold Canyon for the Drive On Championship features a stacked field that includes Olympic gold medalist and leading American Nelly Korda, former World No. 1 Jin Young Ko and Canadian superstar Brooke Henderson.
However, one name has the attention of Arizonans: Anna Nordqvist.
Before the 35-year-old Swedish sensation was winning majors in the LPGA, Nordqvist was a decorated athlete at Arizona State University. The former Sun Devil golfer joined the team in 2006, and by the end of her freshman campaign became Pac-10 co-champion, Pac-10 Player of the Year and National Golf Coaches Association Freshman of the Year.
Even after leaving ASU in 2008 and moving to Florida, Nordqvist felt a deep connection to the Valley and returned to settle in Scottsdale after a decade. Now she’s looking to beat out her talented competitors to bring home the tournament trophy in her home state.
“Being from Sweden [and] not having my closest family and friends ever in the U.S., it’s hard. But I felt like when I moved to Arizona in 2006 to go to school, I didn’t miss home,” Nordqvist said. “I’m just very grateful for the opportunity that I got back in 2006 to come and play for Arizona State because I don’t know if there would have been any other place I would want to go to.”
Nordqvist racked up a trophy case full of awards before stepping foot on Tempe’s main campus. The golf prodigy picked up the clubs when she was 13 and quickly found success as the back-to-back Swedish Junior Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Then as an amateur, she continued her dominance in the United Kingdom by winning the Girls Amateurs Championship.
After winning all those awards, Nordqvist surveyed colleges for the next step in her career, and the timing was perfect. In 2005, while visiting the University of Arizona and ASU, she watched her first LPGA tournament in person at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club, where Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam beat out Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa in a playoff to win the tournament.
“I was 17 years old at the time, and I received one of our scholarships to come to Arizona for about a week. We went down to Tucson to see U of A and then went to ASU. Then, we got to practice and watch her in the tournament,” Nordqvist said. “It was a very special moment for me back then. Watching Lorena [Ochoa] and [Annika Sorenstam] and … the best players in the world compete.”
Ultimately deciding to join the Sun Devils, the three-time major winner tried to qualify for that same LPGA tournament in 2008, when she first arrived in Arizona, but got off to a slow start. Her caddy tried to motivate her by offering a free meal at a restaurant of her choosing. The Swedish golfer picked IKEA’s restaurant but fell short of holding up her end of the deal.
Still, Nordqvist maintained her star status and her decision to turn pro after a successful sophomore year at ASU came as no surprise considering she had captured NCAA First-Team All-American and Academic All-American honors a second time.
On the Tour, Nordqvist wasted no time making her presence felt. She won her first professional tournament and major in only her fifth start at the LPGA Tour Championship in 2009.
Since her first major win, she has won two more majors and 10 professional tournaments. While the majors mark career highlights, Nordqvist said the tournament wins are just as special and cherishes victory at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Arizona the most.
“Winning it in 2017 is probably as close to feeling like winning at home and getting to share it with a lot of people that have been there for me through thick and thin and have been there throughout this journey,” Nordqvist said. “Putting my name on a trophy here in Arizona in 2017 is something no one will ever take away from me, and doing it again would be amazing.”
The Drive On tournament is the first LPGA event in Gold Canyon since 2008 and the first one in Arizona since the 2019 Volvik Founder Cup. In that event, Nordqvist had a disappointing outing and finished tied for 58th place after finishing 7-under par. Despite the lack of success last time, Nordqvist has confidence that she is ready to put on a better outing and shot a 1-under 71 in Thursday’s first round to trail leader Wei-Ling Hsu by five strokes.
“The golf course is in amazing shape. It’s probably some of the best greens we’ll play all year,” Nordqvist said of the Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club. “It’s a great course, and I think the last four or five holes are a really great finish. … This is the first event for a lot of girls, so I know a lot of people are eager to get going and get the year started, so I couldn’t think of a better place.”
Nordqvist is looking for her 14th professional win but must outplay other former Sun Devils. ASU alums Carlota Ciganda, Linnea Strom and Azahara Munoz, Nordqvist’s former teammate in Tempe, are also in the mix for the $1.75 million purse and the Drive On Championship crown.
When Nordqvist left ASU in 2008 to go pro, Ciganda was a “little bit upset” a month before arriving in Tempe. A national championship win eased those feelings, and to this day, there are no hard feelings between the two.
“We’ve been through this journey together. ASU has been an amazing support. [ASU golf ] coach Missy Farr-Kaye has done a fantastic job as a head coach there,” Nordqvist said. “It would be nice if a Sun Devil won, of course. I know we’re trying our best every day to practice hard … I think a lot of people are ready to go, but I’m obviously rooting for my Sun Devils.”
In 2008, the LPGA tour wrapped up its last event in Superstition Mountain for the next 14 years, where an adolescent Nordqvist was getting her feet wet as a professional golfer. Now she has a chance to do what the 19-year-old Nordqvist couldn’t accomplish and win at a course where Hall of Famers have etched their name into history.
She wants the trophy not just for her case, but to honor her adopted home.
“There’s something about the people here because I felt like they supported me since I was 18 years old, and a lot of them treat me like family, and they don’t treat me like a golfer, and they’re there for me when I need them the most, and I don’t feel like that any other place in the U.S.,” Nordqvist said.
“So that’s why I was very keen on moving back here in 2019 because it just feels like home. It’s something about the atmosphere. I felt like this place probably felt as much of a home as Sweden has. I hope to see a lot of spectators out here this week. A lot of young girls with similar dreams that I had came back out here.”