BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Memories are better than trophies.
They’re easier to take with you, when you need the inspiration.
That’s what Pernilla Lindberg brings to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
She has a shiny new memory to go with the sparkle in her eyes at Shoal Creek this week as she bids to add another chapter to one of the best stories in women’s golf this year.
Lindberg, 31, brings her memory of winning in spectacular fashion at the ANA Inspiration two months ago to what would have seemed a dubious ambition at year’s start, her attempt this week to win back-to-back major championships.
There’s nothing dubious about it now for the 31-year-old Swede who was languishing at 150th in the world late last season.
Not when you win the way she won in the desert in April, making her first victory a major.
Not when you win wire-to-wire, sleeping on the lead for not just three nights, but four nights, with her effort going overtime to a Monday finish.
Not when you win it staring down Hall of Famer Inbee Park in an eight-hole playoff.
“My golf game is the same,” Lindberg said when asked what the triumph means to her. “I’m just going out there with a lot more confidence now. That’s a big difference.
“I proved to myself and others I can do it. It just gives me a big boost the rest of the year.”
Lindberg did something in Rancho Mirage that every frustrated player with a big dream wants to do. She transformed herself. She became the player she imagined herself to be through all the tough, little lonely battles that keep dreams alive.
“I’m just a fighter,” Lindberg said. “I’m not going to give up. It doesn’t matter if I’m coming down the stretch about to miss the cut, I’m going to grind until the end. I’m a competitive person who is going to put the best possible score on that card no matter what.”
Lindberg’s shiny memory is more than an inspiration she can use this week. It ought to be an inspiration for every veteran looking to make the same improbable leap Lindberg did. Because that’s what Lindberg’s ANA Inspiration victory was, a leap fittingly celebrated with her jump into Poppie’s Pond.
All the pieces Lindberg has been working on came together more profoundly than even she believed they were ready to do.
“One of my goals this year was to win,” Lindberg said. “Through my career, I had been taking small steps, getting a little bit better through the years. So at year’s start, I said, `Let’s get that first win, maybe an LET event or smaller LPGA event. I felt like that would match the small steps I had been taking my whole career.
“And then at the ANA, I got into position for the first time to decide to take a big leap instead.”
Lindberg’s caddie, Daniel Taylor, who is also her fiancé, celebrated with an athletic headfirst dive into Poppie’s Pond that fit the big leap spirit of the occasion.
Nobody could have predicted the calm and steady nerves Lindberg showed through 80 holes of major championship pressure, not even her most faithful supporters.
“I didn’t know what to expect, how she would handle the pressure,” Taylor said of that Sunday finish and all those extra playoff holes. “But it was great seeing what she’s really capable of.”
Taylor reveled seeing what admires about Lindberg’s game unveiled for all the world to see.
“As a player, she’s just so determined,” Taylor said. “She’s always got the attitude, `I’m giving this 100 percent; I’m going to do this.’ She’s so competitive.
“And as a person, she’s so kind.”
Taylor saw that in how Lindberg said yes to every request made for her attention in the wake of the victory.
“I kind of just said yes to everything,” Lindberg said. “I embraced all the great opportunities.”
At the expense of some of her privacy and even her practice time.
“It seems like every time somebody wins, you hear people saying, `Oh, that’s great, she’s so nice,’” Azahara Munoz said. “Well, Pernilla is really, really nice. She is the nicest.
“This couldn’t have happened to a better person. She’s had struggles, but through them all, she’s always smiling and always working so hard.”
Since winning the ANA, Lindberg has made four starts, with a top-10 finish at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open, despite all the chaos her cooperation with so many requests created.
“Those weeks following the win, I felt like I could play more fearless,” Lindberg said. “That’s a great thing in golf. I grew so much from that whole experience.”