If you're looking for someone to watch on the LPGA tour in 2017, look no further than Madelene Sagstrom. The Swede was a four-time All-American at LSU and the 2015 SEC Player of the year before joining the Symetra Tour in 2016. There, she had three wins and 11 top-10s in 14 starts and shattered both the $100,000 and $150,000 earnings mark, something that has never been done previously on that tour. The 2016 Symetra Tour Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and leading money winner talks about her record-breaking year on the women's development tour and her goals for her first season on the LPGA tour.
So let's talk about your incredible year. You had three wins, nine other top-10s in 15 events. No one has ever done that before. What was your secret to success this year on tour?
I think the whole thing started with just coming out, I was, like, fresh out of college, I had no experience, and no expectations. And then it kinda hit me as a shock how intense everything was. So I kinda went from being really confused to just really sticking to my game plan. I had a really set game plan in the beginning of the year with my coach, and my mentor and stuff like that. And I've been really just putting all my energy on that, and try not to, like, make everything too big. And I've just really stuck to that the entire year, and it's really worked out.
Was there one specific thing that you would tell yourself over and over again that you needed to do to sort of get used to things and then improve as you went on?
Yeah, just to enjoy myself, enjoy being me, and just enjoy playing golf. I see this as a huge opportunity to go out and learn as much as I can. It's easy to put too much pressure on yourself out there. And it's just a tough sport. There are so many good girls, and it's just so tough. So I was really just focusing on having the best time of my life out on tour.
So let's go back a number of years. You started playing when you were 11 years old. What got you involved in the game?
My parents. I'm from this really, really small little village, and then we moved into the city. I live right off the golf course, and my parents kept playing. It was easier for me to go to the golf course than friends to take me to soccer practice. So just the fact of us playing as a whole family, it was really fun. My little brother plays, too, so that whole family connection was a lot of fun.
So as you progressed through school and through high school, you decided on LSU where you played for four years. That’s not necessarily a typical thing for a professional athlete. Why LSU and why did you decide to stay for the four years?
Well, in Sweden it's pretty common that either you turn pro right after high school, or you go to college. I didn't feel ready to turn pro. I knew my game was pretty good, but I didn't feel mature enough to go out there. So I wanted to have a backup plan, figure out what I as gonna do, and what kind of person I wanted to be.
I had a really good connection with my coach, Karen Bahnsen, right away. She watched me play a lot of golf. And I came to visit, and I was like, "I can see myself walking on campus here." I was like, "I'm gonna go for it. If I don't like it, I have a 24-hour flight home." And I still live in Baton Rouge, so obviously I liked it a lot. I just really loved it, and I just got so many memories from there.
You were a four-time All American and the 2015 SEC Player of the Year. If you could sum up your four years, what was a highlight for you?
I think the highlight was probably my senior year. We went to Nationals my freshman year, and then we just ran short of it two years in a row. In my senior year, it was really borderline in the end, and I found out we all made it as a team, and I was so excited to get that last tournament in with my team and my coaches. My parents came in town for that event, too, so it was a really, really nice way to finish up a good college career.
Obviously LSU has a couple of different rivals in the SEC Who was your favorite rivalry or competitor?
I really liked playing in the SEC tournament, and just playing with all those girls. I'm really good friends with a lot of my rival schools from college, and it's just the fact that you can be good friends, but there's still that little spark between you guys. I think just meeting them out here now and you're more friends, but then you were rivals in college. It's really cool.
So then you went to the Symetra Tour this year, 2016. You finished at the top of the tour and are number one in a whole bunch of different stats including putts per GIR and scoring average. What about the Symetra Tour specifically helped your game, and helped you develop as a golfer?
I think it's the fact that it's so similar to the LPGA and all the other different tours. We travel week to week, and we have had a great schedule this year. We have had tournaments pretty close to each other, easy drives, and it's just the fact that it really prepares you for what's coming up. It's really a big learning tour for sure.
They're so helpful. I came out the first week, and I was really struggling with myself. I was like, "I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know, do I wanna do this?" Everybody's so friendly. It's like this whole big family. You see everybody, it's like, “Okay, see you guys, well, actually…tomorrow!” [Laughs] You just feel so welcome everywhere. They have a really good connection with all the golf courses we play, and everybody's so happy to get us in town. It just feels like you're special. It feels like you're really welcome.
So you don't need to go to LPGA Q-School through topping the Volvik Race to the Card. Would you have done it another way?
So I did go to Q-School in the fall of '15, and I made it to third stage. I missed the cut. I was really disappointed at that point because I kinda had these high expectations. But I sat down with my mentor, and after he's like, "Well, what you perform now is at the level you're at. This is where you're at right now. You have to take it from here, and then really work hard to get to the next level."
Playing on the Symetra Tour is definitely the best thing that's ever happened to me. I've learned so much this year. I've become such a better golfer, and a better person. I'm just so blessed to be able to have had this experience on the Symetra Tour. Looking back at it, I wouldn't have it any other way.
What was your biggest challenge throughout the year on the Symetra Tour?
The voices in my head. [Laughs] It's myself, the pressure I put on myself. The fact that you wanna go out there, and you wanna play really, really, well. I tend to put too much pressure on myself, and really get hard on myself. So that has probably been the toughest struggle, the battle that nobody sees.
What's something that you're most looking forward to now, looking ahead to the next step in your career, the LPGA, the grand stage for women's golf?
It's been a big dream of mine since I was 13 to play on the LPGA I told my parents I'm gonna go to golf high school, I'm gonna go to college, and then I'm gonna go to the LPGA And now I'm actually here, so I get to play with the people that I've looked up to my entire life. I get to experience what they've experienced.
I feel like I get to make an impact of what I truly love. I get to share this experience with people around me and I'm just really looking forward to making it as genuine and as clear as possible. I'm living my dream. It's gonna be so much fun.
Do you have any specific goals? Is it making cuts, is it top tens, top-25s? Is it wins? What are you eyeballing for your first year on tour?
Result goals don't really work too good for me, cause I get too focused on, "I have to put down scores." And when I focus on that, I don't put down scores. My ultimate goal is to become as good as I can get. And I don't really know where that is gonna take me, but my goal is to go to bed every day and feel like I got a little bit better today, no matter what I do.
But a huge goal next year would be…I have the Solheim Cup in the stars out there [laughs], that's a huge dream. So I'm gonna do my best to try to earn a spot out there.
You guys play week in and week out and get very close. How does that affect competition?
I think it's a mixture of everything. I think the girls and guys are really good at separating both of it. You can be really good friends, and cheer for each other, but then when you come down to it, I want you play to good but I want to play better than you. Off the golf course, everybody's so nice. I have a few teammates from LSU out there, too.
So I want to talk a little bit about the records that you broke this year. You are the money winner this year on tour, and you shattered that record in May. You could have taken your foot off the gas, but you didn't. You continued to win, you continued to perform. What keeps you motivated to do that on a weekly basis?
I think it's the fact that I just want to get better and better. Winning money is fun, and winning tournaments is fun, but it's the little things that I work for. I work on hitting that really low four iron, and if I do that in a tournament, that’s what makes me feel really good about myself.
What is something that you think players and the tours can do, to help grow the women's game, and really get the message out there that, hey, you guys are really good?
I think they're doing a great job now. I think that the world is starting to realize how good women actually are at playing golf. The men out there, they're just so dominant. They can hit shots that we never can. And I think that for us to really put emphasis on what we're really good at can make a huge difference.
I think that being genuine and being out there showing that you love the game, it's gonna get better. Social media's a huge thing. I try to be active on social media, and just really get young girls and boys involved. I know that Symetra has been a lot bigger in Sweden now, and so it's all of these things together. And, face it, you have to play good out there.
What's one thing that people should know about being a professional golfer that you think that they don't know?
There's much more to it than just hitting golf shots, drinking champagne, and winning golf tournaments. There's much more to it. I thought that in my pro life, I was going to be coming out of college saying, “Okay, I have time now. Now I can actually really practice, and do all these things.”
But there's so much to it. I sit on my phone a lot, I do send a lot of e-mails, I talk on the phone a lot. I do a blog on the side just to show what's going on around outside the scenes of golf. It's easy to just judge someone and say, “You played really bad.” But I'm struggling with all these other things that people can't see. I think that is something that is really, really hard to understand from the outside. But it's like, we're just normal people! [Laughs] We have all the other problems that everybody else has, so it's a huge package of things coming along with it.
What's one thing you would take away from your time on the Symetra Tour this year?
I think my favorite thing this year has been the people. The people I've been working with, and just the fact that there are so many people that want the betterment of golfers. I feel like I can make an impact, and I want to make an impact for people around me. I want to make an impact for the Symetra Tour staff.
I know that we, according to some people, “just play golf." But I feel like we can really make the world a little bit better of a place than what we came into. That's what I'm going to try to bring out next year, and just really be myself. Just give everything I can, and just make everybody a little bit more happy.