Letter to My Daughter

Dear Ava,

It’s spring, and you and your brother, Will, have just started T-ball.

I know that you’re shy and it seems so easy for your brother to go up and talk to people and say hello. Don’t worry, he is just more outgoing, like Daddy.

And as much as I try to encourage you to be brave when you meet new people, I’m not worried, Little A, because your confidence will come soon.

It might be hard to believe — you’ve seen Mama’s trophies and awards, and see all the people we get to meet and speak to now — but I was shy too. When I was little, not much older than you are now, I almost let those trophies slip away.

All because I was too scared to find my own voice.

I didn’t like to raise my hand in school to answer questions in case I was wrong. I always thought my classmates would turn around and laugh at me. And it was the same thing on the golf course. Coming down the stretch, if I thought I was about to win, I would miss on purpose — an extra putt, or a chip and two-putt, or something — so that I would only finish second or third and wouldn’t have to address the crowd and give a victory speech. That way I would still get a trophy, but wouldn’t have to speak to the crowd.

Then, on those drives home with Grandma and Grandpa, I would always feel badly inside. They eventually caught on to my antics and came up with a plan without my knowledge: To ask the tournament directors to make sure the runners-up and third-place finishers also spoke to the crowd.

The next time I was in that situation and messed up on purpose towards the end and finished third, you can imagine how shocked I was when they asked me to say a few words. Eventually I realized that the 30 seconds I would spend speaking to a small crowd was much easier on my conscience than the guilt I felt from messing up on purpose. I guess you could say I learned to find my voice. You’ll learn too, Ava.

I see so much of my shyness in you. Others will try to hurry and push you. But don’t force things — they will happen.

In fact, I don’t regret being so quiet — I needed that experience to learn. And you’ll realize all sorts of things the hard way. It’s life. It’s all part of growing up.

(Which, please don’t do too fast.)

So rather than tell myself all the things I wish I had known, or lessons I’ve picked up, I’m writing to you, my Little A. I also did not feel “love at first sight” with golf. When I was a little girl, I’d rather be skiing, playing other sports, or spending time with family. Just like you.

In case you do end up following Mama’s footsteps, in life or in golf, here’s some of what I know so far. (And to the young girls reading who want to be athletes, hopefully you learn something, too.)

Keep painting and playing the piano. Keep swimming. Keep playing basketball and T-Ball and riding horses, which we know how much you love. Golf will always be there, if you want it. Just be ready for whatever you want to do.

Just like you, I wasn’t so keen to get a club in my hands and thought golf was too slow and boring. I loved all other sports — soccer, tennis, skiing — which kept me busy for nine and half months of the year. But for the two or so months of summer holidays, Auntie Charlotta and I would be on the golf course.

But here’s the thing. My sister and I rarely actually golfed.

We’d sit on your Grandma and Grandpa’s pull-carts and pretend we were riding ponies as they’d pull us along the fairway.

We’d pick up golf balls on the range to earn a little bit of money — those were the days before the range cart that you try to hit with shots scooped them up.

We’d play soccer on the driving range with our friends.

We’d walk to a lake on the outside of the course, not far from the 14th hole, and then we’d jump in because it was hot.

Then we’d walk back to the course when it was time for lunch, or get an ice cream at the clubhouse.

Literally, anything but golf.

As a matter of fact, we weren’t members of the club where my parents played, so when we did finally practice our putting, the general manager would come out and yell at my sister and me. We’d run away, and when we thought he was gone, we would sneak out and putt unaccompanied again. (Mama’s allowed to putt now, even though I’m still not a member.)

So that was my introduction to golf. I pretended to ride ponies, hung out with my sister and just had fun. But I didn’t hit any shots.

And having fun is all I want you to do right now, Ava. Just keep playing and exploring and trying new things. I really didn’t start going to training camps until I was 12, which some parents today think is really late for starting any sport. Nowadays many of the best young girl golfers probably break par when they’re 12. (I’ll teach you what that means, eventually.)

But you know what happened when I turned 12? I was a little more ready for golf. And it wasn’t until I was 16 that I said I’m ready to really focus on this and put all of the other sports on hold.

So Mama and Daddy will keep taking you to T-ball or any other activity until you tell us no more. Because if I had only specialized in my first love of tennis when I was your age, I never would’ve tried golf. And as good as I know you are at golf now, if you stop when you’re 17 or 18 because you’ve lost the desire or burnt out, what’s the point?

Many kids get pushed for the wrong reasons. Grandma and Grandpa never pushed and were always very supportive. For me, it all came from the heart. I wanted to do it. So, Ava, Daddy and I aren’t going to push you either.

So keep dressing up like a princess and take the time to explore what you love. Take all the time you need.

Because one day you’ll be a teenager and one thing that will be less of a debate is college.

College for me was sort of pure luck. I was representing Stockholm University in a tournament in Japan and playing with a young girl from the University of Arizona. Her coach came up to me and said, “Hey, would you like to come play for us?”

Ava, let me tell you two things. First: Saying yes was the one of the best things I could have ever done, not just for my career, but also for growing into a young woman.

Second: Nothing can prepare you for Arizona in August. It’s hotter than Orlando!

Grandma waved goodbye to me at the Stockholm airport and assured me that the 20-hour flight to Tuscon was the same in both directions if I ever wanted to come home. And for those first couple of months, it crossed my mind a few times.

It was just me, my two suitcases and my golf bag when I first arrived. That’s it. Plus, it wasn’t even guaranteed that I’d make the golf team. You fly all that way and then have to play 18 holes to qualify. Thankfully, I made the team and I soon got settled in. But those first two or three months were tough. I’d studied chemical engineering back in Sweden and while I kept taking those courses at Arizona, I was also taking English 101 just so I could learn the language better.

So whether in the U.S. or overseas, go to college, Ava. You’ll grow up. It will end up being the most fun you will ever have. On your own, but with no real grown-up responsibilities. You’ll see the world from another point of view. It may not seem like it now when you’re six years old, but the world is small in a way, and you have so much to see.

In college, Ava, I hope you’ll find your confidence, just like I did. Before I went to Arizona, I always took a few months off in the winter to focus on school and my homework. Therefore, going to Arizona was a big step for me and my golf. I now had the opportunity to play every day on beautiful courses and against the best young ladies of my age — all year round.

That changed everything for me.

So this is important no matter what you decide to do: Get a degree, have something to fall back on. Those four years at college are crucial. You’ll travel on your own, learn how to handle responsibility, manage your own time.

For me, those years were the beginning of life on tour, but it was also basically the beginning of life as an adult.

I can only imagine what you’ll be like at 17, but whether you play golf or not, college will prepare you for whatever you want to do. It’s your foundation.

When I finally joined the tour, I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to win a single golf tournament. But I knew I had my foundation not just as a player, but as a young woman. So when things didn’t go the way I expected — like when I missed my LPGA card by one shot my first year — I believed in myself enough to bounce back.

I needed that foundation even more when I won my first major, the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open. You practice making putts for seven hours, but you never practice what happens when you win and the expectations that follow.

And no one teaches you that part.

All of a sudden I went from being a little, young, still-somewhat-shy girl from Sweden to being a major champion. There were a lot of demands on my time. People wanted to know everything about me: Who are my friends, where do I like to eat, what do I like to do, how do I practice and on and on and on.

When I won the U.S. Open again in 1996, I thought I had it figured out. I started thinking about how I would hold the trophy next time — on my right or on my left — before I even hit a shot.

It took me ten years to win another U.S. Open.

Never assume when you’re on top that you will stay there.

And the journey to the top? It’s a lonely one. You can ask other players, and they’ll probably think of me as a lone wolf. I didn’t sit in the locker room and chat. There were only a handful of players with whom I’d get dinner with here and there. I wasn’t there to make friends. I was there to do my job and do it to the best of my ability. This was my business, so I didn’t use the tour as a place for socializing. It was more just getting my work done. When you’re judged by your results, that’s a harsh reality.

Early in my career, I would join the other women for practice rounds in the morning. I would stand there with the other players, but soon realized that I was getting nothing done. From then on, I would always come out in the afternoon and work by myself. While most of the other players were walking off, I’d just be going onto the course.

Putting yourself first is not so easy. I learned that the hard way after I won my first U.S. Open in 1995. I decided not to play in the next tournament. I just wanted to take the trophy and run. And I kind of did. The LPGA didn’t like that because they wanted to showcase their newest champion.

Looking back, did I do the right thing by withdrawing from that tournament? Probably not. But, I did the right thing for me. Because you have to remember that if you start playing poorly, they forget you in a heartbeat.

So I learned how to say no. And that was hard.

But you know what? It didn’t cost me the future, it didn’t cost me money, and it didn’t cost me my reputation.

So, Ava, learn to say no. And I don’t mean when Mama and Daddy ask you to go to bed or pick up your toys — it doesn’t quite work like that. But be confident in what matters to you. Look at the big picture. There are going to be some things that you have to do, but with some others, it’s O.K. to say no.

Remember this: I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.

And you can do anything, Ava. Even play with the boys.

You were the only girl on your basketball team. You’re on the same T-ball team as your brother now, but finding your own place in the world as a strong woman is only going to get harder the older you get. That goes for sports, for business, for whatever you choose to do.

A lot of people aren’t going to want you there. But don’t listen to them. I didn’t. And it led to the moment that would define my career.

When I got the invitation from a PGA Tour tournament to play with the men at Colonial nearly 13 years ago, I accepted it with no reservations. By that point, I had been No. 1 in the world on the women’s tour. I had won majors, and set records, so I wanted to push myself. I knew I was still young and had more to prove. Colonial was my carrot. My motivation to keep working hard. And to get better.

Others didn’t quite see it that way.

Never settle, Ava. Grind, grind, grind and prove people wrong. Because everyone’s going to have an opinion and you just need to let your talent and strength speak for itself. For me, I didn’t waste energy on the negativity — on the players who said they didn’t want to play with me — It wasn’t worth it. It’s never worth it.

Instead, keep focusing on that bigger picture. I remember arriving at the 10th tee for my first shot of the day at Colonial. Before arriving Monday, I tried to pretend like it was any other tournament, but inside I knew it wasn’t. And when we reached the fairway I saw something that I’ll never forget: All these little girls, there in Fort Worth, to watch me. Dads with their daughters, smiling, waving, cheering me on. Lots of them with GO ANNIKA buttons on their hats.

I ended up not making the cut, but I still think about the people who were a part of that moment, who said it changed their lives. It was more than just hitting some golf shots. That was just the small step, the big steps were challenging myself to be better and trying to excel trying to make an impact.

Work hard and make a difference, Ava, but make sure you know what’s really important.

It’s sad to say, but a neck injury in 2007 is what really opened my eyes to life beyond the course.

For me, that was you. It was your brother. It was Daddy. It was wanting to start my own family and pursue other ventures and businesses.

When I returned to practice in early 2008 I remember so clearly I standing on the range one day and just looking at the time on my phone, my mind wandering, wanting to be elsewhere.

I asked myself, How much longer do you want to do this? And that’s when I realized, my motivation was gone. There was nothing out there that would make me want to practice anymore. Winning another tournament wasn’t exciting. Winning another major wasn’t exciting. I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve and more. That’s when I decided, This is going to be my last year. I had given it my all and I didn’t have anything left in my tank.

When your heart tells you something, Ava, you have to listen. So I made my retirement announcement five months later in June, and afterward, I never looked back. Until now, that is.

Just over a year later, you were born and I became a mother. You’ll hopefully want to become a mother someday, too. You’ll probably get questions — like I did — about how, and when, and whether you can have a career and be a mother.

And here’s the secret: You can do both. And it’s O.K. to do both. We all have our different timelines and you’ve just got to find yours when you’re ready. But don’t sacrifice one for the other, there’s room for both.

But way before that, there’s still plenty of horseback riding and swimming, and painting and our girls-only golf trips in the evenings.

In the meantime, find your passions, be ready for them, work hard for them and appreciate them. And when the time comes, learn how to share your passion with others and inspire the next generation.

But promise me, my little sweetheart, to enjoy the journey and wherever life takes you. Take time to smell the roses along the way. If there is one thing I would have done throughout all my success on the course, it would have been that. There is a fine line between looking ahead to your next challenge and enjoying your most recent victory. I know you will learn that balance and I look forward to being a part of your journey.

With all my love,