Swede success

Missouri golfer Maria Ohlsson models her game after LPGA star Annika Sorenstam.
Friday, April 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

It’s easy to draw comparisons between Annika Sorenstam and Maria Ohlsson.

Although Ohlsson is taller than Sorenstam, she resembles the LPGA phenom in many ways. Both hail from Sweden and are exceptionally competitive.

Both are leading golfers; Ohlsson has the third-lowest stroke average in the Big 12 Conference, three-tenths behind Missouri teammate Denise Knaebel. Ohlsson improved her stroke average by four strokes from last spring, to a 74.5. She ranks No. 26 nationally in putts per round, averaging 30.5.

“For her, it’s between her ears; she wants it,’’ Missouri coach Stephanie Cooper said. “She’s very focused; she’s very determined. Denise has set the bar, and she’s kind of wanting to beat her, so it’s kind of an incentive. They root for each other, but both of them want to be No. 1.”

Ohlsson’s quest for consistency and intersquad competition against Knaebel, a sophomore from Moberly, keep her motivated.

“I want to beat her and she wants to beat me, but it’s a good competition because we push each other to do better,” she said.

Ohlsson followed her sister Elin Ohlsson to MU, and upon her arrival was surprised that many Americans knew much about her role model.

“Annika Sorenstam is so consistent and she is a great golf player, and I look up to her,” she said.

“Actually, in Sweden she is popular but not that popular because she plays here, when it is night in Sweden, so we don’t watch her that much. So when I came over I was surprised that people here know so much about her.”

Like Sorenstam, Ohlsson engages in a weight lifting routine with MU teammates. Many up-and-coming players have begun to follow Sorenstam’s example of integrating fitness into the golf game.

“A lot of times when we have 36-hole round we start off kind of shaky and then we get stronger in those last holes, where a lot of teams kind of get worse,” Cooper said. “I told our strength coach I feel like it’s because we’re in shape.”

Being in shape should pay off Saturday as Ohlsson and Knabel lead MU to its last regular-season meet, the Indiana Invitational, at the 6,034-yard Indiana University Golf Course. The course, which can play as a par 72, will be set up as a par 74.

“They moved back some of the par-4s and made them par-5s, and three of them are reachable,’’ Cooper said. “So, you might have kids make eagles, see a lot of birdies and if you walk off there with a par you feel like you made bogey.

“They’ve been talking about that too. I’m kind of concerned that they’re already worried about hitting those greens in two and making birdie and setting themselves up to be frustrated if they don’t.”

The Tigers, who finished second at last year’s Invitational, have finished in the top three in six of eight tournaments this year. The team has yet to win a tournament this spring.

“We’re pretty happy with the finishes, but we’re also tired of another second place,” Cooper said.

An improved short game could be the determining factor for MU; Ohlsson and Knabel said that chipping and putting are their strengths.

“The whole team has improved that,’’ Cooper said. “We’ve gone from No. 30 in the country to top 10 in the country with the short game.”

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