Golf's Big-Hitting Rookie Will Outhit the LPGA — But Can She Win?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she could become the Netherlands’ greatest golf product ever.
By Matt Foley
Anne van Dam remembers the moment she realized that she was ready for life as a professional golfer. It was 2013 and van Dam, then a 17-year-old amateur champion, was holding her own in the Deloitte Ladies Open in her native Netherlands on the Ladies European Tour. She loved the large crowds and extra pressure that came with a professional event.
Then van Dam blasted a drive that veered into the trees. Standing 5-foot-11 with a swing as pure as you’ll ever see, van Dam possesses the type of enviable distance that, when unbridled, can lead to accuracy problems. Showing unusual poise for a teenager, she punched out of a difficult lie, parred the hole and went on to finish in the top 25. She belonged, and she knew it.
Then she had to go back to school.
“After the tournament, all the girls went and played in another country,” says van Dam. “I knew that I wanted that too. That’s when I made the switch to turn pro after high school instead of doing university in the States.”
I always want to be aggressive because I think that’s the most fun.
Anne van Dam
Back in March, one month into her rookie campaign on the LPGA Tour where she presents an unusual sight with her boyfriend joining her as caddy, videos of her effortless swing went viral. But van Dam, 23, is more than just a beautiful stroke. Yes, she’s been the longest driver on the Ladies European Tour for the last four years and, yes, she’s currently outdriving every player on the LPGA, but van Dam wants to be more than just a party trick.
To do that — to morph into a championship-level contender on tour — van Dam has to play consistently from all over the course, not just the tee box. Only pressure-packed experience will determine if she can succeed at the highest level of women’s golf. So far, the results have been mixed. But as one of the dozens of young foreign stars establishing herself on American soil, van Dam is getting more comfortable by the week. Fresh off her first top-15 finish on tour, and playing in front of her family in Europe, van Dam is looking to drive her way to a big British Open finish this week.
Like many elite athletes, van Dam has a motto: “When in doubt hit driver, never lay up and smile a bit more. Life is good.” Surely this speaks to every amateur schlub hitting the links with his friends, but when you’ve seen van Dam play, it makes a whole lot more sense. “That’s my game,” she explains. “I always want to be aggressive because I think that’s the most fun.”
She may well have the best swing in golf right now. https://t.co/w7QaWupYUY
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) March 26, 2019
Born and raised in Arnhem, Netherlands, van Dam began golfing at age 4 while on holiday with her family. She tried sports from soccer to basketball to volleyball, and swimming was actually her first love. The pool, though, quickly took a back seat once the golf trophies started piling up. Van Dam won national championships at the under 9, 12, 18 and 21 age groups. Following her Ladies European Tour debut in 2013, she tied for sixth at the 2014 World Championships. Much of her success, of course, was thanks to that long drive.
At age 11, van Dam began working with Dutch swing coach Eric der Kinderen, who also coached current LPGA players Christel Boeljon and Dewi Schreefel — the biggest Dutch women’s golf stars … so far. “[Der Kinderen] always told me to hit the ball as hard as you can,” says van Dam. “Doesn’t matter if you end up in the trees or the water, you have to learn how to generate speed.”
Much like a pitcher practices throwing as far and as hard as possible to build arm strength, van Dam developed muscle memory that’s now paying dividends. By learning to generate elite speed, van Dam no longer has to give 100 percent effort to hit the ball far, allowing for more control. And on the occasions when a blast does end up in the trees, she stays calm. “I know how to still create a chance from a shitty situation,” she says.
After deciding to bypass college in America, van Dam earned her full Ladies European Tour card in 2014, at age 19, and played four full seasons in Europe (winning four tournaments) before qualifying for the LPGA Tour this year.
Thus far, van Dam’s rookie season has been a mixed bag. She’s made the cut on eight of 14 tournaments with one top-15 finish. Van Dam is averaging 286.1 yards from the tee, longest in the LPGA and one of only two players over 280 yards. (“She’s the longest woman I’ve ever played alongside, without a doubt,” LPGA legend Laura Davies told Golfweek this spring.)
And while van Dam certainly stands out from the tee, this could be part of a larger generational trend: Last year, no player averaged over 275 yards per drive. This year, nine players have broken that ceiling. “She has an impressive swing,” says Golf Channel analyst Karen Stupples. “We have so much quality young talent on tour, but it takes time to adjust to the grind of the LPGA.”
Following her best finish (tied for 15th, 20 under par) at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic in early July, van Dam hopes to string together more consistent finishes. The difference is often mental. “The level [of play] is so much higher here,” says van Dam. “It comes down to those small shots where, if you lose focus, the round becomes very complicated.”
As she adjusts to life on the LPGA, where a business-first mindset takes precedence, and most players, while friendly, insulate themselves from opponents, van Dam’s inner circle is smaller than most. Her parents, both pilots in Holland, are rarely able to visit, and her swing coach David Dickmeiss splits time between van Dam and three other pupils on tour. But van Dam does have a secret weapon in her bag. Her boyfriend, fellow pro golfer Roelof Koopmans, is serving as her caddy this season. While it’s a clever way for the rookie van Dam to save money and navigate foreign soil with a trusted companion, employing a significant other as a caddy is more often seen on the lower tours where money is tight. (A notable exception: Justine Reed caddied for her husband, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, until her pregnancy in 2014.)
“I’m very lucky to have him for support,” says van Dam. “But also to be able to do fun stuff together when we have the time.”
When her father made the trip to Charleston, South Carolina, for the U.S. Women’s Open in May, van Dam missed the cut. She’s hoping to avoid that same fate with her mother at the British Open. On the right side of the Atlantic Ocean, her comfort level will be high. But don’t count on her taking it easy. She’s got a code: let it rip.