MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Major-winning Swedish golfer Pernilla Lindberg is looking forward to the “incredible challenge” of competing as the lone woman at the New Zealand Open where she will tee off with two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
The 33-year-old Lindberg will be the first woman to play in the event, with the 101st edition to be staged at the Millbrook Resort and The Hills in Queenstown from Feb. 27 to March 1.
“It’s going to be an incredible challenge,” she told reporters at the Australian Open in Adelaide on Thursday.
“I’m not going to set any kind of goals for myself, but I’m really going to soak in the week.”
Lindberg said her surprise entry in the Pro-Am event was fixed up by a New Zealand acquaintance who knew the tournament director Michael Glading.
Having wed in New Zealand a year ago, Lindberg had planned to visit the country for a holiday with her husband before heading to China for the Blue Bay event on Hainan island, which ended up being canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“(Glading) said, ‘It’s the New Zealand Open, it’s not the men’s Open’ … So he said if we wanted to play, sure you can do it,” she said.
Lindberg’s pairing with All Blacks fullback Barrett is certain to be of major interest in rugby-mad New Zealand.
“I might have mentioned to (organizers) that I really like the All Blacks, the rugby team,” said Florida-based Lindberg, who won the 2018 ANA Inspiration, her sole major triumph.
“(Barrett) sent me a message last night and said he’s excited to play with me and I might have been very, very excited when I got that message.”
Only a handful of women have played in men’s golf events since American Babe Zaharias crossed the gender divide to play in the 1938 Los Angeles Open.
Swede Annika Sorenstam and Americans Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome have all featured in men’s events this century but only Zaharias managed to make the halfway cut.
Lindberg’s entry into the New Zealand Open, a tournament that struggles to lure the big names of men’s golf, was described as a “very special addition” by Glading — but not all in the country have welcomed it.
“It isn’t new, isn’t unique, isn’t, in fact, much more than a desperate gimmick,” grumbled one journalist on local news website Newsroom.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford