Her goal at the start of the season was to win a Major. She didn’t achieve it, but winning the ISPS HANDA World Invitational was pretty close for Sweden’s Maja Stark.
“This isn’t a Major but it feels pretty major,” she grinned after securing a five-shot victory at Galgorm Castle for her third Ladies European Tour win of the season and first on the LPGA Tour.
The way she did it could hardly have been better. The 22-year-old, only a year removed from turning professional, carded ten birdies and no bogeys in a blemish-free 10-under course record 63 in her final round, coming from two behind to claim a runaway win that felt like a procession.
She was helped by overnight leader Amanda Doherty failing to convert her first 54-hole lead, or for the expected push from former Open champion Georgia Hall failing to materialise too. But make no mistake about it, Stark won this rather than others losing it.
And her reward is great indeed, a place on the LPGA Tour for the rest of this season and next, and all the riches that come with it. It’s a dream that she has long held and one that now comes true – as of right now, she will get to mix it with the best in women’s golf week in, week out.
“I’ve dreamt about this for a long time. It’s been frustrating when you feel like you’re good enough to play at that level but you have to go through Q School, and if you have one bad week you have to wait another year. It’s really nice to skip that part and go ahead to the fun stuff,” she smiled.
“I’m just relieved. It hasn’t settled yet. Just super, super happy. Finally I can play on the LPGA and that’s where I want to be. I did not expect this at all. If you told me a year ago that I would have a win on the LPGA, I would not have believed it.”
Helped by 23-time worldwide winner Sophie Gustafson on the bag, Stark was unofficially crowned the winner long before she finished her fourth round had ended, racking up six birdies on her outward nine to climb to the top as the initial contenders fell away.
And she never gave up her aggressive style despite the lead she had amassed, peppering pins on the back nine to card four more birdies and stretch away to a comfortable win that seemed all but guaranteed early on her inward half.
“I was very nervous. There were so many times I had to be my own coach, but I’m really proud of what I’ve done,” she smiled.
She follows in the footsteps of fellow Swede Linn Grant in winning a mixed-gender event this season, something which also meant a great deal to Stark, who also has the NSW Open and German Masters on her resume this year.
“It means a lot for us to get a bit more attention. It feels like we’re very under-appreciated, but now you see that although (the men) hit it a bit further, we get to show that we’re just as good,” she stated.
“It’s really good that we got to show off on the same platform, and for me to be the one to do that… I haven’t managed to process it yet. But it was great timing!”
She’ll be back at Galgorm and Massereene next year to defend her title, but first she has a detour to make to America. The LPGA Tour awaits a 22-year-old with the world at her feet.
“I think I’m going to have to take a look at my calendar and make a few changes!” smiled Stark.