Gold Rush: Finding the Right Balance
June 27, 2012
This article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of Gold Rush.
By Sam Walker, Gold Rush
In golf, balance is critical to success. From the set-up and stance, swing repetitions, the day-to-day grind of practice and competition, to the required mental acumen, balance keeps every component of the physical and mental game working in concert. Olafia Kristinsdottir has quickly learned the value of balance, and it's paying off for her in just two seasons of play on the women's golf team at Wake Forest.
Kristinsdottir, a sophomore from Reykjavik, Iceland, shot a career-low 3-under 68 in the final round of the ACC Championship (April 13-15) to finish in a tie for second at 3-over par. The stellar round vaulted her from sixth place entering the final day into a tie for second, marking the highest finish of her career, her best finish in relation to par, and it tied her for the lowest final round by a Demon Deacon in ACC Championship history. She finished the tournament with a three-round total of 216, four shots better than the next Deacon teammate, Cheyenne Woods, who finished tied for seventh place.
Kristinsdottir's strong performances at the end of the 2012 season bodes well for a young returning team this fall. She will be the most experienced returning player this fall as a junior, and the mantle of leadership will be passed on as the women's golf team looks for success next year.
The second-place finish at the ACC Championship marked Kristinsdottir's second-straight top-10 finish this season and the third of her young career. At the Bryan National Collegiate (April 6-8) Kristinsdottir shot a three-day total of 220 to finish tied for seventh at four over par.
Kristinsdottir has come a long way from the young girl who said she was "dragged along" on family golf outings to become one of the top players in the ACC. But at its core, her dislike for the sport was really all about being competitive.
"My dad played golf, and then my brother started playing golf and so it was a family thing, and I was dragged along when I was a kid," Kristinsdottir said. "I didn't really like it at first because I wasn't good. But then when I won my first medal -- that was exciting. I was around 10, and it was a Tuesday tournament for kids at my golf club. Then all my friends thought it was really cool, and I thought it was cool, and I then I wanted another one. Then I got better, and that's actually when I started enjoying playing. I started practicing regularly and got a coach with a group."
Kristinsdottir honed her skills at Golfklubburinn Kjolur and later at Golfklubbur Reykjavikur. She was coached by Brynjar Eldon who helped her to improve her game to the point where she pretty much dominated Icelandic amateur golf in her age group by 2008.
She won the Icelandic Junior Stroke Play Championship in 2007 and in 2008 and was the Icelandic Junior Match Play 2008 Champion. She won the 2007 Faldo Series Icelandic Championship and led her team to back-to-back Icelandic Junior Team Championships in 2008 and 2009. Kristinsdottir was ranked the top junior Icelandic golfer in 2008 and 2009, and played in the European Ladies' Amateur Team Championship in 2009 and 2010, and the European Young Masters in France in 2008. The circumstances since have made golf fun for a girl who was once "dragged around" the course with her father and brother.
"Most of the girls I played against were winning because of talent, but then I started practicing more than them and I outworked them," she said. "But I like getting in quality work. I like thinking about it as brushing my teeth. I'd rather go out more often and be really focused. If I brush my teeth every day, then I get better. That's how I think about practice. I go with something I'm working on and think about what I'm going to get out of it." Her practices are not laboriously long, but shorter, focused and fun -- balanced.
Kristinsdottir actually started her collegiate career two years early by Icelandic standards because in their education system students don't begin college until the age of 20. In an effort to start competing sooner, she convinced her parents to leave for the United States two years early and begin college at the same age as her American counterparts.
"I had a friend who just skipped two years in Iceland and went to America so I knew it was possible," Kristinsdottir said. "I wanted to get better at golf now, and waiting two years wasn't going to make me better because I would have to spend winter in Iceland, so spontaneously I just said I can go next year. It all happened really fast. If this was the way I had (originally) planned to do it, I would be going to college next year (this fall)."
It took some convincing for her mother to let her daughter go away to the United States, but her father was very supportive, and he began the search for the right fit for her academically and for her golf game.
Kristinsdottir's father, Kristinn Gislason, emailed head coach Dianne Dailey, sent footage of her swing and information about his daughter in hopes of gaining some interest. "I didn't really find Wake Forest," Kristinsdottir said. "he did, which was really cool. He sent her (Dailey) my average scores over the years and statistics and sent her video of my swing. She liked me, and then I started talking to her myself."
Her freshman season, Kristinsdottir played in every event, and finished fourth on the team with a 79.0 stroke average. However, that was a bit disappointing and not up to the standards to which she had set for herself. "It was a little difficult, " Kristinsdottir said. "It all just wasn't clicking, and it was hard not being able to play well because I knew I could. I battled with it within myself. There were a lot of people there for me, but I had to deal with it."
Admittedly, Kristinsdottir said her freshman year had an impact on her confidence, but she returned to Iceland and had a really good summer. Winning the Iceland National Championship was her "icebreaker," and from there she went on to win the Icelandic Match-Play Championship and Team Championship.
"I had never won a big tournament in Iceland before and had come in second like six times in a row," she said. "I was so mad. Then I won that tournament and everybody was like that was such a great first tournament to win. Then I won back-to back, (Icelandic Match Play Championship) and then the Icelandic Team Championship, so I was a triple Icelandic champion that year." That vaulted her into her sophomore season where she recorded a top 10 finish at the Windy City Classic in October and tied for seventh, and played consistently throughout the season, saving her best for last. She played her season's best in front of her parents too, who came from Iceland to see their daughter play in both the Bryan National Collegiate and ACC Championship.
"Everybody's been saying my parents need to visit more often," Kristinsdottir said. "But the day before I just had a feeling I knew I was going to play well the day after (at the ACC Championship). I knew I had to, and I guess the pressure was good. (Duke's) Lindy Duncan (2012 ACC Individual Champion) is amazing, and she isn't going to blow up, so either I had to do something, or nothing was gong to happen."
Kristinsdottir has a habit of playing strong final rounds. When she was 14, she won her first Icelandic championship, shooting one-over par and came back from five shots down to earn the title. It's a trait that's good to possess and brings with it a balanced confidence she can play very well under pressure and with titles on the line. That can be contagious, which bodes well for her ability to lead next year as a junior.
This summer Kristindottir plans to take some time away from golf to be with her 2-year-old niece, Viktoria Katrin, and spend time with family. She said she'll play in all the major Icelandic tournaments (five total) and in one tournament in Germany. There will be plenty of pressure to return to in the fall as she begins her junior season at Wake Forest.
Kristindottir definitely fits the leader by example mold as someone who stays positive, is animated, engaging and lighthearted. But don't be fooled. The rising junior who enjoys playing guitar (something her father also taught her) and likes to "chill out" listening to music by artists like John Mayer, Coldplay and The Beatles, is definitely out to be a winner.
The Olafia Kristinsdottir File