Madelene Sagstrom doesn’t cry anymore. The sexual abuse she suffered at the age of 7, which she buried deeply for 16 years, no longer keeps her hidden from view.
“Every time I open my mouth and say words that I thought were hard to say awhile ago,” said Sagstrom, “it just gets easier and easier, and I think every day that I go up and that I own my story, I own my story and I own who I am, I’m growing up.
The strong and courageous Sagstrom, 28, will begin her LPGA title defense from Gainbridge in her adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida on Thursday. But on Monday, many in the golfing world will hear about Sagstrom’s painful but triumphant journey for the first time as part of the LPGA’s Drive On campaign, a series that highlights many inspiring stories from the tour.
The Sagstrom assailant was a family friend who lived nearby in the Swedish countryside about an hour outside of Stockholm. She returned home afterwards and acted like nothing had happened.
Fast forward to 2016, when the Symetra Tour rookie told her coach Robert Karlsson on the way to training that she needed to tell him something. Later that evening, in a hotel room in Greenwood, South Carolina, Sagstrom told his story to Karlsson and collapsed crying.
“I had no idea how being sexually abused by a man I trusted affected me,” Sagstrom wrote in a first-person story on lpga.com. “All these years I blamed myself. I hated myself. I despised my body and hurt myself mentally and physically. That day haunted me. I had nightmares about it and I did everything to escape.
Madelene Sagstrom and her mentor Robert Karlsson (courtesy LPGA)
Karlsson, 11-time European Tour winner and former Ryder Cup player, met Sagstrom through the Swedish national team. It was Karlsson who encouraged Sagstrom to dig deep to try and understand why she was having trouble controlling her emotions on the golf course.
As she began to look inside, she began to realize that the abuse she had suffered all those years ago had changed her. And that if she wanted to grow up not only as an athlete but as a person, she would have to face the past.
Once she shared her darkest secrets with an empathetic and shocked Karlsson, Sagstrom felt immediate release. She felt an irresistible sense of freedom.
“I literally grew up overnight,” she said, “and felt I could take up space.”
The woman who constantly strived for perfection and criticized herself in every way, began to put her life and golf in perspective.
“When I got off the golf course after a bad day,” she said, “not everyone was falling apart anymore.”
On the golf course, Karlsson saw her feel more comfortable within herself. She looked lighter.
“Especially when she was under pressure,” he says.
She has won three times this season on the Symetra Tour, setting a single-season winning record and finished in the top five in 11 of her 15 starts.
Young Madelene Sagstrom (courtesy LPGA)
At 7 years old, Sagstrom was a loud, lively and direct child who knew what she wanted.
Over time, after the abuse, she slipped into a hole and did not allow herself to make a mistake. She doesn’t love herself as a person, but she loves herself as a golfer. If she could dive into the golf course, she thought to herself, she might be fine. In a way, golf saved Sagstrom, but eventually she began to equate good golf with being a good person.
Sagstrom is no longer defined by golf scores. And while telling her story of sexual abuse will put a label on her in the public eye, she wants the focus to be on the steps she’s taken to come out of this darkness and become a place where she can shed light. . because I am much more than this story.
This is my story. How I dealt with the trauma and become the person I am today. How I changed my way of seeing myself and my own worth.
– Madelene Sagstrom (@msagstrom) February 22, 2021
The process of working with the LPGA to share their large-scale journey began a year ago. Sagstrom admitted to shaking when she met the media via a Zoom call on Sunday afternoon to talk about her story. She had written about the abuse in a Facebook post four years ago, but this was the first time she had answered questions about it.
Sagstrom knows there will be other victims watching the video or reading his account. Whether they choose to talk to someone or not, she knows many will at least feel a little less alone.
“It’s easy to feel the only person in the world,” she says.
Roberta Bowman, LPGA’s head of branding and communications, said the tour hoped Sagstrom’s story can be a resource for starting conversations with LPGA / USGA Girls Golf leaders who connect with nearly 100,000 girls a year across the country. Statistics show that one in nine girls under the age of 18 is sexually abused by an adult.
“For years, I told myself that this hadn’t happened,” Sagstrom said, “but I think I wanted to take it a step further, want to learn more about myself and become a better version of myself- even I just figured out that this was a part that I have to face. I can’t unleash my potential and my freedom if I don’t deal with this. “