In anticipation of the 44th annual World Long Drive Championship (August 30-September 4), we’re highlighting a past world champion each week in a series titled “World Champion Reflections” leading up this year’s Championship. First up is Sandra Carlborg, the five-time world champion from Sweden.
Sandra Carlborg’s first foray into long drive was a competition in her home country of Sweden in 2008. In perhaps a sign of things to come, she won. She followed it up with a second victory in her very next event. The following year in 2009, she hit a mammoth 391-yard drive that stood as a record – until it was broken in 2017 – for the longest-ball in a World Long Drive competition in the Women’s Division.
“When I realized I had the world record, I thought, maybe I have a chance [at winning a World Championship],” Carlborg said.
Carlborg’s brother, Peter, who also had been competing in Sweden, had tried to give her some idea of what she may encounter at the World Championship.
“My brother is a big guy in Sweden, but compared to the American long drive guys, he was suddenly a small guy. So, I had just heard about all these big guys and that was really different.”
In 2011, the world championship schedule was structured so that the women’s division was contested about a week prior to the male divisions.
“[It] was my first time at Mesquite [Nevada], (host venue of the World Long Drive Championship at the time). And it was my first time in Las Vegas, which is big because I had never seen something like that. It was also special because my brother was there.”
If the magnitude of competing on the world championship stage had any nervous effect on Carlborg, the results certainly didn’t reflect it, as she won the 2011 World Long Drive Championship with a 285-yard drive in the finals.
“Even though I had won in my career, I was still nervous competing. But I [won], and it was nice because my brother was there, and we got to celebrate in Las Vegas.”
The win helped elevate Carlborg’s status in her home country, now seen as not just a golfer and long drive competitor, but as a world champion.
The following year, returning to a venue that featured a crowd having witnessed her crowning achievement the year prior, Carlborg sensed a welcoming that reflected her status as a returning champion.
“When I won again in 2012, that was very exciting with my brother and dad both there. But I remember when I had my speech, I started to speak in English, and then when I started to thank my family I was so emotional I switched to Swedish without realizing it. Suddenly I heard the crowd screaming, ‘Sandra we love you,’ and it was very emotional.”
Carlborg returned in 2013 looking for a third straight world title, but came up just short for the first time. However, when she returned in 2014, she won again. In 2015 when the event moved to its current venue at WinStar on the Texas/Oklahoma border, she won for a fourth time.
“The first time I won, I think I made around $2,000, which didn’t even cover my costs to travel to the event. In 2015, however, I think I won around $8,000, so I could tell the sport was moving in the right direction.”
Since winning in 2015, Carlborg has alternated world championship wins with current No. 1 in the Women’s Division, Phillis Meti, with Carlborg claiming the title in 2015 and 2017, and Meti in 2016 and 2018.
“Phillis is my biggest competition, because she’s the one that I know can beat me when I hit a good shot.”
However, Carlborg also knows that in long drive, anyone can be beat on any given day.
“Last year, I faced [Meti] three times in the finals [at Tour events]. The first was in Phoenix at the Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun, and she won, but the second was in Atlantic City, where I won. We also competed in China, and I won again. So when I face her, I try to think about the fact that I beat her two out of three times in one year.”
Heading into 2017, Carlborg decided to focus solely on long drive. The timing of the decision was ideal. While each of Carlborg’s victories represent milestone achievements in her career, the biggest came in 2017 when the women’s division World Long Drive Championship was televised live on Golf Channel for the first time.
“I decided it was the right time to focus on long drive. I stopped playing professional golf, and it was perfect timing. I worked hard to get better so I could win again in 2017, and it paid off. Having not won [in 2016], I started thinking that people believed I was done, I was old, I was washed up. I would read things on social media that people were saying that I could prove I was a real champion if I won for a fifth time.”
With the added exposure, her (record) fifth world title in 2017 also helped boost Carlborg’s profile and ability to reach new audiences.
“All of my victories mean a lot, but that one was very important for my future because of all of the sponsorships. Suddenly, because it was televised you could see it on YouTube and on social media and the Swedish TV channels were showing clips and I had newspapers calling me. Suddenly people knew more about long drive, and they’ve heard of me and read about me in magazines. It really allowed me to expand my brand and changed my life.”
Carlborg, the current No. 2 ranked hitter in the Women’s Division, will look to add an unprecedented sixth World Long Drive Championship victory at the beginning of September to further strengthen her platform as the most-renowned female long drive competitor of all-time.