SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- Helen Alfredsson can stop being stressed. She's finally a USGA champion, winning the second US Senior Women's Open by two shots over Juli Inkster and Trish Johnson at 1-over 285.
The 54-year-old Swede doesn't play much competitive golf these days. She walked away from major golf in 2013, ending the LPGA career 20 years after winning her lone major at what's now the ANA Inspiration. However, the game wasn't in full hibernation. She played last year in both senior women's majors, the inaugural US Senior Women's Open in July and the Senior LPGA Championship in October. Since then, though, she had gone back to her regular life, nothing like the frenetic pace she used to keep in her playing days.
"I was a player that played eight weeks in a row, no problem, flying back and forth to Europe, and bang, you're on the first tee and there you go," she said, sipping on a glass of wine, hat backwards, visibly releasing the tension as she put her other hand on the trophy only her and Laura Davies have now won.
She's long removed from those days. Perhaps that's why she has been stressed since March, when she and her husband -- who doubled as her caddie this week -- came to Pine Needles to get a look at the golf course. Very quickly into her visit, Alfredsson felt a sense of dread.
"You know, it was a little bit wet. It was very long. We played from where they had marked it off, and I said to my husband, 'I don't think this has been a great idea because it was so bleep-bleep damn hard.' So since then, I've been fretting for this golf course," she said.
Worrying about a day like today for two months probably wasn't healthy, and it was perhaps not warranted. Alfredsson is as long as most any player in this field shy of Davies. Then again, she wasn't worried about keeping up with the competition physically. The concern was her mental game. All the things that were once rote and daily were foreign.
"You're looking for: how am I focusing, stick to your thoughts, have your pre-shot routine, do it," she said. "When you play week in and week out, it just becomes so natural."
She added, "We practice the game, the physical game, but the mental game is very difficult to practice unless you play competition."
The final day of this 72-hole event was a grind. She gave an opening birdie back straightaway at the second hole. She birdied the short par-4 fourth only to butcher the tricky par-3 fifth and make a double-bogey 5. That botch, however, may have been the twist of fate she needed to settle down.
"I did a stupid double bogey on 5, and then I saw that nobody else was running away, so I knew that then it was tough for everybody," she said.
From there, Alfredsson kept a clean card, shooting a 1-over 72 that wasn't as stress-free as 13 consecutive pars sound. She was nervy with the putter from scoring range, struggling to keep a consistent arc on the rolls that could have separated her from playing partner Johnson and the dogged Juli Inkster, seeking a seventh USGA championship.
"I think that all my things that was my strength, I was never a great swinger of the club and my putting...," she trailed. "I'm just very stubborn and I am a grinder. I don't give up. So you know, it's good sometimes to have that."
Inkster couldn't get anything going in the final handful of holes, and when Johnson made a three-putt bogey on No. 17, the event was all well decided. After the final putt dropped, Alfredsson raised her arms and looked to the sky. She kissed her husband and turned to Johnson, who, hands on hips, gave her a playful ribbing before embracing in a congratulatory hug. Wrapping up her first USGA title after a pair of runner-ups in the US Women's Open, the stress was all worth it.
That doesn't mean she's looking to suddenly get back into the jetsetting lifestyle. Alfredsson is happy to be a minimal part-timer, letting her Sunday frenemies continue a more regular grind.
"I'm glad that I put the work in, and they get to continue to feel the stress and I get to go home," she said.
With her win at Pine Needles, Alfredsson earned an exemption into the US Women's Open in two weeks at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. She said she'll probably decline the invitation, preferring to keep her arms around her new prize.
"I'm glad my next tournament is not until October so I can recover because the recovery time is a lot longer," she said.
After all, if she decided to play, she'll start feeling stressed again. Seeing as though she just got over a two-month bout with it, she'll take a pass, but not without a gentle nudge from long-time friend Beth Daniel, whose club will host the national championship.
"No. No. No!" she said, before musing, "I can go there and drink wine..."
The party won't stop anytime soon. While Alfredsson admits this win doesn't fully do justice to the times she came up short at the US Women's Open, it's plenty cause to celebrate.
Just before considering another stressful week, she took another sip of her chardonnay and said with a relieved smile, "The wine tastes better when you win."