LPGA Tour winner Madelene Sagstrom shared publicly for the first time on Monday that she was a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child.
In a video shared on her personal social media channels and those of the LPGA, the 28-year-old Sagstrom said the incident happened when she was 7 years old, living in her native Sweden. She explained that she was going to visit a family friend when she was abused. She never told anyone about it for 16 years, living her life as though nothing had happened.
Sagstrom said golf became her outlet, although it increasingly became clear to her that achieving more in golf wasn't the answer to what was tearing away at her.
"What I didn’t realize is that I simply did not like who I was," she said. "I felt insecure – never thinking that I was worthy enough or good enough. I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror. I couldn’t even put body lotion on my legs because of how much I hated my body, hated myself, all because of what someone else did to me."
In 2016, her golf mentor and former PGA Tour pro Robert Karlsson noticed Sagstrom had difficulty controlling her emotions on the golf course. He pushed her to dig deeper to figure out what was preventing her from keeping an even keel in the high-pressure situations of tournament golf.
"I had this thing come up in my mind. At first, I didn't think it was important. But it kept coming back again and again," Sagstrom said in her video. "I thought, 'Maybe there is something there. Maybe I should tell Robert.'"
Ultimately, Sagstrom told Karlsson what happened as the pair were preparing for the 2016 season, and she burst into tears in a flood of emotion after finally being able to tell someone what she had kept secret for 16 years.
"Telling Robert was the biggest release I’ve ever had. It made me feel free," she said.
Sagstrom said the act of talking about the abusive incident was freeing for her. She says it is no coincidence that she had a great 2016 season, during which she set a Symetra Tour record for single-season earnings.
"It’s a big reason why I won three times in 2016 and earned my LPGA Tour card," she said. "I didn’t feel like I was hiding anymore. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted. I felt like I would be okay."
With Karlsson's support, Sagstrom made a voice recording for her parents, telling them about the incident. She played it for them over a video call.
"As I listened [to the playing recording], I realized that this is the worst thing that parents can ever hear from their child. I can’t do anything worse to them," she said. "They took it really hard. I mean, how do you ever take that news? But telling them brought us closer. I feel much more open with them, and much more comfortable telling them how I feel. I think they appreciate that openness and see a different side of me, too."
Last year, she won the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA, a title she will defend this week at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla. Without a secret to hide any longer, Sagstrom said she is now happy with who she is and that nothing can hold her back.
To talk with someone about sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline in the U.S. at (800) 656-HOPE (4673).