GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Anna Nordqvist picked up a golf club with the simplest of motivations.

“I refused to be the worst golfer in the family,” she said.

Nordqvist, 29, is now one of the world’s best. The Swedish native is ranked No. 12 in the Rolex Women’s Golf World Rankings. She will try to win her third straight ShopRite LPGA Classic championship when the $1.5 million tournament is held Friday-Saturday on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.

Nordqvist would join Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Betsy King as the only golfers to win three Classic titles since the tournament began in 1986.

“I would love a three-peat,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll hear that word a couple of times.”

As good as Nordqvist is, she’s not your typical LPGA success story. She didn’t start playing golf until she was 13. Four years ago she considered quitting the game.

“There have been some major struggles,” she said.

At 6-foot, Nordqvist looks more like a tennis player than a golfer. She started her sports career as a swimmer. There were no golfers in her family. Nordqvist first picked up a club when she was 10.

“I hated it,” she said.

But her brothers Mikael and Mattias started to play. Even her mom, Maria, started to swing a club. Nordqvist’s competitive nature kicked in. She started to play and golf fit her personality.

“I like practicing on my own terms,” she said. “I’ve always been a (lone) wolf.”

Nordqvist quickly got better. Nordqvist made the Swedish National Team when she was 17. American colleges began to recruit her. She attended Arizona State University. Nordqvist turned pro in 2008 when she was 21. All of sudden she was in charge of her career. That meant hiring and firing caddies and agents.

“I was very shy,” she said. “I had to find my way.”

That wasn’t easy. Nordqvist almost quit the tour after the 2012 season. She was in the fourth year of a five-year victory drought. That streak combined with the travel and being away from home caused Nordqvist to question if life on tour was for her.

“I didn’t have the best people around me,” she said. “I had no desire to be on the golf course.”

Mattias came over from Sweden to caddie for her in 2013. A promising golfer himself, he put his career on hold to help his sister.

“It was the best summer of my life,” she said. “He really helped pick me up and help me believe in myself.”

Since 2014, Nordqvist has won five times, including the Bank of Hope Founder’s Cup in March.

Nordqvist lives in Orlando. She’s good friends with 2011 Classic champion Brittany Lincicome. The two met on the tour and bonded right away.

“Anna would give you the shirt off her back,” Lincicome said. “She always has my back. She was there for me on my wedding day. She's the best friend a girl can ask for.”

But it was clear as Nordqvist talked earlier this month about her life that she misses the family dinners and reunions with childhood friends back in Sweden. Nordqvist often talks via Facetime with her older brother Mikael’s three children.

“I never thought I’d be turning 30 this year and not be married nor have kids,” she said. “Life had a different plan for me.”

Nordqvist has matured as player. She joked that now a bad round only causes her two hours of anguish as opposed to ruining her whole day.

She showed her poise and mental strength at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. Nordqvist made a par on the second-hole of a three-hole playoff with Brittany Lang.

But a member of the Fox Sports production crew noticed she accidently grounded her club in a bunker during the second hole. A slow-motion, high-definition replay confirmed the accidental miscue, which was all but impossible to see with the naked eye. Rules officials gave Nordqvist a two-stroke penalty. Lang won the playoff.

Nordqvist still hasn’t watched the replay of the bunker shot.

“It happened and I take full responsibility,” she said. “I still feel like a winner that week. The only thing I didn’t get was a trophy. People saw my character and the way I like to be.”

The U.S. Open experience showed Nordqvist has come a long way from when arrived in the U.S. in 2006 with two suitcases and a golf bag. She smiles when she says she’s the best golfer in her family right now, but Mattias could probably beat her if he practiced more.

“This journey is pretty cool,” she said. “I’m very happy right now. I can’t say the road hasn’t been bumpy. But that’s make things even better when they do work out.”

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Twitter @AcpressMcGarry

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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