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Solheim Cup star Caroline Hedwall makes dream become reality

updated 7:17 AM EDT, Fri October 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Golfer Caroline Hedwall says she thrived under Solheim Cup pressure
  • Europe crushed the United States 18-10 in August's competition in Colorado
  • Hedwall became the first woman to win all five of her Solheim Cup matches
  • The Swede is aiming to win the first major of her career

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(CNN) -- It is a rivalry which can make or break golfers.

Europe vs. the United States, whether in the Solheim Cup or its male equivalent the Ryder Cup, is a grudge match as intense as any on the planet.

It requires players with nerves of steel, who can handle the weight of a continent's expectations on their shoulders.

It requires players like Caroline Hedwall.

"Being out there, the pressure, I get so pumped," the 24-year-old Swede told CNN.

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"I just find a different focus out there. It's just me and the ball, and the hole ... it's just a cool feeling."

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Hedwall dazzled as Europe crushed the U.S. in August's Solheim Cup, winning the trophy on American soil for the first time with an emphatic 18-10 victory.

It was the biggest winning margin in the 23-year history of the competition, with Hedwall the catalyst the for Europe's dominant display.

The world No. 23 made history by becoming the first woman to taste victory in all five of her matches, rounding off a victorious weekend with a singles win over former teen sensation Michelle Wie.

As in Europe's 2011 victory, Hedwall did not automatically qualify for the team -- she was one of four captain's picks in the 12-woman lineup.

Her place in the record books was in the balance when she and Wie approached the 18th tee at the Colorado Golf Club.

The match was level and the winner of the hole would take the point. For Europe, a point for Hedwall would be Europe's 14th, ensuring Liselotte Neumann's charges retained the Solheim Cup.

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"I was the first to tee off and I had a good long drive in the middle of the fairway," recalls Hedwall.

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"I remember telling my caddy, that I'm just going to aim a little bit left to the pin. But when I stood up, I said, 'No, I'm just going straight at it.'

"So I hit a really good shot and I heard the crowds. It was close, I could hear that and obviously I put pressure on Michelle. It was just a nice moment."

Hedwall rolled in a four-foot putt for a birdie and the win. Her place in history, and Europe's grip on the Solheim Cup, was secure.

It was a moment which saw Hedwall realize the ambitions she had harbored since childhood.

"I remember walking to school and saying, 'Who wants to be a lawyer or a doctor when you can be a professional athlete? Why would you want to do that?'

"So, I always wanted to work within sports and be a professional athlete. I just liked golf the most. When I got picked for the national team I was 14. That was when I realized that maybe this dream could come true."

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In order to make her dream a reality, Hedwall headed to the U.S. to play for college golf for Oklahoma State.

"It was just the next step," she explained. "I'd heard that a lot of the older players on the Swedish golf team went over there and liked it.

"I thought it was a good step for me to get experience of not living at home. It was a difficult decision because you are so worried and anxious, is this going to be alright?"

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Hedwall could have joined the Ladies European Tour at the age of 17 by virtue of being one of the two top-ranked players on the Swedish circuit.

She turned down the chance of a potentially lucrative kickstart to her pro career to play in Oklahoma, a decision she feels has been vindicated.

"I wanted to go to college and it turned out to be a good decision," said Hedwall, whose twin sister Jacqueline -- her caddy at the 2011 Solheim -- also played university golf in the U.S. and is now a fledgling pro on the Ladies European Tour.

"I learned a lot, especially grew as a person when I moved in to the States."

Having won five LET events, and three in Australia, Hedwall now is chasing down the big bucks on the money-spinning LPGA Tour.

A tournament win on the U.S. circuit is now in her sights. Hedwall has been playing LPGA events since 2008, with a tie for third at this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship -- one of the five majors -- being her best result.

She matched that at the Canadian Women's Open a week after the 2013 Solheim.

But, just like the girl who achieved her childhood dream of playing professional golf, Hedwall is confident of capturing that elusive first victory.

"I really feel like I'm getting closer and closer," she said. "The Solheim gave me a lot of confidence.

"I think I'm getting closer, hopefully that will happen soon."

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