Erika Malmberg
Erika Malmberg

Erika Malmberg – Women golfers who refuse to be defined by their disability

The G4D Open at Woburn, England (May 10-12), was a historic affair for golf for the disabled (or ‘G4D’), offering a week of firsts for many of the 80 competitors from 17 countries.

Staged by The R&A in partnership with the DP World Tour and supported by EDGA, few players present will have done more to spread awareness of the benefits and also the personal challenges of golf than Erika Malmberg.

This bright and erudite 38-year-old from Karlstad in Sweden sacrificed her practice day on the eve of The G4D Open to deliver by invitation a presentation at the official Symposium on G4D, running alongside the tournament, attended by assembled delegates from all over the world.

The G4D Open - Day One
Erika Malmberg of Sweden plays the opening tee shot on the first hole during Day One of The G4D Open on the Duchess course at Woburn Golf Club on May 10, 2023 in Woburn, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Each competitor is assigned a sport class that references their impairment in playing golf. Erika’s class is ‘Intellectual 2’.

Diagnosed with autism and ADD, Erika talked delegates through the misunderstandings she faces on a daily basis and how she keeps learning the game because she loves golf so much. Clearly emotional in her talk but eloquent in her second language, Erika received sustained applause from everyone at the conference.

Erika will tell you about the acute anxiety she can feel on the first tee if she believes her playing partners may not be on time, wanting to scream across to them on the practice putting green to hurry up; that she will struggle to deal with her high emotions on the course (though each time she plays she is learning to control her reactions to these better). Her thoughts on the course are like walking along in the dark with a flashlight pointing here and there in panic, searching for the right path.

Erika sometimes takes young son Phillip to EDGA events
Erika sometimes takes young son Phillip to EDGA events

The Swedish player combats pressures by writing detailed lists of everything to remember, but nothing is straightforward, and the pressure of a golf competition day multiplies the stress.

“So, from waking up in the morning, my written list is to listen to a helpful podcast, then it’s yoga to warm up the body. It’s get dressed. I have it on the schedule! Take my medicine. Eat breakfast, go to the course, range practice, chip and putt practice, even visit the bathroom! Because I would forget this if I didn’t write it down. And then the last thing before going to the first tee should be mindfulness.”

Erika adds: “One of the reasons I love golf is because there are clear rules for me to follow. I wish I had a set of rules to follow in my everyday life because I feel I am talking a different language to everyone else. I can’t read your body language. I think I can, but I am wrong 90% of the time.”

With fellow EDGA players
With fellow EDGA players

Instagram is a good platform to discuss her golf, sport and living with autism, and Erika’s audience is appreciative of her message: she mentions three people who have signed up to EDGA via Instagram and Erika believes she can inspire more people with a disability to try golf, particularly young people who at times only see the limitations around their impairment.

Christian Hamilton of Golf Australia was listening at the Symposium. He said: “We were absolutely enthralled by Erika, surely the best conference speech many of us will have heard. It was clearly highly challenging to speak in front of a packed audience, but Erika’s passion to create more awareness, to help other golfers with a disability, was simply fantastic.”

After speaking at the Symposium, it was Erika herself who was given the honour of hitting the opening tee shot of the very first G4D Open. Controlling her emotions in front of the small crowd – with three of the deepest breaths to stay calm – she split the fairway with a drive of more than 200 yards.

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