Norwegian professional golfer Cecilie Lundgreen shares how her profound bond with her mother has shaped every facet of her life, from her remarkable athletic career to her deeply personal faith journey.
I lost my mum way too early. She was 57 years old, I was 29. I have this picture of my mum and me, and I’ve got my arm around her – just hanging on her. At the bottom of the picture, you can even see that I'm grabbing her hand, and she's holding on to mine. This picture was taken in Wales many years ago. We were sitting at a restaurant eating dinner, and it kind of depicts my relationship with her. We were close, oh, so close. I would always hang on to her. I would always hold her. If we were walking around, I would hold her hand. Even back when I was 25 and over 180 cm tall, I'd sit on her lap and I'd hug her. I just had this amazingly close relationship with my mum.
I took the original picture and brought it to an artist in Chiang Mai in Thailand. I said, “Please, can you draw this picture for me?” It took almost a week, and then she came back with this picture. It's quite big. It hangs in the middle of my living room. If I was to choose an object of affection that describes me, I think it would be this picture. If my house was on fire and I could grab one thing, this would be it. It's my favourite thing. So many people tell me that I look and act a lot like my mum. For me, that is a privilege.
My name is Cecilie Lundgreen, and I am from Sarpsborg in southern Norway. That is also where I live right now.
Growing up in Norway, we had a house with a picket fence and a big garden with fruit trees. We lived in a quiet little neighbourhood near the school I attended. My dad was a schoolteacher, and my mum was a secretary for an attorney. I also have a brother who's about three and a half years older than me. That was my family. My father was an alcoholic, which caused a lot of trouble at home. My brother struggled with that as well and became a drug addict as a teenager. As a result, there was lots of unpredictability and I was very, very close to my mum. She was my safe place.
My childhood started pretty good, and then things just kind of fell apart. I mean, I got to do the things that I wanted to do when I was little. I played sports, I did gymnastics, I went to school, I had friends. But I never brought friends home. I always went to other people's houses because it wasn't safe at mine. I never knew how my day would be because it was always based on how my dad or brother were that day. So it was a little different, you could say. I was 11 years old when my mum and dad got a divorce. My father was very abusive, and mum finally had enough. My dad wasn't mean or ugly to me, but I saw what his alcoholism did to our family, and I thought it would be better if mum and my brother and I left. When I became old enough to understand that he was unpredictable, I became even closer to my mum. She was my security. I knew she was stable. There was always love, and there was always happiness with her.
My mum's parents were amazing as well. It was my grandpa who taught me how to play golf, so he is, of course, one of my heroes. Next to my mum, Grandma was my biggest cheerleader on the golf course. They were very supportive and helped take care of us. Many times, when the fights got a bit too bad late at night, mum grabbed us, and we went to Grandma and Grandpa's house. When I was 11 and my parents got divorced, I spent the summer at my grandparents’ house. I did almost everything with my grandma, but I especially loved going to the golf course with my grandpa. He gave me a set of golf clubs for juniors and he taught me everything that he knew about golf. I realised there was safety in being up there at the golf course, and golf kind of became my thing.
Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money. My dad couldn't pay child support – he could barely take care of himself – so my mum always struggled with money. But she did everything for me to be able to go and play golf tournaments and make my dream come true. She realised that we could really turn our lives around from the rough start that we had.
I learned who I was when I was in college. I went away from home and got to choose how people would see me. They didn't know my past, they didn't know my family relationships or what my family was like. I spoke to everyone about my mum and how beautiful she was and how great she was, but they didn't know anything else. There were no rumours, there was no talk and I liked that people got to know me on my own terms, independent from my family. So that was the time when I got to figure out who I was.
When I graduated from college, I came home and qualified to play golf on the Ladies European tour. As an amateur, you know, you think you're this hotshot. I played in all these events–European and World Championships and whatnot. However, as I went from being an amateur to a professional, I began wondering: “But who are these other professionals? Well, they're all the number ones in their countries.” So, all of a sudden, I went from being a big fish in a small pond to like a little guppy. I felt like I was just one in a million, nothing too special.
As I struggled with my confidence, my mum and my grandma were my biggest cheerleaders. My dad died when I was 20 so he never knew about my playing golf at all. My grandpa, who taught me how to play, died even earlier when I was 17, so I tried to say thank you for what he gave me through my relationship with my grandma. And of course, my mum was always there for me. She was there when I won the national championship. She was there when I went out and played on tour. Despite the struggles that she faced, she did everything so I could succeed.
I was playing a golf tournament in Austria when I became friends with a South African player, Laurette Maritz, and her Zimbabwean coach, Reeve Nield. One day, over dinner at the British Open, Reeve asked me: “Do you believe in God?” I told her that, you know, my grandfather, who I loved dearly, had died when I was a teenager. My father died a few years later. My best friend had passed away when she was 21, and another friend of mine had died from cancer at 18. I was like, “There can't be a God, because why would he let this happen?” Reeve was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and she explained to me what they believed about families and how we can be reunited with those we love after death, which was comforting to me.
Later, she invited me to come to Zimbabwe and be part of a charity called EYES4ZIMBABWE. While there, I spent a lot of time in her home and gained a new perspective on religion. I liked who I was around her family. I felt safe and secure, and I didn't feel judged. One night I was asked to pray, so I gave it a try and it was an incredible feeling. I can't remember what I said, but the act of addressing God was such a cool experience. Over time, I began to notice God’s hand in my life and truly believe in miracles. I sat down with my mum to chat about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and although she was hesitant, she said, “Whatever you choose to do, I will support you, because I believe you’ve got your head on straight. You're smart enough to make your own decisions.”
I think it was about a month after we had that discussion that my stepfather called me and said, “Cecilie there's something wrong with your mum. You have to come right away.” She ended up in the hospital, and within 24 hours she was on a respirator. Three days later, she fell into a coma. Her body just went to sleep–it became paralysed. She was the person I would usually go to in a desperate situation like this, but now that wasn’t an option. So, I started to pray and said, “Listen. I heard about this miracle thing. I've been living the Gospel, I am being a good girl, what do I need to do?” The whole time I was just pleading with the Lord. I said, “Listen, I wouldn't know how to do this without her, so please, I need a miracle.” But after only three and a half weeks, the doctor said there was no hope. She was brain-dead and I was told that they needed to turn off the respirator.
I was like: “Hold on a minute, this is not part of my plan. I have lost everybody else around me who I love. I can't do this. You're not allowed to do this.” I was hoping for some miraculous happening, but instead, I got a distinct impression that the Lord loved her, and it was time for her to come home. I remember saying to Heavenly Father: “Okay. If you need her more than me, then you can have her. But only if you need her more than I need her.” I held her hand when she passed away. That's when I prayed to Heavenly Father and said, “I don't know how to do this. I need to know if what I’ve learned about this new church is true. Will I really see her again? Because I can't deal with it without knowing.” I don't remember how, but I just knew, as clear as anything, that I would see her again. So I said a prayer with my mum there, and I let her go. Two weeks after the funeral I joined the Church.
After that, I was trying to find all the pictures of mum that I could. I eventually found this picture, from that dinner in Wales, and I really love it because I’ve got my arm around her. We're just leaning towards each other, and we're holding each other's hands. I mean, I would walk down Main Street in my hometown holding her hand. I was always so proud of my mum, and I would take her anywhere at any time. So when I found this picture of us, I thought it just perfectly depicted who my mum is, who I am, and who we are together.
I have always wanted to have a family of my own, but that has not happened yet. However, a few years ago the Lord answered my prayers, in a way, by giving me about 100 kids. In my church, I have served as a teacher and leader for girls ages 12-18 for 13 years now. I was also asked to teach early-morning Seminary, which is like a Bible study class online, and I love it. So yeah, I’ve got 100+ kids – I just got them when they were teenagers. I say I'm a mother to many, I'm just missing that husband! And you know what, I love every minute of it.
When I teach the youth, I tell them: “Listen, my success didn't just fall down from the sky. Heavenly Father didn't just give me this talent – I had to work for it.” But I also tell them that behind each successful person there's a lot of baggage. It's hard work, and you have to have faith in what Heavenly Father has planned for you. To get to where you want to go, you have to step out of your comfort zone. It has been hard–very hard at times–to understand the love God has for me in light of my own experiences. It has been equally difficult to dare to talk about it–about abuse and my upbringing. It wasn’t easy to do, but now I'm very grateful that I have chosen to share some of those experiences. I haven't spoken a lot about it, but once I began teaching teenagers, I realised that they needed to hear it. I wanted to let them know what their value was as young women and young men–that we all have a purpose and that it's not okay to be treated poorly.
I learned to have that kind of respect for myself, and for others, from my mum. Everything I do is based on what she taught me growing up. I have so much of her in me, and she's been with me this whole time, both in this picture and in spirit. I know that it's because of her that I am who I am today. She was the one person that I loved the most and that I respected the most. She is my hero. I've often thought: “Why could I not have her here a little longer?” But then I’ve realised, you know, that having her for 29 years is better than nothing. And one day, I will be with her again, which I am eternally grateful for.
Pre-production: Louise Paulsen
Interview: Krischelle Joseph
Assistant interviewer: Louise Paulsen
Transcription: Clare Hamn
Writing: Krischelle Joseph & Clare Hamn
Editing: Martise Webb & Amy Epps
Audio: Emma Reyelts
Photography: Cecilie Lundgreen