Maria Persson Gulda
A second after her cap dusted the ground at the University of Colorado
at Boulder, the Swedish-born Maria Persson Gulda grabbed her clubs to join the ranks of professional golfers.
Prior to her arrival at Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics, she was on courses, not taking them. Her journey began by happenstance. Her parents, who do not play, lived a few steps from one of Sweden’s most
famed greens, the Halmstad Golf Club.
At 10 Gulda took up the sport—and discovered that her love of the game was equal to her talent. She then set her sights on the U.S. for college because of the increased opportunities to combine academics with athletics.
“I was actually just going to come over to the U.S. for a year to learn English and to see a lot of the country,” she says. But a coach at CU Boulder took an interest in her game and her grades (Gulda earned a 3.911 GPA in engineering physics) and suggested nearly from the start that she consider going pro.
During her first and only summer among the professionals, she did not make the cut for the major LGPA tournaments; she did, however, come close, landing in the top 30 during her second try.
To put this in perspective, it normally takes about five years to break into the majors. In short, she could have made it—but chose not to.
As a pro, Gulda watched girls whose entire lives sunup to sundown were spent golfing, with personal trainers, coaches, families, and partners all like a kite’s tail in tow. Moreover, she says that “until you make it to those years when you can support yourself,” life is composed of nonstop practice, play, and plane rides.
“I have so many passions for other things that I want to fit in my life,” she says about her decision to leave the links for the lab. With a laugh Gulda adds that she did have the occasional dream about having her own “brand” like Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie.
She adds, “I think when it starts to get dark and the weather starts to get bad and the problem sets start to take 20 to 30 hours, I will think it would be nice to be on the golf course.”
Entering graduate school does not mean that Gulda plans to give up golf. Not only is golf a lifelong sport, but she’s found a way to relate her sporty side to her academic one—both are as much mental as physical.
“You get a feeling in your body before you hit a ball that this is going to be a great shot. Some days you can just stand there and be ‘oh my gosh, this is going to go in’ … and it will go in. It is a flow that you get.
That can be the same thing with problem sets. Some days you really feel this is a great day of doing homework. You see everything: it is just there.