As the Elon University women’s golf team prepares to begin its season this spring, it will look to accomplished sophomore Sunna Vidisdottir to lead the way.

Vidisdottir is coming off an impressive freshman year and is expected to be among the top players in the Southern Conference this year.

Perhaps even more unique than Vidisdottir’s talent, though, is her route to Elon.

Crossing seas

Vidisdottir came to Elon last fall from Reykjavik, Iceland, and has been a key contributor to the Phoenix from the start. As a freshman, Vidisdottir had an average score of 76.04 per round and was selected to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team thanks to her ninth place finish at the Southern Conference Championship tournament in April.

Prior to beginning her career at Elon, Vidisdottir already had a wealth of experience playing at a high level against top European competition. She competed for the Icelandic National Team in 2011 and the Icelandic Junior National Team for four years prior to that. That international experience allowed her to play in competitive tournaments such as the 2011 European Ladies Amateur Team Championship in Austria as well as the International Children’s Games in San Francisco, Calif., in 2008.

“The tournaments we play there usually have a stronger field and everything is just bigger,” Vidisdottir said. “They have cameras. They have TV screens. They have people that are watching. It’s just an experience and everything helps.”

Aside from international golf, Vidisdottir also played at a high level within Iceland. Having had a lot of success at the junior level, she became the youngest player to win a tournament in the Icelandic Ladies Golf Series in 2010.

In addition, Vidisdottir achieved a third-place ranking in the Icelandic Women’s Golf Tournament Series and was named “Brightest Future in Icelandic Women’s Golf” in 2011. She also led her home club of Reykjavik GC to the Icelandic Women’s Team Championship twice, as well as three times at the junior level.

Battling for a spot

Despite her talent and accomplishments, Vidisdottir’s situation did not allow her to get much exposure to college coaches in America, so she needed to be more proactive.

During her junior year of high school, Vidisdottir did a Google search of top collegiate golf programs in the United States and emailed several coaches at schools that seemed like good fits for her.

“It was a long process,” Vidisdottir said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.”

Several coaches, including Elon head coach Chris Dockrill, expressed interest in her after she contacted the staff at Elon. Instead of traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, Dockrill used the Internet to make up for the distance.

Dockrill was able to analyze Vidisdottir based on film she sent him of her playing her home course in Iceland. Both sides could tell it was a good match, and Vidisdottir signed to play with Elon.

As arduous as the recruiting process was, Vidisdottir said the most difficult part of the move was still ahead of her.

The big barrier

While freshman year presents many unfamiliar challenges to all student athletes, her transition was made even more difficult because she had to acclimate herself to life in the United States.

“It was kind of like a culture shock,” Vidisdottir said. “I didn’t come with a lot of expectations. I was kind of just open-minded and just faced the situation.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge Vidisdottir faced during her freshman year was overcoming the language barrier. She spoke Icelandic as her first language growing up, and although she had some experience with English, she struggled early in her freshman year with her command of the language.

“She spent a lot of time in the library, she was reading things that would take us an hour to read that were taking her two hours,” Dockrill said. “It took her a while to get acclimated because she was having to work twice as hard as everybody else. It shows how dedicated of a kid she is.”

Vidisdottir’s work ethic proved as helpful on the golf course as it did in the classroom.

“All the other kids realize that this kid’s good,” Dockrill said. “But she’s good because she works hard so that makes a big difference. When the other kids see that, it’s an important factor.”

Starting fast

As a freshman, Vidisdottir got her career off to a good start quickly in the fall season with a seventh-place finish at the Great Smokies Intercollegiate thanks to her low round of 70 on the final day of the tournament. At the Palmetto Intercollegiate in Kiawah Island, S.C., Vidisdottir finished ninth out of 95 golfers with a score of plus-4 over four days.

Vidisdottir took advantage of the winter of 2012-2013 to improve her game, something she had not been able to do as effectively growing up because of Iceland’s brutal winters.

“At home I was never able to practice during the winter time, it was all during the summer,” Vidisdottir said. “[Being able to practice in the winter] has helped me a lot, especially in the short game because that’s something you can’t practice in the winter [in Iceland].”

Her improvement was evident from the start of the spring season, as she tied for medalist honors in the Phoenix’s first spring tournament, the High Point Classic.

Vidisdottir had some ups and downs during the rest of that spring but regained her form for the Southern Conference Championship, where she achieved her fourth top-10 performance of the season in helping the Phoenix to finish sixth overall. Vidisdottir held a share of the lead after the first day thanks to an even-par 72 and continued her solid play throughout the tournament to finish tied for ninth overall, earning one of five spots on the SoCon All-Freshman team.

Dockrill attributed much of Vidisdottir’s success last year to the experience she had coming into Elon.

“The biggest thing about Europeans is that a lot of these kids are actually a little more tournament savvy than our kids here,” he said. “They usually play on their national teams, they travel a lot and they get really good teaching. [Vidisdottir] played a pretty extensive schedule so she had that experience.”

Not just an athlete

Vidisdottir’s accomplishments were not limited to the golf course during her freshman year.

Despite the language barrier, the marketing and statistics double major finished her freshman year with a grade point average of 3.93, earning her a spot on the Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar Team.

Vidisdottir, who graduated among the top 10 in her class at The Commercial College of Iceland, said the near-4.0 GPA she received that spring was one of her biggest accomplishments. She was also awarded the Coach’s Award at Elon’s athletics awards banquet.

No offseason for the driven

This summer, Vidisdottir returned home to Iceland and continued to improve. She won the Icelandic Championship in Stroke Play in July and also competed in the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship and the European Amateur Team Championship.

“She worked really hard over the summer,” Dockrill said. “She was on the national team and traveled a lot, so she was on the top of her game coming here.”

Vidisdottir’s role coming into her sophomore season was very different than it had been a year before when she was just getting used to life in America.

“Her role is obviously a leadership role when you’re a top player,” Dockrill said.

So far, Vidisdottir has lived up to these high expectations. She claimed medalist honors at the William & Mary Invitational in September, riding her 11 birdies through the course of the tournament and a final round score of 70 to win her first individual title of the season. She paced the Phoenix to a second-place finish.

“I played pretty well, it was pretty stable and I didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Vidisdottir said. “I have been playing well recently so it’s kind of good to just win now because it makes me more comfortable about the upcoming tournaments.”

Dockrill knows what it takes to win these tournaments and recognizes Vidisdottir’s roll of late on the course.

“Every tournament is just a tournament and you go in to win,” Dockrill said. “Her experience is really what paid off for her. She really played well that last day and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Vidisdottir’s goal for this year is to record an average score below 75. So far, she is on her way to accomplishing that with a current average of 74.17 through the first two tournaments of the season. If Vidisdottir keeps up this pace, she will likely be among the contenders for the individual medalist honors at the Southern Conference Championship as the Phoenix hope to improve on last year’s result.

No time limit

The sophomore’s goals are not limited to her time at Elon, however, as the talented Icelander hopes to take her career to the next level after college.

“My goal is to try to turn professional, so I’m just going to use the next three years to work on my game and then see what happens after that,” she said. “I’m just going to practice as much as I can and see what my chances are after that.”

Dockrill agreed that Vidisdottir has the potential to play at the professional level, but said she will have to continue to work hard and improve in order to attain her goals.

“There are some parts of her game that she has to work on,” Dockrill said. “One of the things you deal with where she’s from is a lot of wind so she hits a low ball, so now she’s trying to hit a much higher ball. That’s an important factor for her to make it to be a top player. She knows what she has to work on, but the changes she needs to make to be that much better are things she’s capable of doing.”

Vidisdottir agreed with her coach, noting that her short game is where she has to improve the most.

Home away from home

Obviously, this will not be the first time Vidisdottir has had to adapt since she arrived at Elon a year ago. She has proven time and time again that she is up to the task and credits her teammates for much of her success during the transition process.

“The team helped me a lot, they’re kind of like a second family,” Vidisdottir said. “It definitely helped me to have someone I knew I could reach out to, and if I needed help they were always there for me.”

Dockrill backed Vidisdottir, noting the challenges of coming from another country, playing a collegiate sport and going to school all at the same time.

“It’s quite a difference coming from a place that has 350,000 people to a place where within an hour we have two or three million people, but she did very well with it,” Dockrill said. “She’s a structured kid; in other words, she didn’t like hamburgers before she got here and she still doesn’t like them. I don’t think we’ve influenced the way she handles her lifestyle, which is good. She did very well with the transition, but she’s from Iceland, and that’s not changing.” §