Taking a Swing at Journalism
When she was around 2, Smilla Sønderby’s mother took her on a stroll as her father played golf. When he accidentally hit a golf ball into the water nearby, the baby in the stroller could not contain her laughter, chuckling so loudly at the sight, the moment became a defining memory.
“That was my first golf experience,” said Sønderby, who was given plastic clubs that year. When she was 4, her parents coincidentally built a house next to a golf course.
“I basically grew up on a golf course,” Sønderby said. “And then I became a member when I was 4 because I was at the club all the time.”
Sønderby, a University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media student, slowly developed a love for golf and began competing in tournaments. She is one of the members of the Ole Miss Women’s Golf team, which recently defeated Oklahoma State 4-1 to win the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. The team competed May 21-26 in Scottsdale, Arizona, at Grayhawk Golf Club.
After flying home to Denmark following the tournament, Sønderby went to bed early, woke up the next day, worked out at the gym, and played 18 holes, proving her dedication to the sport.
The freshmen journalism major with plans to minor in psychology has been a member of the Danish Ladies’ National Team since 2019. She joined the Danish Girls’ National Team in 2017 and has competed in two European Girls’ Team Championships and one European Nations’ Cup. Sønderby has had 17 Top 10 finishes in 32 events from 2017 to 2019, according to her Ole Miss Athletics bio.
Sønderby competed in her first golf tournament at age 10. She attended the Danish Golf Academy and at 15, she became part of the national team and the junior squad in Denmark, playing in two European team championships. After finishing primary school, through grade nine in Denmark, she attended a sports boarding school.
“I basically moved out when I was 16,” she said.
While attending high school, she became part of the ladies golf team in Denmark, and played in European team championships and many international tournaments.
She admired a fellow player, who attended college at Oregon State University, so Sønderby began thinking about moving to the United States to attend college.
“I wrote to, I think, 25 colleges in the states,” she said. “Some colleges reached out to me because they had seen me play out in Europe.
Head coach Kory Henkes traveled to watch Sønderby play in a Portugal tournament. Then Sønderby visited the University of Mississippi and three other schools before choosing UM.
For the next two and a half months, Sønderby said she will be in Denmark and playing in three or four international tournaments.
“I have a tournament this week,” she said. “So I’m going to Copenhagen tomorrow to play in a tournament over the weekend.”
She will continue to compete in tournaments every weekend this summer except for five days when she will take a break and visit a friend in Poland. She practices every day. On the day of this interview, she had practiced with her coach for four hours.
Debora Wenger, interim dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media, said it’s an honor to have a member of a national championship sports team in our midst.
“Students in our school are always doing amazing things — earning the highest of academic honors or launching great careers — but we don’t get too many winning NCAA championships,” Wenger said with a laugh. “Of course, we are proud of Smilla and her talents both on and off the course.”
Sønderby said she’s always been interested in writing to express herself and reflect on her life and experiences. She hopes to have a golf career for the next 20 years, then become a sports writer, so she is pursuing that goal in the UM School of Journalism and New Media.
“I was actually really good at writing in Danish, and my teacher told me when I graduated, that she wouldn’t be surprised if she saw me in one of the big newspapers one day as a journalist,” she said. “I was like I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a golf player. But then, you know, I just kept writing.”
Since English is her second language, Sønderby said she was initially concerned about choosing journalism as a major.
“I was a little worried, you know, my freshman year if I could express myself, in the same way writing in another language,” she said. “But I think I’m doing OK.”
Wenger said the school’s international students enrich our programs.
“Their lived experiences help open others’ eyes to the global nature of journalism and integrated marketing communications,” she said. “ One of the things we’d love to do is offer more scholarships for international students, and we hope to make that a priority in the coming years.”
To learn more about our journalism and integrated marketing communications programs, visit this link.