Following is a piece I published here not long after Annika retired from golf. The site was the 2009 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
***We all know about the 72 wins, the 10 majors and the $23 million in career earnings, a Hall of Fame career that may or may not be over. It all went exactly as planned by Annika Sorenstam, the undisputed queen of golf. Well, no, actually it didn’t.
Presented by equipment sponsor Callaway and looking relaxed in a pink pullover and black slacks, Annika sat on stage today at the PGA Merchandise Show and recounted a career that was filled with surprises and accomplishments beyond her wildest dreams. I had a front-row seat.
Golf was her parents’ game, Sorenstam said, so she followed them to the golf course, even though she would rather play soccer or tennis at a young age. But golf got under her skin (in a good way) because it was “so tough.” “That was the beauty of it,” she said. Plus she could practice without needing a partner.
Leaving Sweden to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson was a major adjustment, but Annika adapted and excelled at the college level. Maybe she could succeed at the pro game, although she didn’t know if she could win.
The first win “caught me by surprise,” Sorenstam said. That initial title was the U.S. Women’s Open, a major victory that literally made her ill. Annika told how she had to retreat from the world for a few weeks until she could get a better handle on her success and the public adulation. In a later anecdote, Sorenstam shared how her shyness caused her to intentionally three-putt to avoid winning tournaments. Why? She didn’t want to give a speech. One of her coaches noticed the trend, so the coach had first, second and third give speeches. That solved the problem.
When asked about her friendship with Tiger Woods, Annika said, “I’m not sure how the texting got started.” The two have practiced together and got in the habit of texting each other when they won a major. “I think he’s kind of competitive,” she said, sparking audience laughter.
As for her current status, Sorenstam said she is not using the “R” word, instead calling her break from the game “stepping away.”
• “My drive is stronger than ever,” Annika said. She is channeling it into her academy, golf course design and other projects.
• When asked for her dream foursome, she didn’t specifically name anyone, saying it could be people from all walks of life who she would enjoy and learn from.
• She was once caught at an exhibition with dirty laundry in her golf bag.
• A 54 is definitely possible, according to Sorenstam. She took the audience through her round of 59 on March 16, 2001. She was 12 under after 13 holes and rimmed out her putt for 58 on the final hole.
−The Armchair Golfer
(Illustration: Gary Hisanaga, Flickr, Creative Commons license)