Annika Sorenstam: Golf
Future Hall of Famer
Annika Sorenstam is such an extraordinary golf talent, it should be no surprise that she actually spent time on a golf course before she was even born! Like so many of the storied athletes found in this book, Annika came from very athletic genes. Her mother and father both enjoyed golf, and her mother happened to do so when she was pregnant with Annika.
Born October 9, 1970, in Stockholm, Sweden, Annika grew up playing badminton, soccer, and ping-pong. She also skied the famous slopes of Sweden and even dreamt of growing up to become a fighter pilot. Although Annika’s parents exposed her early in life to the game she would eventually take over by storm, her first love was tennis. At the age of 12, she was one of Sweden’s best junior tennis players, and only picked up golf because it was an activity she could do alone. “In tennis you need someone to play with,” Annika said, “but in golf I could go and hit balls when I wanted.”1 In fact, she initially found golf quite boring. It did not take long, however, for Annika to find enjoyment in the game, and she joined a youth golf program. Her dedication was evident from the start. Her 12 teammates were impressively dedicated for young teenagers, practicing an extra hour after each round, but Annika’s commitment to the game was even more apparent, as she always practiced three hours after each round. The extra work paid off and by the age of 16, Annika gave up tennis to pursue her shot at a career in golf.
Sorenstam was quickly ascending the ranks of Sweden’s junior golfers, but her extreme shyness was literally costing her victories. In an excerpt from her book, Golf Annika’s Way, Sorenstam recalls how bad this problem was:
I can’t count the number of times I three-putted on the final hole of a tournament—on purpose—so that I wouldn’t have to give a victory speech. I thought the real reason for my three-putts, pure shyness, was my little secret. But some of the coaches were watching me and noticing my not-so-coincidental misses. So they announced that, at the next tournament, both the winner and the runner-up would have to give a speech. I figured, what’s the point of finishing second if I had to face the crowd anyway. I won that tournament and never looked back.2
In 1987, Sorenstam joined Sweden’s national junior golf team, and soon was winning tournaments all over Europe. At one tournament, Sorenstam caught the eye of Coach Kim Haddow from the University of Arizona, who offered her a golf scholarship. Sorenstam says it took her about three seconds to decide if she should accept the offer, and in 1990, she made the 5,500-mile trip from Sweden to Tucson, Arizona, to begin her collegiate career.
Nearly as quickly as she made her decision to come to America, Sorenstam made her impact on the collegiate golf scene. In 1991, in her very first year in college, she captured the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship. After another successful year during her sophomore season, Sorenstam had already won a total of seven tournaments. Also in 1992, she captured the World Amateur Championship. Having clearly established her dominance on the amateur scene, Sorenstam turned pro in 1993, going back home to join the European Tour. There she captured Rookie of the Year honors and decided she was ready to join the world’s best golfers on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. So in 1994, Sorenstam returned to the United States to begin her illustrious LPGA career.
It did not take long for Sorenstam to begin writing her long list of accomplishments. She started by winning her second Rookie of the Year award in as many years, this time in the United States, thus beginning another chapter in golf history. Sorenstam would not win her first tournament on the LPGA Tour until her second year in 1995, but when she did, the triumph would be a big one. In fact, her first victory would be her first of three U.S. Women Open titles (1995, 1996, and 2006), a title many consider to be the most important in women’s golf. She would eventually win seven additional major titles over the course of her career, including three Kraft Nabisco Championships (2001, 2002, and 2005), three LPGA Championships (2003, 2004, and 2005), and the Women’s British Open (2003). Sorenstam’s other remarkable achievements include being a six-time recipient of the Vare trophy for having the lowest average score on tour (1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2005), leading the tour in prize money winnings eight times (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005), and being named the LPGA Player of the Year eight times (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005). In 2001, she broke the LPGA’s single round scoring record when she shot a 59 at the Standard Register Ping. A year later, she broke the women’s average scoring record with a 68.70. All of these achievements and more culminated with a 2003 induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
It is easy to see why most people call Annika Sorenstam the greatest woman golfer of all time. It is not as easy to pick which one of her feats is the greatest, but many would make an argument for her appearance in the 2003 Colonial Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour tournament. It was there that Sorenstam made history when she became the first woman golfer to play with the men since Babe Didrikson Zaharias did so in 1945. Amid immense pressure and the media circus that surrounded her, Sorenstam shot a respectable 71–75. Although she missed the cut, she placed better than eleven men, and showed she could compete at golf’s highest level. She had accomplished her goal of playing in the tournament and considered her effort a success. Sorenstam was never out for attention or to prove she was better than the men; she simply wanted to drive herself to become a better player for herself. “This is a way to
push myself to another level,” she explained.3 This attitude says a great deal about her humility despite her undeniable greatness.
Surely this grace played into Sorenstam’s May 2008 retirement announcement. At the young age of 37, with 72 victories, and a more-than-good chance of breaking Kathy Whitworth’s record of 88 wins, Sorenstam announced she would be leaving the tour at the end of the season. However, she was very reluctant to say she was retiring, and never even used what she called “the r-word.” She simply wanted to move on to pursue “greater priorities in life,” including running her golf academy for children, designing golf courses, and getting married. “While I’m stepping away from competition, I will be very engaged and very involved in the game of golf, but in a very different way,” Sorenstam said after her announcement. “I want tomake sure that I can get back to the game that’s been great to me, by helping and inspiring young kids to develop and reach their dreams.”4 Annika Sorenstam may be retiring from the game whose record books she completely rewrote, but she will never retire from so gracefully helping society through sport.
1. Jeff Savage, Annika Sorenstam (Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Group, 2005), 10.
2. Annika Sorenstam, Golf Annika’s Way (New York: Penguin Group Inc, 2004), 8.
3. Savage, Annika Sorenstam, 25.
4. Jason Sobel, ESPN.com: Golf, “Annika gracefully entering last phase of her career,”
This excerpt was written by Ryan Sleeper