By: Caitlin Moyer
This weekend, Hall of Fame golfer Annika Sorenstam will be teeing it up at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut, taking part in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, her first USGA championship appearance since the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, where she holed a 6-iron from 199 yards for eagle on her final shot.
But first, the eight-time LPGA Tour player of the year made a stop in Blaine, Minnesota, attending the 3M Open at the TPC Twin Cities where she participated in “The Compass Challenge,” a 3-hole star-studded event for charity on Wednesday evening and hosted her “Share My Passion” clinic on Monday afternoon.
Following her legendary career that included 89 worldwide wins and 10 majors, Sorenstam started the ANNIKA Foundation in 2007 with the goal of developing women’s golf around the world and encouraging children to lead healthy, active lifestyles. Sorenstam is actively involved in every aspect of the foundation and personally attends each of the events that it hosts, like the Share My Passion Clinic.
This particularly unique event asks girls ages 6 to 14 to write an open letter to other girls their age telling them why they love the game of golf. Of the letters submitted, 30-40 finalists are chosen by Sorenstam and the committee to attend the inspirational clinic, which covers the fundamentals of driving, putting and the importance of fitness. During the clinic, Sorenstam answers many questions from the girls and is able to share her passion and insights with the next generation.
When asked what her own letter might say, Sorenstam noted that the one she would’ve written as a youth would be very different than the one she would write today. Then again, she says, she has the benefit of time and perspective.
“Obviously I’m not their age. I started playing golf when I was 12 and didn’t take it seriously even at the age of 16, so my letter at that age would not have been much. When I was younger it was like, ‘Okay, you putt, you chip, you drive, you spend time with your parents,’ but other than that I just didn’t see more. My letter would’ve been much shorter: ‘It’s fun, I like sports and spending time with my family,’” she admits.
But, today, looking back on her amazing career and all that she’s accomplished beyond tournament victories, from becoming the first player on the LPGA tour to finish the season with a scoring average below 70 (69.99, in 1998) and the first woman to shoot 59 in a professional tournament (2001) to breaking gender barriers as the first woman to play in a men’s Professional Golf Association tournament (the 2003 Bank of America Colonial Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas) since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945; and inspiring generations of girls after her to take up the game of golf, Sorenstam’s letter about the game would be quite long.
“I think that now if I wrote a letter about what golf means, I would just say it’s the greatest sport, the greatest activity. It’s so fantastic in so many ways because I’m seeing every aspect of it now,” she says.
“Number one, it’s a game for life. I can play with both my dad who’s 80 and my son who’s 10. And I’m 50. So we’ve got 80, 50, 10, right? And that, to me… there’s just nothing like it.”
“Then there’s the health aspect of being outside and staying active, the social aspect of being able to play with other people and also, the corporate and charity aspects….So my letter would be really long, explaining all the benefits of why someone should play golf,” she said.
Sorenstam was named LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1994 and won her first major, the U.S. Open in 1995. Over the next decade, Sorenstam racked up eight more major wins and simply dominated women’s golf, winning eight Player of the Year Awards during that time as well as claiming the Vare Trophy, which is given to the player with the lowest scoring average for the season, six times.
In 2002 alone, she won 11 events—the most in the LPGA in nearly 40 years—and in 2003 she won the LPGA Championship and the Women’s British Open to complete the career Grand Slam. That same year, she was also inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. She won one more U.S. Open (2006) to bring her total to 10 before retiring from competitive golf in 2008.
“A lot of people ask me how I could maintain my consistency for so long,” Sorenstam said. “I think what contributed to that is that I just tried to find ways to be better in everything I did.”
From nutrition and fitness to dedication to practice and working on her mental focus, Sorenstam likened all of those aspects to pieces of a puzzle that ultimately led her to become one of the most elite athletes in the game.
“As you get older, you realize what makes you feel good and what makes you perform well and you just have more knowledge. And when you get to a certain level, you realize now you’re talking about a shot or two a round and you really have to look at every aspect of it; it’s like a puzzle--there are a lot of pieces,” she said.
“When you’re younger, they don’t all fit. You might not have custom fit golf clubs, you might not have the best grip at the time, but when you get older and get to a certain level, you realize how everything is intertwined. Take nutrition, for example. I use the analogy of a car. If you have a car and you don’t put gas in that car, number one you can’t drive. And, if you put the wrong gas in, you probably can’t drive smoothly. That’s how our bodies work, too. Whatever you put into it, it’s going to have an effect,” she explained.
Sorenstam is quick to note that although she is cautious about what she puts in her system, she is also moderate because she has realized extremes don’t work. Instead, the mother of two loves to cook and focuses on making healthy meals for her family as often as possible, using the freshest ingredients.
Because it’s so important to her, each Annika Foundation event features healthy menus designed to prepare players for optimal performance, like Nature Valley Crunchy Bars during the clinic, and Sorenstam even shares her favorite recipes on her foundation’s website.
When it comes to fitness, Sorenstam was a trailblazer in the sport’s fitness revolution during her career, earning a reputation as one of the hardest workers both on the course and in the gym. Today, she is still incredibly active, sharing workout tips on her social media accounts and stressing both the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise to achieve top performance on the golf course and in everyday life.
The key, she says, is to also be active with a purpose.
“For golf, it’s not so much cardio because I’m not running 5 miles, but it’s strength and endurance, so I always dissected everything and tried to figure out how I could be better and reach my full potential. We all have our own full potential in different areas, so in the end, to make sure I could be the best player that I personally could be, I had to make sure each puzzle piece was exactly right and that’s really how I think I went about it,” she said.
Earlier this year, in February, 13 years after her retirement, she was in the field for the LPGA Gainbridge in Orlando. With her classic Callaway hat, her Cutter & Buck attire and the same, sweet, repeatable swing, it seemed like nothing had changed.
Except, of course, it had; in the time she had been away from the sport as a player, the ANNIKA Foundation had been paying it forward to junior golf in a huge way. In fact, there were 40 ANNIKA alumni competing against her in the field that weekend, illustrating just what a huge impact Sorenstam has had on inspiring so many young women all over the world to play golf.
“It warms my heart; it does. I just feel lucky that I play golf, that it took me where I am today. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for golf. I think that’s my way of creating impact. Some people do it through science or medicine, discoveries or innovations. But in looking at what I can contribute, because it needs to be authentic, it’s my passion for golf. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I know what it takes, so to be able to give back….I think it gives you a feeling that you’re doing something… it’s not just the taking, what the sport did for me, it’s the giving back that’s a better feeling, really,” she explained.
Sorenstam recently posted on social media that her own daughter, Ava, finished her first-ever18- hole round and broke 100. And, while Ava doesn’t share her mother’s full passion for the sport just yet, Sorenstam is simply pleased that she’s participating in it.
“She’d rather do a sand angel in the bunker, I think, but she did play 18 holes. It was fantastic. I don’t care really what she shoots, but to be out there together, trying…to me that was the coolest thing. Our son, Will, is more into scoring and his swing. They are two different animals, so it’s refreshing to see both of their approaches to the game. I don’t care if my daughter shoots 100 the rest of her life, I think it’s just valuable to have that tool, that sport for life. Golf has so much to offer, so I’d like her to have her foot somewhat in the game, whatever it is,” said Sorenstam.
Playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open this week will be special for Sorenstam, especially with her husband, Mike McGee, on her bag and Ava and Will cheering her on, but it will likely be a different experience from her younger, more highly competitive years on the LPGA Tour.
“It will be fun,” she said. “But I am at a different place in my life. Of course, I care. I mean, I’ve been practicing, but there’s also a point where there are so many other things in my life that are important. This is not what I do for a living anymore and I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted, so this week will be about the memories with the family and supporting the event.”
Reflecting on her illustrious career, Sorenstam finds it hard to pick one thing that she’s most proud of.
“I’m just so lucky. I have so many things I can look back on. I just feel lucky that I achieved my dreams… I achieved more than my goals, way above my hopes and expectations,” Sorenstam said.
So now, even though she’s returning to the playing field, Sorenstam’s primary focuses remain on her family and her foundation, helping grow the game and bring more people out to the course, through efforts such as last week’s Share My Passion Clinic.
Considering all the sport has given to her and all that she, in turn has given back to it, Sorenstam’s own submission wouldn’t just be a letter, it would be a novel--and one that isn’t quite finished yet at that.