The End is Near

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2008, 4:00 pm
The boisterous ovation she heard walking toward the 18th green was the kind typically reserved for the winner. But if that were the case, Annika Sorenstam would have won her 13th consecutive tournament last week.
Instead, she tied for 25th at the Kapalua LPGA Classic. It was the ninth time in her last 11 events she failed to record a top 10.
Then she boarded a plane to China, and the countdown to retirement continued.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has not won an event since she announced she was 'stepping away.' (Getty Images)
This is not going the way Sorenstam would have liked, or most people would have imagined, when she announced May 13 that this season would be her last on the LPGA.
At the time, the 38-year-old Swede had just won the Michelob Ultra Open for her second straight victory, third of the season, 72nd of her career. She had played eight tournaments and finished out of the top 10 only once. She was runner-up in the first major of the year.
Why stop?
I have other priorities in my life. I have a lot of dreams that I want to follow, she said that day. I think Ive achieved more than I ever thought I could. I have given it all, and its been fun.
The question now is why she didnt stop then.
No other sport is more difficult to retire from than golf. Arnold Palmer was lured by the adoration of his army for so long that they quit posting his score at some tournaments. Jack Nicklaus fumed whenever someone congratulated him on making the cut, but was lucky to stumble into a graceful retirement at St. Andrews.
No one made a cleaner break from golf than Ben Hogan. On the 12th hole of the 1971 Houston Championship, he wrenched his knee on a tee shot, was driven off the course in a cart and never played another tournament.
All of them were well past their prime.
Sorenstam, by contrast, was coming off back-to-back victories when she said that she was done. She already had gone over $1 million for the 10th time in her career.
The only problem was she couldnt walk away at that exact moment for practical reasons. She owed it to the fans and her sponsors to finish out the year, and she owed it to herself to discover the admiration they have for her.
Plus, there were three majors still on the calendar. Sorenstam came within inches of making a birdie putt to join the playoff at the LPGA Championship.
But thats the last anyone saw of her ' at least, the Sorenstam they remember.
She has played eight times on the LPGA since then. She has broken 70 only six times in 31 rounds. She has cracked the top 10 only once, a tie for sixth in the 54-hole Safeway Classic. About the only shot anyone remembers is when she holed out with a 6-iron from 199 yards for eagle on the final hole of the U.S. Womens Open. That gave her a tie for 24th.
Some farewell tour.
Yeah, its been very different since I announced my stepping away, Sorenstam said in a conference call last week. I have not played as well. I dont know if its because Ive been very busy just getting involved with tournaments and saying goodbye and engaging with fans and sponsors, or just maybe unconsciously knowing that Ive made the decision and Im having a hard time focusing.
Im not really sure. But Ive definitely not played as well.
Adding to the malaise is the economy. One reason Sorenstam announced her retirement early in the season ' and in New York ' was to build momentum for her business interests when she steps away, from her brand to her academy to her foundation to golf course design.
This is a tough time to be doing business.
Meanwhile, the retirement tour drags on.
The overwhelming support she receives at every tournament comes with equal doses of distractions. She is reminded at every turn that she has only seven tournaments left, six tournaments left.
It happens every week, she said. Everybody asks me. Im sure I keep track of it myself. You know, the countdown has started. In a way, I just want to focus on each week. But of course, you cant get away from it.
It shows in the statistics, which are alarming.
Sorenstam has fallen to 48th in distance with an average drive of 251.3 yards, down from 269.7 yards five years ago. She is tied for 54th in fairways hit, once her hallmark. She has finished in the top 10 only nine times in 19 starts on the LPGA this year, her worst percentage since her rookie year in 1994.
The back and neck injury that cost her the better part of 2006 might have been more than a physical setback. Perhaps it was at home, away from golf, when Sorenstam realized how much she was sacrificing.
Maybe that explains why its so difficult to practice with the same resolve, knowing that in two months she wont have anywhere to play or anything to prove. Even leaving the game at the top doesnt make retirement easy in golf.
To compete at this level, you have to practice, and you have to dedicate yourself full-time, Sorenstam said. I just dont have that in me anymore.
She has one big road trip remaining. Sorenstam is scheduled to play twice in China, a skins game in Japan, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico, then the ADT Championship in Florida, her final appearance on the LPGA Tour. Then its off to the Lexus Cup in Singapore, and the career-ending Dubai Ladies Masters.
If she plays well in China and Mexico, and wins the ADT Championship, Sorenstam could still win the LPGA Tour money title. That would be the ideal way to end a sensational career.
But as Sorenstam has discovered, the only thing to bank on in retirement are the memories.
Related Links:
  • Annika Sorenstam bio, results and photos
  • Getty Images

    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.