Annika Always an Athlete

By George WhiteMay 20, 2003, 4:00 pm
She was only 12 when she first hit a golf ball, this Swedish youngster who today is the most accomplished female player in the world.
 
This week, she will be in Fort Worth, Texas, to do what no woman has done since Babe Didricksen Zaharias played in three PGA Tour events in January 1945. Its been 58 years since a woman competed on a golf course with male professionals. And here is 32-year-old Annika Sorenstam, ready to grab her golf bag and spikes and make a run at the male pros in the Bank of America Colonial.
 
She has always been interested in sports, dating back to her days as a toddler. Sorenstam actually was on the path to tennis stardom as a child long before she ever picked up a wedge. She began swatting tennis balls not many years after she could first walk ' at age 5. By the time she was a teen-ager, she was ranked among the top-10 juniors in Stockholm in tennis.
 
Her father took a job in London during the early 1980s when Annika was 10, and the family packed up and moved to England with him for four years. But in one of the most eventful turns of her life, she and sister Charlotta returned to Sweden for summer camp. There, in 1982, Annika tried golf for the first time at the age of 12.
 
Initially, it seemed she was not a natural - her first handicap was 54.
 
Annika didnt play golf when the family lived in the suburbs of London. It was very difficult then, she said. I was not old enough to be a member (at Royal Mid-Surrey golf course) and you had to be a member to play.
 
I went out with my parents on a few occasions, but there were only certain times when children were allowed on the course. There were all sorts of restrictions, everywhere. It was tough to even go on the practice range.

But by 1984, the Sorenstam family had moved back to Sweden ' Annikas father was an upper-middle-class businessman ' and she was focused on her tennis. However, she had been around Bro-Balsta Golf Club since the age of 5 accompanying her parents on their regular rounds ' father Tom was a near-scratch golfer, mother Gunilla was a 12-handicap.
 
I remember wanting to come to the ninth hole so we could get an ice cream, she said. That was important to me.
 
As a teenager, though, Annika, her younger sister Charlotta, and a group of local kids began hanging out at Bro-Balsta. Annika still was wrapped up in tennis, but she and her friends now spent many hours in the summer at the course. I remember picking up balls in the lakes, she said. We would dive into the lakes, once a week, to pick up golf balls. And I can remember sitting on the tee and dividing up the balls afterward. We would take out hundreds.
 
Annika joined about a dozen girls in the youth golf program at Bro-Balsta. Golf, though, wasnt her only sports interest. Soccer, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee ' all joined tennis in her normal week.
 
But finally, at the age of 16, Annika faced an interesting choice: she was now serious about golf, still rather a novelty in Sweden, but she had to choose between that sport or tennis. She chose golf. She loved the natural surroundings of the golf courses, but most of all, she realized that you didnt need anyone else to play golf. Tennis required not just another person, but another person of about the same skill level.
 
'I said, 'Bye-bye tennis.' '
 
From that point on, Annika had all the dedication of a woman on a mission. That same year, when she was 16, she met Henri Reis, a golf instructor who remains her teacher to this day. Annikas dedication was apparent to the adults around her, and she was chosen to be on the junior national team by the Swedish Golf Foundation.
 
She thought briefly about going to university to study engineering, but she was much too caught up in golf. She finished her basic education that year and got a part-time job as personal assistant to the executive director of the Swedish PGA. And it was there that she first met Pia Nilsson, once a member of the LPGA, also a coach of the Swedish National Team, now a director of the Swedish Golf Federation.
 
Nilsson has had a profound influence on Sorenstams professional career. It was Nilsson who challenged Annika with Vision 54, the belief that a golfers goal out should be to birdie every hole. Sorenstam, of course, never has birdied all 18 holes for a 54, but she is the only woman to ever shoot a 59, birdieing thirteen.
 
She was still 17 when she saw the golf telecast which was to shape her life forever. That was when Annika watched fellow Swede Lisalotte Neumann win the U.S. Womens Open in 1988. It had a profound impact.
 
It was a delayed telecast, but I remember staying up all night to watch it, she recalls. I did think, Yeah, that could be me someday.
 
So, she set out with a single-mindedness of purpose to become a professional golfer. She was playing an amateur event in Japan when she caught the eye of a competitor from the University of Arizona. The competitor convinced then-Arizona coach Kim Haddow to recruit Sorenstam, and the results were instantaneous.
 
In 1991 ' her freshman year ' Annika was the NCAA Co-College Player of the Year and an NCAA all-American. Her sophomore year in 1992, Sorenstam was the World Amateur champion, runner-up to Vicki Goetze at the U.S. Womens Amateur, second-lowest amateur in the U.S. Womens Amateur. She was ready to turn pro, playing in Europe for a year where she was the rookie of the year.
 
In 1994, she hit the ground rolling on the LPGA. Forty-three victories and 10 years later, she is one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     
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    Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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    Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

    By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

    Memo to the golf gods:

    If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

    Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

    It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

    With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

    It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

    We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

    We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

    Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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    Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

    We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

    In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

    While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

    Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

    Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

    Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

    While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

    Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

    So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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    McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

    By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

    With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

    The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

    Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

    "I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

    McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

    But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

    "I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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    What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

    Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

    Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

    Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

    Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

    Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

    Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

    Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

    Ball: Titleist Pro V1x