Annika Unplugged - For a Brief Little Moment
Annika stopped by the Golf Channel offices earlier this month to chat with Peter Kessler on Golf Talk Live. For those of you who didnt tune in, you missed a woman who was very open in explaining her quiet celebrations over yet another golfing success, her fears over what can go wrong, the personal feelings of the rivalry with Karrie Webb, and her difficulties with charisma. As she opened up, she revealed what it is like in the shady world of womens golf ' shady because so many men never think its worthwhile to go there, but shady also because not many women are as totally forthcoming as Sorenstam was.
We learned that she received a personal note after she shot 59 this spring ' from Karrie Webb. It was a warm, sincere note from one woman to another, amongst two women who are pitted against each other in every way by the golfing public. Under such pressures its hardly possible for a close friendship to develop. But seeing the note, stuck in her locker following the magical round, brought a new appreciation of Webb from Sorenstam.
She has been very supportive, said Annika, realizing that there was no reason for the letter other than one woman bowing in submission ' at least for a day ' to another.
When I got that note and when I read it, I almost got tears because it has come from somebody who is that good of a player. She kind of respected what I did and let me know. I thought that was very ' that was first class.
That the two are the best players in womens golf is apparent. That the two are also rather private is apparent. So are 95 percent of us. We want our heroes to be large in every possible way, from hitting a 6-iron two feet from the cup to describing the shot with great verbiage. Sometimes its just a manner of being, like Tiger Woods or Fred Couples. Sometimes its a matter of speaking, like Fuzzy Zoeller or Paul Azinger. But sometimes ' by far the majority of the time ' its just a matter of stepping up and hitting the ball, and not really much else. Which is where Sorenstam and Webb fit it.
You know, if Karrie were kind of the clown and wanted to do the show, I would be all for it, Sorenstam said. I would be in the background cheering her on.
'But, as Ive always said, were here to play golf, and you can only be the one that you are. We both hear that a lot, that were so quiet and were quite boring. But I do what I love to do. I love to play the game. I feel very fortunate. Theres not a day in my life where I complain about what I do, because I just want to wake up and go play golf.
Sorenstam is not really that serious, of course. She related a funny little personal story about the World Championship in 1992, and some itching powder that was applied to Coach Pia Nelsons clothing. It would have been hilarious had Sorenstam reported that only she and Nelson were involved. But Annika dutifully added the we, indicating that maybe she was just one of several gals who pulled the prank. But ' hey, Annikas got a little humor in her.
Sorenstam is indeed driven. She has been driven for a long time. And she admitted it is important for her to excel, not just one who makes a decent check and shows up the next week after week after week.
Its ' its something Ive had inside for so long, she said. But its something thats grown in the last few years
I learned a lot about my golf game (since coming on Golf Talk Live before in 95). I learned a lot about myself, knowing what I could do, and that I enjoy pushing myself, seeing the challenges.
Thats what drives me today. I still get the butterflies on the first tee. I still get sweaty hands, and my heart pumps a lot going down the 18th. But I know what winning is all about now, and thats a feeling that I like.
What she said that was most priceless, however, is that she never takes winning for granted. She approaches each victory like it was her first one ' or at least she tries to. She sometimes has to rush out to the next tournament way too quickly. But at the end of the year, theres always a little personal time to think what she has accomplished. She sits and just reflects for a moment, all alone, by herself in her quiet time.
When I do have time off, I look at my trophies, she said. I look at my stats. Thats when I remember everything. Thats when it sinks in.
Actually, its those times alone, maybe just her and her husband, that grow more and more important as each year goes by. She says she truly enjoys being a homebody. I enjoy working in the garden, being a housewife. Its kind of nice to be home and take care of the house a little bit.
I do know that I dont want to travel when Im done playing. Itd be nice to be in one place and be at home and ' and just live life a little bit.
Sorenstam opened up just a bit and let the world peek in. It was Annika being Annika. The golfing miss could let the public see what its like being Annika Sorenstam. And what it is ' is something that's pretty special.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."