Influx of Child Stars Baffles Annika

By George WhiteMarch 24, 2005, 5:00 pm
Annika Sorenstam finds it incomprehensible that she would be considered the grande dame of womens golf. But thats what happens when you wake up one morning and discover that you are 34 years old. And thats what happens when you have compiled an incredible record of 58 LPGA wins, 70 around the globe.
But Annika, as grande dame, is asked her opinion on just about every conceivable topic relating to life on the LPGA Tour, and many of those off it. So it was not a surprise to find her being queried at this weeks Kraft Nabisco Championship about the sudden influx of teenagers who are now direct competitors. This week there are nine of them in the field of 144 at the LPGAs first major.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has collected 70 trophies around the world so far in her career.
Michelle Wie has brought this kiddie phenomenon to the front, of course. She is only 15 years old, yet she routinely makes cuts when she plays with the adults. Thus far, she hasnt shown the least bit of interest ' publicly - in turning professional. Privately, it has had to cross her mind. Last year she would have won in the neighborhood of $250,000 ' money that she just walked away from because she is an amateur. That isnt counting the $20 million over four years that some knowledgeable economists say she would be worth in endorsements.
Sorenstam is acutely aware of the trend. Its a situation that is pretty much the domain of the womens tour. Male players tend to go to college, spend at least two or three years, then turn pro. The women do it differently. Women have consistently shown that they can compete at the highest level while still a teenager. No man in the past 50 years, save for a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, has shown that he can consistently compete against the men of the PGA Tour.
Sorenstam, though, insists she was not mature enough to turn pro as a teenager. She came from her native Sweden at the age of 19 to the University of Arizona, where she played before joining the LPGA at age 23.
I had no idea, really, if I was ever going to come through (to the LPGA Tour), she said. It was just a great opportunity for me to learn a new language, study a little bit and play some golf. I didnt really know what my future was going to be like.
At 18, being a pro really never crossed my mind. I dont think I was mature enough. I wasnt ready. My golf was definitely not at the level where it needed to be.
That doesnt mean, though, that she disapproves of this sudden influx of teenage talent that will tee off in the Kraft Nabisco.
They are playing great, she said. Last week I played with Brittany (Lincicome). I was very impressed with her, I like the way she plays. You have Paula Creamer playing excellent. Youve got Michelle Wie playing some good golf.
I think the young generation is really showing some talent. I think they are showing some great attitudes, and I think the future for the LPGA is really, really good.
The teenagers, of course, are similarly awed by Sorenstams talent. Eighteen-year-old Creamer said her first time playing with Annika was a life-changing experience.
Ive learned so much from her just watching her, she said. I played with her last year, and its probably the most Ive ever learned in a round of golf in my entire life. Shes a fantastic player, and thats where I want to be in a short time.
But Ive learned a lot, that shes incredibly consistent, and she has a fantastic mental game. Thats what you need you need out here.
Young Ai Myzato, the 19-year-old Japanese star, opined Wednesday that Annika is her role model. Annika was overwhelmed.
I take that as a compliment, I really do, said Sorenstam.
I have idols. I think thats how you learn, is to look at other people, maybe follow their path and then find your own way. I was very impressed with her when I played with her in Japan she was really cute and really good, but she was down-to-earth and really nice.
Annika, in just a matter of two years, will be twice the age of many of her young rivals. She herself was just a kid not that long ago, playing on the Swedish National team, then going to college in America and discovering she was good enough to become a professional.
Nowadays, it happens continuously, with many of the young ladies discovering they can turn pro while still just 18. It will be a long, long time, though, before they can discover they have a chance to be Annika Sorenstam. Annika is one of a kind, regardless of the generation.
Email your thoughts to George White
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Kraft Nabisco Championship
  • Getty Images

    Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

    By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

    Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

    McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    “I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    “I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

    This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

    A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

    McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

    “It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

    As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

    “It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

    Getty Images

    Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

    By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

    PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

    She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

    Her confidence is high.

    “Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

    Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

    Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

    “One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

    “I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

    Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

    “I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

    That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

    Getty Images

    Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

    By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

    PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

    While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

    But then . . .

    “Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

    In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

    She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

    With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

    At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

    Park’s back with a hot putter.

    That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

    “The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    “The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

    Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

    “But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

    Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

    Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

    They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

    Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

    “I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

    “She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

    Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

    “I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

    Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

    “When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”