Annika Alone Against History

By Mercer BaggsJune 7, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 McDonaldThe practice range at the LPGA Corning Classic is small. Really small. It can only accommodate 12 players at a not-so-comfortable time.
Wednesday, prior to the start of the tournament, the range was busting at the seams. Players lined up behind one another, hoping that the person in front of them would just hit and run.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has won nine of her last 13 LPGA Tour events.
Rather than stay idle and let the onslaught of gnats and the apathy of waiting get the best of her, Annika Sorenstam dipped down into a little valley left of the proper range and began hitting balls in what was actually the rough of the adjacent ninth hole.
When Annika Sorenstam strikes a ball, you know its hers. You can tell it in the purity of its sound. You can tell it most definitely in its length and trajectory.
If youve ever wondered, How can Annika Sorenstam win almost every time she competes? Watch her hit balls next to the other women on the range. Youll start to wonder, How can Annika Sorenstam not win every time she competes?
Winning is something Sorenstam has done quite often this season. Entering this weeks McDonalds LPGA Championship, she has teed it up seven times and won on five of those occasions.
Shes the two-time defending champion at this event, so the odds of her adding yet another title to her resume are pretty stock. But for the first time in 12 years, the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., is not serving as host. Instead, that distinction has been given to Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md.
It was too bad that they moved the course, Sorenstam said. I finally figured the other one out.
Three times a player has tried to win three consecutive LPGA Championships, and three times theyve failed. Mickey Wright (1960-61 champion), Patty Sheehan (1983-84) and Juli Inkster (1999-00) all had the same opportunity now presented before Sorenstam.
For that matter, no female has ever successfully pulled off the three-peat in any of the four current major championships. Patty Berg (1937-39) won the first three Titleholders Championships, a major which was last played in 1972.
Sorenstam has even had her chances: at the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she fell one shot short of Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, and at the 1997 U.S. Womens Open, where she missed the cut after winning two straight.
Annika loves records. She wants to forever be remembered for doing things that no one else has ever done. And, to this point in her career, shes been quite successful in that endeavor. But after 11 full seasons, shes now more dominant than ever. And that opens up sections in the record book that she never bothered to highlight.
Theres certain records that mean a lot to me. Theres some records that I never really thought I could achieve, and to me its like, well, if they dont come naturally then Im not going to make stuff up, she said.
But right now there are certain things that motivate me, that keep me coming back out every week and keep me practicing and keep me wanting to get better.
What motivates a player who has won 61 times on tour; someone who has won seven Rolex Player of the Year trophies ' and counting; someone who owns outright the tours 18-, 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records in relation to par; someone who is so great that she literally transcends her sport?
Well, majors, she said point-blank. Id like to win more majors. I believe I can do that. Obviously I want to shoot 54. I shot 59, so thats one record. I keep track of the history books. I know whats out there, but there are certain things I just think its going to be impossible to do.
Like what? What could possibly be unattainable for Annika the Great? Is it the 88 career wins record held by Kathy Whitworth? She's 27 behind that number. That might seem like quite a bit, but at her current pace she could get there by the end of 2007 -- maybe early '08. Remember, she's only 34 years old.
Is it Mickey Wrights record 13 wins in a single season? She won 11 in 2002 and, as mentioned, has five in just seven starts this year.
Patty Bergs record 15 major titles? Shes over half-way there, having claimed her eighth at Mission Hills in March.
The single-season Grand Slam? Shes finished the first leg this season, and has but three more to go.
They all would be great, Sorenstam said when asked which of these accomplishments she would most like to attain. I would settle with one. Im not going to be greedy. Right now in my mind, theres the Grand Slam. Id like to win majors. I believe I can do it and thats whats really on my mind.
When Rosie Jones left the interview room after her pre-tournament press conference at Corning, she said she was headed to the range. Gotta keep up with the Big Girl, she said.
That, of course, was in reference to Sorenstam, whose gravity is greater than everyone elses on tour combined. For the Big Girl, the big goal at the moment is the single-season Grand Slam. And thanks to her triumph at the Kraft Nabisco, that goal is still intact for 2005.
But the Big Girl has another big goal in mind ' one thats more far reaching, both in terms of time attainable and also where it will eventually situate her among the games greats.
That would be Whitworths 88 wins ' more than any player, male or female, on any tour.
I have to pinch myself a lot, Sorenstam said. I mean, I love what I do, but I never thought I could win this many tournaments.
If I can continue on this pace ' Im not really sure I can (reach 88 wins).
Who knows what will happen the next three years, but thats a record that I never really thought was possible. I know Im getting closer, but I still have (27) wins to tie, and thats a lot of wins. Right now I just want to take one tournament at a time, one major at a time, and well see. If Im one day at 87, then yeah, I will give it another shot. But until then, its a long ways to go.
Remember the Annika who won the 1995 U.S. Womens Open for her first tour title?
Diminutive, demure. I was playing with a lot more fear, she said of those younger days.
Shes now full of muscle and might. Confident and cool. Shes developed in every aspect imaginable over the years, expediting that progression over the last five seasons.
And perhaps her greatest asset isnt her power or her precision or her mind or even the aura around her; it may well be her knowledge of self, which has buried all fear.
I have learned to figure out my weaknesses; I have learned to figure out my strengths. And I know how to apply them. I use my brain a lot more on the course ' more strategy. I know what shots I can hit. I dont experiment too much, she said.
I know what I can handle.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Photo Gallery - Annika Sorenstam
  • Full Coverage - McDonald's LPGA Championship
  • Getty Images

    Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

    Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    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?

    Getty Images

    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."

    Getty Images

    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