Annika No Longer a Certainty

By Mercer BaggsMarch 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
There are a few certainties in golf.
A few examples: 1) No one at NBC will ever ' ever ' disagree with Johnny Miller on air (play a drinking game in which you take a shot every time Gary Koch or Roger Maltbie says, Yeah, Johnny, youre right. Youll be schnockered within 20 minutes); 2) If I say that you will win, you will most likely lose; 3) Annika Sorenstam will roll right off the couch and into the winners circle.
Well at least 1 and 2 still hold true.
Annika Sorenstam and Meaghan Francella
Annika Sorenstam is now 15-6 in her LPGA career in playoffs. (Getty Images)
Bidding to win her first start for the fourth consecutive season, Sorenstam fell in a playoff at the MasterCard Classic to Meaghan Francella.
To say the result was surprising is to say that the 2008 Presidential race will get personal ' both are vast understatements.
Sorenstam has 69 LPGA Tour wins; Francella has six LPGA Tour starts. Sorenstam has 10 majors; Francella had one top-35 finish before this week. Sorenstam is arguably the greatest female player ever; Francella is honestly, up until this week I had no idea who Meaghan Francella was.
I thought this was March Madness time? Sixteen seeds dont beat No. 1s.
Ironically, it was a year ago on this very same day (March 12) that I wrote a column about Sorenstam winning in her season debut in Mexico (coincidentally, Francella won her first professional event on the Duramed FUTURES Tour on March 12, 2006).
I was gushing over Annika's performance. I believed her to be unbeatable. Even though common sense told me there was no way that she could win every single time she teed it up, I felt it possible.
Obviously, Im a little less enthusiastic a year later. Yet Im far more intrigued to see where the road will take her.
Even without much of an effort, Annika can win three times and even a major each season. She proved that last year.
After opening with her win South of the Border, she captured only two more titles (though, one was the U.S. Womens Open), falling victim to certainty No. 2.
I like to think, however, that the decline in production wasnt as much my doing as it was hers. Sorenstam has admitted that she lacked full desire last year. She didnt have the drive that she had in previous seasons.
She was focused on her personal life and her personal interests, like her new golf and fitness academy outside of Orlando.
Those things still seem to weigh heavy on Annikas mind. In her pre-tournament press conference this past week, Annika said, As long I enjoy the competition and as long as I feel motivated and wake up in the morning excited to go practice, I will continue to play. Im not really sure how long that will be. I do have other interests off the golf course that I've been pursuing more and more.
She added that she plans to play around 15 or 16 times this year. Shes never played fewer than 17 LPGA events since joining the tour in 1994, and competed in 20 tournaments each of the last two seasons.
Motivation, it would seem, is the key to Annikas ultimate success, the difference between a ho-hum ' by her standards anyway ' 3-win, 1-major season and one in which she wins about half of her starts, multiple majors, and a bevy of awards.
And motivation, it would seem, is still a bit of a question mark.
Right now, Annika herself is a bit of a question mark.
This seems like a different Annika than the one weve come to know. There isnt nearly as much talk about her accomplishing a seasonal Grand Slam. There is more talk surrounding other players. And even Annika is talking like an underdog.
When asked if she considered herself the favorite after a first-round 69 left her two off the lead, Sorenstam deferred to another.
I'm not really sure I'm the favorite, said Sorenstam, the only winner the tournament had ever known until Monday. I would think Lorena would be.
Lorena, of course, is Lorena Ochoa, the reigning Player of the Year and sporting icon in her native Mexico.
It almost seems unnatural that Annika would consider someone other than herself the player to beat, particularly when that player was two shots higher than she after the first round. Perhaps she was paying respect to Ochoa based on her accomplishments of a year ago. Perhaps she was just taking a little pressure off herself for once. Or, perhaps shes really a Jedi and she was playing mind tricks.
I figured it was the latter; so much so that I began writing my column assuming Annika would win. Oops certainty No. 2 rears up its ugly little head once again.
Having begun the weather-delayed final round three in arrears, Sorenstam shot 6-under 66 Monday to catch Francella and force a playoff. They then tied each of the first three holes of sudden death before Francella won on the fourth extra hole with a 4-foot birdie.
'Words can't describe how I feel right now,' Francella said afterwards.
'Today I got beaten, but I gave it a good run,' said Sorenstam. 'I felt really good about my game, so that's what I'm going to take out of this tournament.'
The most intriguing thing in all of this is how will Sorenstam respond? Will this just make her angry, more focused? Is this a good kick in the butt for her?
Or is it a kick in the teeth? Will this just deflate her? Will it sour her on competing even more?
A year ago, I wouldnt have thought the latter line of questioning fathomable. Now Im not so sure.
But, perhaps thats a good thing for Annika. It doesnt help her cause to have me thinking that she is going to win. That is a certainty.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - MasterCard Classic
  • Getty Images

    Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

    By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

    One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

    Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

    "I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

    Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

    "I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

    Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

    "Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

    Getty Images

    Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

    Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

    “I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

    The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

    “I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

    Masters victory

    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

    Man of the people

    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

    Departure from TaylorMade

    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

    Victory at Valderrama

    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm