Sorenstam Steps Away

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To anyone who has been paying extra close attention, this announcement came as no surprise. The timing, on the other hand, was a stunner, if not a downright shock.
 
Annika Sorenstam, arguably the greatest female golfer of all time, told the world Tuesday she will step away from tournament golf at the end of the year.
 
And she told us this just two days after her third 2008 victory early in a season that now promises to be even more freighted with meaning as she duels with Lorena Ochoa right up to, and through, the bittersweet end on the LPGA Tour which figures to be the ADT Championship in late November.
 
I feel strong and I feel healthy, Sorenstam said during a packed press conference in New Jersey at the Sybase Classic where she is playing this week. Im leaving the game on my own terms.
 
The immediate facts you need to know before you try to put this into any kind of perspective are these:
 
  • Sorenstam is 37 years old and engaged to be married to Mike McGee in January.
     
  • Sorenstam made no secret of the fact that she wants to have a family.
     
  • Sorenstams 72 career victories are 16 behind LPGA career leader Kathy Whitworths 88 and 50 ahead of her current rival, 26-year-old Lorena Ochoa.
     
    My quick take/prediction: Sometime in late 2009 Annika Sorenstam will become a mother. Sometime in 2010 she will decide whether she wants to return to the LPGA or bear another a child. If she decides on the former, she will unretire.
     
    December (in Europe) will be my last tournament, Annika said, If its forever, Im not sure.
     
    Of course, her 2008 season is far from over. She still has three more majors in which to compete, including the upcoming McDonald's LPGA Championship, which begins June 5 and can be seen exclusively on GOLF CHANNEL.
     
    With all due respect'and Annika, more than most, has earned our respect'guesses about her future shouldnt and wont matter.
     
    Its her life. From the time she showed up on the LPGA TOUR in the early 90s, after a spectacular college run at the University of Arizona, Annika has remained a genuinely nice person.
     
    She is still shy. She is still ferociously competitive. But she has never displayed a mean streak that so many champions in individual sports use to fuel their hunger to succeed.
     
    Annika Sorenstam has consistently respected her opponents, her fans and the media members who have chronicled her inexorable march to the World Golf Hall of Fame and beyond.
     
    Eight times she was named the LPGAs Player of the Year. She captured 10 major championships.
     
    In 2001 Annika shot a 59 at the Standard Register PING and became the first women to earn more than $2 million in a single season. In 2002 she won 11 times. In 2003 she played in a mens event, the Bank of America Colonial, and almost made the cut.
     
    At the end of 2006 she hurt her neck and back and even managed to keep it, for a long period, from her longtime caddie Terry McNamara.
     
    The pain caught up with her in 2007, forcing her to play an abbreviated schedule and finish the year without a victory for the first time since 1994.
     
    But 2007 was also the year McGee, son of former PGA TOUR pro Jerry McGee, proposed. She accepted and they agreed to be wed in 2009. Insiders knew back then it was just a matter of time before she would stop playing golf and prepare to be a mother.
     
    When I talked to McNamara at the Kraft Nabisco in early April he told me Annika was almost back to her best form save for a few yards she had lost off the tee. Annika bravely fought off a stomach ailment that week that forced her to lie down on the tee box while waiting to drive on several holes on the weekend.
     
    Annika finished second, five back of Ochoa at Kraft Nabisco. Last week in Virginia, she beat the rest of the field by seven shots. Ochoa wound up 12 back of Sorenstam.
     
    This was the start, everybody figured, of a wild ride on the LPGA this year that would pit Sorenstam vs. Ochoa at almost every stop.
     
    Tuesday we learned it was the beginning of the end of a career that was just beginning to resurrect. Or is it the end?
     
    Ive never really used the R word, Annika said, referring to retire.
     
    The hope here is that circumstances will conspire, for the right reasons, to bring Sorenstam back into golfs competitive orbit. Maybe even as early as 2010.
     
    The bigger hope here is that Annika Sorenstam, a person impossible to dislike, will be happy no matter what happens.
     
    Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
     
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