Annika Always an Athlete

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She was only 12 when she first hit a golf ball, this Swedish youngster who today is the most accomplished female player in the world.
 
This week, she will be in Fort Worth, Texas, to do what no woman has done since Babe Didricksen Zaharias played in three PGA Tour events in January 1945. Its been 58 years since a woman competed on a golf course with male professionals. And here is 32-year-old Annika Sorenstam, ready to grab her golf bag and spikes and make a run at the male pros in the Bank of America Colonial.
 
She has always been interested in sports, dating back to her days as a toddler. Sorenstam actually was on the path to tennis stardom as a child long before she ever picked up a wedge. She began swatting tennis balls not many years after she could first walk ' at age 5. By the time she was a teen-ager, she was ranked among the top-10 juniors in Stockholm in tennis.
 
Her father took a job in London during the early 1980s when Annika was 10, and the family packed up and moved to England with him for four years. But in one of the most eventful turns of her life, she and sister Charlotta returned to Sweden for summer camp. There, in 1982, Annika tried golf for the first time at the age of 12.
 
Initially, it seemed she was not a natural - her first handicap was 54.
 
Annika didnt play golf when the family lived in the suburbs of London. It was very difficult then, she said. I was not old enough to be a member (at Royal Mid-Surrey golf course) and you had to be a member to play.
 
I went out with my parents on a few occasions, but there were only certain times when children were allowed on the course. There were all sorts of restrictions, everywhere. It was tough to even go on the practice range.

But by 1984, the Sorenstam family had moved back to Sweden ' Annikas father was an upper-middle-class businessman ' and she was focused on her tennis. However, she had been around Bro-Balsta Golf Club since the age of 5 accompanying her parents on their regular rounds ' father Tom was a near-scratch golfer, mother Gunilla was a 12-handicap.
 
I remember wanting to come to the ninth hole so we could get an ice cream, she said. That was important to me.
 
As a teenager, though, Annika, her younger sister Charlotta, and a group of local kids began hanging out at Bro-Balsta. Annika still was wrapped up in tennis, but she and her friends now spent many hours in the summer at the course. I remember picking up balls in the lakes, she said. We would dive into the lakes, once a week, to pick up golf balls. And I can remember sitting on the tee and dividing up the balls afterward. We would take out hundreds.
 
Annika joined about a dozen girls in the youth golf program at Bro-Balsta. Golf, though, wasnt her only sports interest. Soccer, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee ' all joined tennis in her normal week.
 
But finally, at the age of 16, Annika faced an interesting choice: she was now serious about golf, still rather a novelty in Sweden, but she had to choose between that sport or tennis. She chose golf. She loved the natural surroundings of the golf courses, but most of all, she realized that you didnt need anyone else to play golf. Tennis required not just another person, but another person of about the same skill level.
 
'I said, 'Bye-bye tennis.' '
 
From that point on, Annika had all the dedication of a woman on a mission. That same year, when she was 16, she met Henri Reis, a golf instructor who remains her teacher to this day. Annikas dedication was apparent to the adults around her, and she was chosen to be on the junior national team by the Swedish Golf Foundation.
 
She thought briefly about going to university to study engineering, but she was much too caught up in golf. She finished her basic education that year and got a part-time job as personal assistant to the executive director of the Swedish PGA. And it was there that she first met Pia Nilsson, once a member of the LPGA, also a coach of the Swedish National Team, now a director of the Swedish Golf Federation.
 
Nilsson has had a profound influence on Sorenstams professional career. It was Nilsson who challenged Annika with Vision 54, the belief that a golfers goal out should be to birdie every hole. Sorenstam, of course, never has birdied all 18 holes for a 54, but she is the only woman to ever shoot a 59, birdieing thirteen.
 
She was still 17 when she saw the golf telecast which was to shape her life forever. That was when Annika watched fellow Swede Lisalotte Neumann win the U.S. Womens Open in 1988. It had a profound impact.
 
It was a delayed telecast, but I remember staying up all night to watch it, she recalls. I did think, Yeah, that could be me someday.
 
So, she set out with a single-mindedness of purpose to become a professional golfer. She was playing an amateur event in Japan when she caught the eye of a competitor from the University of Arizona. The competitor convinced then-Arizona coach Kim Haddow to recruit Sorenstam, and the results were instantaneous.
 
In 1991 ' her freshman year ' Annika was the NCAA Co-College Player of the Year and an NCAA all-American. Her sophomore year in 1992, Sorenstam was the World Amateur champion, runner-up to Vicki Goetze at the U.S. Womens Amateur, second-lowest amateur in the U.S. Womens Amateur. She was ready to turn pro, playing in Europe for a year where she was the rookie of the year.
 
In 1994, she hit the ground rolling on the LPGA. Forty-three victories and 10 years later, she is one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial