Annikas Awe-Inspiring Prize - the Hall

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It was the last hole Annika Sorenstam will ever play as a nobody (i.e., non-Hall of Famer) and she was in an awful snit. Here she was at No. 18 in the first round of the Samsung World Championship last week, and her drive had bounced into a lake marked as a lateral hazard.
 
She did a slow burn (Annikas burns are almost always slow ' shes Swedish, you know.) Then she got that dont-mess-with-me look on her face. She dropped another ball and grimly set about her task ' to turn what seemed to be near-certain bogey into a par. It would require a shot onto the green and then a one-putt par.
 
For most golfers, thats dicey territory, at best. For Sorenstam, to do anything other than that would be unthinkable.
 
I got upset at myself and said, Im going to made par there, anyway, said Annika. And she did, beautifully playing an approach up to six feet, then draining the putt. Annika had already decreed it, and when she decrees something, you can count it accomplished.
 
Her entire professional career, it seems, has been just like that. She stretches out to her 5-feet 6-inches, she sets her jaw firmly, and then she executes the shot. Much more often than not, it comes off exactly as planned.
 
Sorenstam, 33 last Thursday, has had to wait for three years to enter the Hall. Thats because of an LPGA rule stating that you must have been active for 10 years before entering. Sorenstam had fulfilled all other requirements after seven years of competition, and then it was just a matter of staying alive until the requisite 10 had passed. She will be inducted along with Nick Price, Chako Higuchi and Leo Diegel on Monday in ceremonies at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fl.
 
Her first LPGA event was in 1993 in Tucson at the Ping-Welchs Championship, before she was officially a tour member, just after a tour of duty at the University of Arizona. She was good enough then to finish in a tie for 38th, shooting a 1-under 71 in her first round against the LPGA pros. Her second tournament, the next week at Phoenix, she finished in a fourth-place tie.
 
Annika still remembers. I remember calling my dad (in Sweden) overwhelmed, she said in a media conference last week. In the second event, I finished fourth and earned $36,000, and that was my budget for the entire year.
 
It was like, in one event, I did what I wanted to do for the whole year. Then I was invited to play another (she finished ninth in Las Vegas) and then I played on the European Tour.
 
But I knew I wanted to be back on the LPGA Tour, and the next year I was.
 
Between that time in 1993 and now, she has collected 47 victories, including 11 last year alone. She just recently sent the Hall of Fame 80 items from her personal collection of souvenirs ' a truck full of things to exhibit.
 
Included in the haul was one thing very special to her ' a book from her mother that mom started reading to Annika when Annika was 2. It will be returned to her mother so her mother can give it to the grandchildren ' does this mean Annika is ready to start having children?
 
Oh ' the name of the book? In Swedish, its ``Duktiga, Annika'' - ``Good, Annika in English.
 
The book, of course, was named for an imaginary character. But it has been the pattern for Sorenstam. It has been one good after another.
 
When I grew up, she said, I actually competed in tennis and I wanted to be a tennis pro and my role model was (Bjorn) Borg. I was dreaming about playing at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. I used to practice about five times a week when I was 10 years old, and then I got burned out totally.
 
I didnt really succeed on the tennis court, so I thought I would try something else. My parents played golf, so I started playing. When I was 16, I started taking it more seriously.
 
Now, just when shes in the prime of this career, at an age when golfers are in the best years of their productive days, Annika says she may retire. She says she may want to do other things, she wants to raise a child, and she knows the prime years for having children are rapidly coming to an end.
 
It may be next year at age 33, or the next year when she is 34 ' she is still unsure of the specifics. But if she does move on, she will end a career that has been one of the most prolific in sports, particularly for someone still in the prime of her career. And there are others ' many others - who are waiting for the same opportunity she has had.
 
Ive always said I wasnt going to play forever, she said. I will support the LPGA Tour and play where they need me, but we have a lot of young players coming along.
 
Nancy (Lopez) did so many great things for this tour, then she had her farewell tour last year and somebody else will step up. We have Beth Bauer, a young, attractive American, I think she can do a lot of good things. Se Ri Pak always wanted to be the best player out here. She is ready to take the next step.
 
She, quite frankly, is getting weary of being Annika. Others say it would be unthinkable to have an LPGA without her. But Sorenstam says maybe, and her induction into the Hall of Fame is closing just one more chapter.
 
I want to play this year and probably next year because I want to play as a Hall of Famer, Annika said. After that, well see what happens. If I still wake up and have all these goals and motivation, yeah, Ill keep playing. But I have other things I want to pursue.
 
Sometimes I think about it ' I have won more tournaments that I ever thought I could. I dont think being out here for years and years will make my career any better.
 
No, it wont make her career any better, any more meaningful, or any more worthy of the Hall of Fame. But every time she plays, she gives a whole new audience the opportunity to see her play. And that, friends, is worth a fortune.
 
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