Its About Time We Got Excited

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Annika Sorenstam won for the 60th time last weekend on the LPGA Tour. Excuse me, but its about time we all got excited.
 
Kathy Whitworth set the all-time LPGA record of 88 wins. Whitworth was an exceptional player ' obviously. But her record will almost certainly be broken by Sorenstam if Sorenstam stays in the game. And, after the dissolution of her marriage in the off-season, it appears that she almost certainly will stay. Previously she had thought seriously of quitting to start a family. Now, golf has become her family.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam is just 28 wins shy of tying Kathy Whitworth for the All-Time wins lead.
Whitworths record has always been thought of as unapproachable. But Annika has quietly been putting up numbers which rival Whitworths at identical stages of their careers. Sorenstam had the extreme misfortune to be overshadowed in her career by Tiger Woods. But slowly, she is emerging in her own right as a true superstar.
 
Sorenstam is 34 now and a 60-time winner. When Whitworth won her 60th she was ' surprise! ' 34. She won No. 60 in 1972 at the Alamo Ladies Open in San Antonio. It happened, incidentally, on April 30th. Annika won No. 60 on May 15th - just two weeks later on the calendar.
 
Whitworth as a child didnt play golf until she was 15. She was overweight as a child while she toted the bass drum in high school at Jal, N.M., weighing 215 pounds while standing just 5-feet-7. But she went on a strict diet and lost 40 pounds in five months, eventually losing down to 145 pounds. That alone shows the determination she had as a youngster.
 
Sorenstam also didnt play golf as a child. She had picked up a club and swung it as a 5-year-old, but as a teenager she excelled in tennis. Her parents moved the family from their native Sweden to England while Annika was 10. Her parents joined a golf club, and Annika went a few times. But she was first and foremost a tennis player, even when the family moved back to Stockholm four years later.
 
And then, like Whitworth, she got into golf fairly late. She turned her attention to the sport when she was 16 and was good enough, quickly enough, to be chosen for the Swedish National Team.
 
By the age of 19 in 1959, Whitworth had turned professional. She went six months without making as much as a dime ' she played on $20,000 invested in her by her father, her home-course pro, and two Jal businessmen. When she finally cashed a check, it was for $33 ' the same amount Jack Nicklaus won with his first paycheck in 1962.
 
Whitworth didnt win a tournament until she was playing in her fourth year ' in 1962 at the age of 22. Sorenstam didnt win until she was 24 after five years on the Swedish National Team and a couple of years at the University of Arizona. Annika was 24 when she won for the first time ' the U.S. Womens Open in her second year as a pro.
 
Whitworth went on a tear the next seven years after her initial win in 1962 ' from 1963-69. She won 51 times during that span, 53 total in her career, by the time she was 30. She won 10 times in 1968, nine times in 1966, and eight times on three more occasions ' in 63, 65 and 67.
 
Kathy had been playing 11 years by the time her greatest years were ended. She still won 16 times in three years, 71 to 73. By then she was 34.
 
Did someone say 34? Isnt that Annika Sorenstams age? Whitworth won seven times in 1973 when her 34th birthday rolled around. Annika has won four times in five events already in her 34th year. By the end of 73, Whitworth had 71 victories. Sorenstam already has 60, and the season isnt even halfway over.
 
Alas, 1973 ' in her 34th year ' Whitworth was finished as a dominating player. She would win 17 more times through the next 12 years, but never again would she win more than three times in one year.
 
Whitworth, incidentally, played in an era of the LPGAs greatest stars. She came up in Mickey Wrights heyday. In her glory years of 1963-73, she also faced Betsy Rawls, Carol Mann, Sandra Haynie, JoAnne Carner, Sandra Palmer and Judy Rankin. And for that 11-year stretch, she won 69 times.
 
The years from 1995 to the present, though, have very nearly been as fruitful for Sorenstam. She has won 60 times in this 11-year period, and the season isnt half over. Included in Annikas generation are Hall of Famers Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel and Betsy King, and soon-to-be inducted Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak.
 
You have to say that Sorenstam has a golden opportunity to break the record. She stands 28 victories from tying it, 29 from breaking it. And that isnt such a big hill to climb. She has won 37 times in the last 4 years, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
 
It is within the realm of possibility that Sorenstam can tie Whitworth this year with 69 victories in her 34 years, though it would be a massive climb. She would have to tie Wrights all-time record of 13 wins in one season. But four wins in five events has Annika well on her way. She will probably play in 18-20 events, meaning she has at least 13 more occasions to win nine events. Not probable, but possible.
 
Actually, Sorenstam has already won 72 times, if you include the 12 times she has won in Europe.
 
Ive always said this about Annika, Wright told the Palm Beach Post. Shes got it ' whatever it is. I like her golf swing. When she gets confidence in her putting, shes unbeatable.
 
Can Annika do it? Yes, most assuredly, if she stay around for at least another 5-6 years. She will be 40 then ' Whitworth won No. 88 at age 45 in 1985. Sorenstam is truly a player for the ages.
 
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