Sorenstam tied another all-time record last week. She shot 21-under in a 54-hole tournament. She missed a 15-foot putt on the last hole for 22-under. Records, though, have become so pass for her, though her modesty confounds most of the people who are expecting an athletic blunderbuss when they meet her.
There are those who believe Nancy Lopez was the greatest woman golfer ever. Some say Mickey Wright. Others believe it was Kathy Whitworth or Babe Zaharias, maybe Patty Berg. And they may be right. But it may well be Annika Sorenstam, who is just 31 years old but has won 35 times going into this weeks LPGA Championship.
There is no way of computing the greatest according to wins alone because, according to Beth Daniel, winning is so much more difficult today. Whitworth won 88 times, but would she have won that much if she played today? Wright won 82 times, Lopez 48 times, but would each been just as successful if they were trying to carve out victories today? Maybe ' but maybe not.
I think its much more difficult now, because I think the depth of players that are capable of winning is much greater, said Daniel. This is not to say that those players werent great ' only that Sorenstam deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Daniel herself has 32 wins in a career that started back in 1979, certainly another generation.
Sorenstam, though, is a victim of Tiger. She happened to come into her own just as he did. Tiger has won 31 times on the PGA Tour since he turned pro late in 1996. It just so happens that Sorenstam has won ' surprise! ' 31 times over the exact same timespan. Tiger has won by some pretty audacious margins ' 15 in a U.S. Open, 12 in a Masters. But Sorenstam shot a 59 ' an LPGA record ' and has set or tied 31 records. And last week she won by 11 while shooting her record-tying 21-under.
Sorenstam is neither particularly long (she ranked 26th in driving last year) nor a particularly good putter (she finished 100th last year.) But she is such a deadly iron player. She hit nearly 80 percent of the greens last season, and that was five percent better than the second-place player ' Karrie Webb.
It was Webb who, just a couple of years ago, was considered the best player in the LPGA. But people underestimated Sorenstam, who deep inside has a smoldering to be The Best. She never was a particularly strong putter, but she made up for it by being the greatest iron player the LPGA has ever seen. She wants it so badly that she stayed in the gym, she went on a strict diet, and she has become an exercise maven in her own home. Today, she is No. 1, not because Webb is necessarily worse, but because Sorenstam has gotten appreciably better.
Im happy for her because shes really, really put in a lot of hard work, said Webb. And its paid off for her.
A lot of us have put in a lot of hard work, and some of us arent as fortunate as others. You know, she really wanted to be the best. She went out and did it. I mean, Im happy for anyone that puts in that amount of work and does what she has done.
Annika won eight times last year alone. For anyone outside of Tiger, thats phenomenal. She has won four times already this year. Webb is one of the players who is trying to keep her from winning eight in 2002, and she realizes that if Sorenstam reaches that number again, there wont be that many left for Webb herself.
Shes not going to try any less, said Webb. Shes not going to be any less determined, I dont think. I can tell you now, I will eat my hat if she wins eight tournaments from now on. I knew I wasnt going to do it. Im pretty sure shes not counting on winning eight tournaments.
Well, Sorenstam may be thinking of it now. She has four at the halfway point. She could easily win four more the second half. Doesnt that make eight for the second year in a row?
At 31, Sorenstam is just rounding into her prime. And she has never played better for three rounds than she played last week.
The combination of everything, this is probably the best Ive played, she said at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Chicago last week. Earlier in the year, I hit the ball really well. A month, I was putting well but not hitting it well.
This week, the way I hit it was as good as I have in a long time.
Danielle Ammaccapane was her playing partner Sunday when Sorenstam, leading by five after Saturday, shot a 65 to wind it up. She admitted she was awestruck as she watched the precision in Sorenstams shots.
Shes every bit as good as they say she is, Ammaccapane said. She leaves herself good angles to the green and doesnt mishit a lot of shots. She has everything.
Everything except the respect a player should have whos mentioned in the same sentence as the greatest in the game. Its about time for that to change, dont you think?