Time to Call Annika the Greatest


Simply put, its time. Time to consider Annika Sorenstam the greatest female athlete ever to play the game. Only one performer is left standing who might be considered her equal ' Mickey Wright.
Sorenstam tied another record at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last week with her fifth consecutive win. That tied Nancy Lopez, who did it in 1978. Still above her in the victory category are Wright (82) and Kathy Whitworth (88).
Of course, comparisons in different generations are really not true comparisons at all. Who knows how Wright would do in this generation, or how Sorenstam would fare in the 60s? But since records are the only guidelines we can go by, these generalities will have to suffice. You may argue all you want that Wright had the most graceful swing ever or that Sorenstam has had to face the most difficult competition, and you would undoubtedly be correct. But who is better? It would be impossible to be wrong, whomever you chose.
Babe Didricksen Zaharias? Possibly. Patty Berg? You could probably say that. Nancy Lopez? Yes, possibly, for a couple of years at least.
Whitworth lays claim to the most LPGA victories ever ' 88. But she played well over 500 tournaments while she was winning from 1962 to 1985. She wins the record for longevity ' more than three decades (34 years) of victories. But as far as the greatest player in history, the race appears down to Wright and Sorenstam.
Wright won 82 times in her career, spanning from the 1956 Jacksonville Open to the 1973 Colgate-Dinah Shore ' the present-day Kraft Nabisco. That covers 334 tournaments, a roughly one-in-four win ratio.
Sorenstam has just begun her 12th season and has won 59 times. She has played in 231 events. Guess what that win ratio is? Yes, its about one in four. Wright and Sorenstam are winning at just about an equal pace.
But Sorenstam has 12 additional wins around the globe. If these other wins (most from the Ladies European Tour) were added to the 59, that would give her 71. Wright won an additional eight tournaments, but three were partnership wins and two were Shells Wonderful World of Golf. So, actually, Wright and Sorenstam are closer than the official figures.
Wright was hounded throughout her career by foot and wrist injuries, and dogged by an intense dislike of fame. Though she was under great pressure to play in all LPGA events ' she appeared 33 times in 1962, 28 times in 63 when she won 13 times, and 27 in 64 ' it would be difficult to say that she has more media attention than Sorenstam has endured.
Wrights last full season came when she was 34 years old ' ironically, Sorenstam is 34 now. She carried on for parts of 11 more seasons, but only once did she play more than 10 events ' she played 11 in 1977. She retired to her home in South Florida, injuries and her much-dreaded fame finally too much for her. Today she lives a quiet existence, ironically on a golf course.
Sorenstam came from her native Sweden, where she was for five years a member of the Swedish National team. She spent time at the University of Arizona and didnt join the LPGA until she was 23. But she is like Wright in that she is very private, keeping mostly to herself when she isnt playing. She, like Wright, isnt a particularly charismatic person. She merely endures the question-and-answer sessions with the world press, though she is polite always and is indeed more communicative than Wright. But neither player is a Lucille Ball with the quips.
Lopez let the world in on what Annika is thinking. Nancy, remember, was there herself in 78, when she won her five in a row (while taking off one week). She won nine times that year at age 20, eight times in 79 at age 21.
It's just a great feeling what she's feeling, Lopez said. You have so much confidence, and even when you're not playing well, you still have confidence.
I think sometimes even Annika might try too hard because she knows how good she is, and she probably feels like she can win every tournament by 10 shots. That's how good she is and she knows that in here.
Sorenstam will surpass Wrights victory total in a little more three years if she averages eight per year ' which she has done for the past four years. And by the time she has played 15 seasons ' the same number Wright did when Wright was winning her 82 ' Sorenstam would be very nearly past Whitworth for all-time wins if she keeps up her torrid pace. Sorenstam goes into the books with an even dozen seasons after this year and is now 29 victories behind the lady who posted 88.
Suddenly, 88 doesnt seem like such an impossibility. It now appears that Sorenstam will play at least another three years, now that she has filed for divorce and the possibility of having children grows dimmer and dimmer by the year. Will she play into her 40s? Its possible ' Annika has had time to rethink her career plans since last offseason.
For me to set goals keeps me going, she said last week. I might not achieve exactly those, but I know my golf is getting better and I'm going to win tournaments and that's really what I want. That's what keeps me going.
Again, I have lofty goals but I'm not afraid to challenge them. I'm not afraid to admit them, and I've just got to do it, really. It's harder than that, but again, that's what I look forward to.
Is Annika the greatest? She is getting awfully close, if she isnt already there.
Email your thoughts to George White